The ingredients in today's barbecue rubs and sauces include a variety of flavors, colors and textures.

Rub It On 

Rubs are also associated with grilling meat and poultry. Sometimes they are simply dried ingredient blends, including herbs and spices. Other times the dried blend is dispersed in an oil base to assist with adhesion to the raw muscle to seal in natural juices.

The use of non-traditional ingredients, for example coffee, tea and cocoa, is gaining traction as formulators try to create a “wow” factor, which entices consumers to purchase the product. The key here is that the unconventional flavoring ingredient should not overwhelm the overall flavor profile.

Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, California, is known for its convenience foods, including marinated uncooked grill-ready meats. Recently the company introduced coffee-rubbed spatchcocked (butterflied) whole chicken and coffee-rubbed beef flank steak. The rub is made with real coffee, brown sugar, oil and spices. Rosemary extract and dried vinegar are included to extend shelf life by slowing oxidation and microbial spoilage.

“Coffee adds richness and depth to rubs, as well as complements chiles by enhancing or providing roasted notes,” says Lisa Stern, vice president sales and marketing, LifeSpice Ingredients, Chicago.

Bob Kaegi, director of protein applications at Wixon, St. Francis, Wisconsin, says, “As a rub, coffee and cocoa add a dimension and depth to meat by contributing a caramelized, bittersweet smoky flavor that complements all cuts of meat, especially beef.

“The bold flavors stand up to the beef while supplying a bit of a ‘caffeine buzz’ that also helps to tenderize the meat as it cooks,” he says. “Add some cocoa and a little sugar and you achieve a mocha-like flavor that offers a deep, rich complex flavor.”

Rubs can include spray dried sauces, such as Worcestershire, sriracha or mustard. These are ingredients that would normally be added wet to a sauce, but in order to target a specific profile in a rub, are added as a powdered version.

“You can also add in dried charcoal notes or specialized smokes,” says Jean Heimann, culinary scientist at LifeSpice. “The consumer wants to taste the cooking process in the flavor of their foods. It makes them more authentic.”

Activated charcoal is finding its way into meat rubs. Activated charcoal is considered inert, meaning it passes through the gastrointestinal system without being digested or entering the blood stream. Depending on the activated charcoal, it may or may not contribute charcoal grill taste. Its main purpose is to deliver a blackened color and a texture that’s slightly grainy, as if the meat was charred over an open pit. This is what ingredients like coffee nibs and cocoa beans may also provide.