How to season raw meat

Like all recent converts, I am a fanatic to the cause. And the cause, my brothers, is the dry rub. This is a rough ’n tough application of seasoning to raw meat. Until recently, my only previous experience of a dry rub was cajun-style blackened fish. And, as we say down in the Durban mangrove swamps, fish ain’t meat.

How to season raw meat
To retain the flavour, grind ingredients just before use
Photo: Peter Whitfield. Styling Marelise Scheepers

To make these dry rubs, you will need:

Dry rub #1

  • 15g salt
  • 30g castor sugar
  • 30g brown sugar
  • 30g ground cumin
  • 15g chilli powder
  • 30g freshly ground black pepper
  • 45g paprika

Dry rub #2

  • 15g sugar
  • 15g salt
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 10g ginger powder
  • 15g white pimento (aka allspice berries)
  • 2g nutmeg
  • 15g black pepper
  • 30g dried thyme
  • 5g cayenne pepper

Here are two recipes for a dry rub. They will transform your braais, enhance your steaks, and bring new meaning to any red meat you elect to expose to the amiable heat of your braai. But first some theory.

There are marinades, wet rubs and dry rubs. Each involves exposing raw meat to additional flavouring. In my view, the last thing a braai needs is wet meat since dry is the best way to braai.

Dry meat allows the blood sugars to swiftly caramelise, so creating that highly desirable crust of umami flavour.

Umami is a Japanese word describing the fifth taste, separate from the traditional concepts of sweet, sour, bitter and salt.

There are braai mechanics of great stature who disagree with this. But for this fan of red meat and open fire, a dry rub revs up the umami, and who could ask for more?

Next, technique. Those of us who rely on salt and pepper are already using a dry rub. But a list of two items cries out for additions.

In general, grinding and mixing the ingredients of a dry rub are best done just prior to use. The moment spices are ground, their surface area is extended and exposed to the air. Bye-bye flavour.

Application of a dry rub requires only freshly washed hands. Use your thumbs to massage the meat, driving the ingredients of the rub into the grain.

Then hold the meat vertically and tap it once or twice to knock off the excess. So, what spice and herb combo springs to mind?


DRY RUB #1
As the double dose of sugar tells you, this is a sweetish rub with chilli powder and black pepper for high-end heat. The best chilli powder is the stuff you grind yourself. Use dried chillies to start with.

DRY RUB #2 
This is a borderline dry rub, thanks to the fresh minced garlic. It’s a crisis only for dry rub purists. You can use the pre-ground versions of the paprika, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Combine all the ingredients in a spice grinder and apply to the raw meat.

Note that 2g of nutmeg is slightly less than half a teaspoon. Finally, see a dry rub as an ideal opportunity for invention. Coriander – a staple of boerewors and biltong – works superbly as a standard ingredient of any red meat dry rub.

Enjoy your next braai!