June 23, 2013

Spice up summer cooking with flavorful rubs

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Summer is time for grilling, and if you like using rubs, there are seemingly infinite choices on your spice rack and in the grocery store.

We asked two local spice rub purveyors to give us some advice on building your own flavor profiles using only ingredients you might find in your own spice cabinet. Making your own rubs can be fun, and it is a good way to learn about which flavors go well together and which are duds.

If you'd rather buy a ready-made rub, you can't go wrong with the products made by either of our local experts: DennyMike Sherman of DennyMike's Sauces and Seasonings, based in Westbrook, and Jessica Regina Moore of ReginaSpices in Portland.

Sherman is well-known for his award-winning rubs with fanciful names such as Chick Magnet (for poultry, of course), Cow Bell Hell, Pixie Dust, Sublime Swine (for pork) and Fintastic (for fish).

Portlanders may remember Moore from her days running Portland Spice & Trading Co. in the old Portland Public Market on Cumberland Avenue. She left the business to go back to school, but never lost her love of cooking or making spice blends.

Moore started playing around with spices again in earnest last November, and now has a complete line with blends such as Jalapeno Lime Salt (good on salmon and chicken fajitas, and for rimming cocktail glasses), Sweet Smokey Fire, Montreal Seasoning (a traditional steak rub), Mediterranean Seasoning (designed for lamb, but also a good all-purpose seasoning), and a Shiitake Steak Rub.

Moore does not have a storefront, but she does sell online (, and her blends are available at K. Horton's Specialty Foods in the Public Market House in Monument Square and at Maine's Pantry on Commercial Street.

When it comes to rubs, the more basic, the better, Moore says.

"If we're making a grilling spice, it cannot be a shy thing," she said. "It needs to be really strong, so I usually will start with a homemade pepper blend -- a good garlic pepper or really good homemade lemon pepper -- and then work from there. I think that just simply taking fresh ground pepper and squeezing a clove of garlic and making a paste out if it is one of the most delicious things you can do."

Here are some basic rubs and some suggestions for how to use the spices typically found in them:


from Jessica Regina Moore

One part chili powder (whatever you use in chili), one part cumin, one part garlic, and a half-part each sugar and salt. This is a good all-purpose rub, Moore says, but it's "really exceptional on beef and chicken."

Add more sugar if you want some caramelization. Add a little unsweetened cocoa if you're using it on pork. If you're grilling corn, add the rub to some butter and use that on the corn.


from DennyMike Sherman

Cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, hickory powder, sage, thyme and Hungarian paprika.

"You'll want a little bit of heat but not a lot," Sherman says. "You're not trying to blow peoples' faces off."


Equal parts crushed fennel seed and fresh lemon zest make an outstanding fish rub, Moore says.


Sherman calls rosemary "almost magical" because it goes well on just about anything, including lamb, chicken, turkey and roast beef.


If you're considering using smoked paprika in your rub, consider trying a ground Mexican-style chile instead. Moore says it has a richer flavor with sweeter tones that hit you in the back of your palate -- instead of "tomato-ey sweet," it's "chocolate sweet."


Hey, this is Maine, so why not try substituting a maple sugar for the regular stuff in your blends? It's got a coarser texture than maple sugar or brown sugar.


These peppercorns have matured longer on the vine, so they have a richer flavor.


A base blend of black pepper and coffee has become popular in grilling circles; it's a take-off on red-eye gravy. Add some chili powder for a little kick. This is good on game, steak and brined pork.


Too simple? DennyMike Sherman calls this the "royal twosome." "If you go to Texas and get brisket somewhere, you're very likely to have nothing but kosher salt and a very coarsely ground pepper as their seasoning of choice," he said.

Be sure to use kosher salt or sea salt, not table salt.


Sherman prefers using this over brown sugar for pork and chicken rubs.

"I like the granularity and the fact that it's not as moist as brown sugar," he said. "Brown sugar is going to have a tendency to cause your rub to clump, especially in humid conditions, so you're not going to end up with as even a distribution as you'd like."


This always works well on fish and chicken, and it balances the strong flavors of lamb.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: photo

Mix spices and herbs with salt, sugar – perhaps, since it’s Maine, maple sugar – pepper, coffee and cocoa to create your own rubs for grilling. Making homemade rubs allows you to customize blends based on your own personal taste.

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