For a long time I thought dry rubs were simply a marketing ploy to help spice manufacturers find a profitable use for any leftover inventory. I understood all about marinating, but what could a dusting of a mixture of ground spices, chiles and dried herbs do to infuse flavor into a piece of meat?

Turns out, they can do a lot, and not just for meat. I find having my own mix in a jar in the pantry can help me liven up a meal or a dish with almost no effort at all. I can put it on a large piece of meat I’m intending to cook low and slow (low temperature/long time) and let that sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to meld into the meat, or sprinkle on a piece of fish I’m just about to grill. I even use it in salad dressings, sandwich spreads or as a seasoning for veggies. It’s a multipurpose kitchen helper I can employ any time I want to turn a familiar dish into sometime different with a flick of the wrist.

Although there are a multitude of pre-made rubs on the shelves of any grocery store, making your own only takes a moment and the freshness factor, which translates directly into flavor, makes it well worth your time.

Here are a just a few ways you can make the most out of your homemade dry rub:

Meat: For meats you plan to cook slowly, season liberally with the rub, wrap in plastic and let sit overnight, if possible, in the refrigerator. For steaks or other meats you’re cooking quickly, simply season and grill.

Poultry: Work the rub into and underneath the skin before cooking.

Fish: In this case, less is more. Season lightly just before cooking.

Grilled veggies: Lightly coat the veggies with oil and season with the dry rub before grilling.

A quick dip: Whisk one tablespoon of the rub into one cup of low-fat sour cream for a flavorful dip for veggies or pita chips. I’ve used this one countless times for after-school snacks for my boys. It’s easy and healthful, and don’t be surprised if it disappears quickly.

Cowboy salad dressing: Mix a teaspoon or two into your favorite ranch dressing and turn an ordinary salad into a delicious meal your little ones can get excited about.

Grilled steak sandwiches: Mix a couple of teaspoons into some light mayo, along with a teaspoon of steak sauce, and spread onto a multigrain baguette. Use your leftover grilled steak and veggies as the filling. Wrap the whole thing in foil and heat through in a 350-degree oven. Add a slice of cheese if you like, but this sandwich has so much flavor, you really don’t need it.


Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.