Bam! Dry Rubs Rule


Emeril is not wrong all the time.  Just think of his essences as dry rubs.  Dry rubs are usually better than marinades for chicken, chops, and steaks.  Their flavor is immediate, they stay in place well during grilling and roasting, and they don’t make the surface mushy.  Keep good strong whole spices in your freezer, and grind small quantities when needed.  Herbs that make good additions are both Greek and Mexican oregano, and fresh rosemary and tarragon. Black pepper anchors most rubs so keep good quality Sarawak or Tellicherry pepper corns on hand.  Here is a list of the spices and herbs that I use.  Choose from:


Black peppercorns

Whole fennel

Whole cumin

Whole allspice

Candela (cinnamon sticks)

Dried oregano

Fresh tarragon, fresh rosemary (Herbs that won’t wet down the spice mix.)


Lemon Juice



Here’s the drill.  Using a small cast iron skillet, lightly toast the chosen spice and dry herbs until fragrant (I don’t think the peppercorns benefit from heating). Then grind, add a little salt, and rub onto the meat. 


For some meats, like chicken, coat with lemon juice and a little oil first to help the dry rub stick.  Do this for Greek style lamb chops for the lemon flavor.  Not for beef, where lemon might get in the way.


Don’t use all the spices all the time.  Choose 3 or 4 to complement your dish.


Greek rub for chicken and lamb:





Greek Oregano

Some salt


Use with lemon and oil.


Southwest Rub


Dry cayenne peppers

Mexican (or Greek) oregano


Cinnamon stick.

A little salt



Caribbean Rub





Cinnamon stick.

A little salt. 


Italian Rub





Italian (Greek) Oregano

A little salt


Rub with oil and lemon, then with the dry rub.


The simplest dry rub is just salt and pepper with oil and lemon:


Pollo alla Diavolo


(Deviled Chicken)


Remove the neck and backbone from a brace of game hens, a Smart Chicken  or a good organic or free range chicken. 


Kosher the chicken if desired. Rinse and pat dry.  Place the chicken on a sheet pan, sprinkle and rub with lemon juice and olive oil.   Sprinkle lightly with salt on all sides.  Grind good pepper thickly over all until well covered. This is the Diavolo part.  Grill skin side up at 350 degrees, about 1 ½ hours for a large chicken, ¾ hour for game hens.  Do not turn.  Birds are done when golden brown and joints move freely. 


A good source of top quality spices is Penzey’s by catalog or internet. .  My personal belief is that the only herbs worth drying are oregano, sage, and bay leaf.  All the others should be used fresh (these too if you have them in your kitchen garden), so I don’t buy them from Penzey’s. I once saw Graham Kerr get down on his knees to ask his audience to throw away their dried basil and use the real thing.  Penzey’s sells some pre-made rubs.  Don’t buy them, but read the list of  ingredients to get ideas for more rubs.  

Garlic is a problem.  It’s too wet to incorporate in true dry rubs, and the flavor of garlic powder is not much like the fresh stuff.  With leg of lamb, you can insert slivers of garlic and springs of rosemary in little stab wounds all over the surface.  With chickens you may put some thin garlic slices under the skin.  You may also roll the meat in finely chopped garlic after it has been dry-rubbed.