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Steak Rubs

By amy • • Sep 20th, 2014 • Category: Columns, Condiments, Dressings, Oils, Vinegars, Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Pantry Items, Seasonings, Spices


If Shelf Life ruled the world, steaks would be available in nirvana form only – ie. prime, fat-marbled cuts, such as sirloin strip or rib eye. A skillfully prepared piece of fine meat needs very little help from seasonings or sauces (well, maybe a pat of butter and a splash of vermouth). But sometimes budget steaks happen to good people, and that is when a steak rub becomes the griller’s best friend.

A rub is a dry or wet spices/seasonings mixture used to coat the meat before grilling. Opinion varies on the timing: some cooks like to apply it at the last minute, or up to an hour before the steak meets the heat. Others like to massage the steak the night before. A thick cut is advisable – it will effectively absorb the rub’s assertiveness. Another tip is to grill over slightly lower heat than usual, so the seasonings don’t burn.

Steak rubs often feature a combination of the following: salt, paprika, sugar, chili powder, black pepper, white pepper, thyme, cumin, oregano, five spice powder, curry powder, garlic, ginger, and jerk seasonings. Shelf Life set out to discover which of these ingredients can be found in commercial steak rubs, plus or minus mystery granules, nice touches, and unexpected alchemies.

Happily volunteering comments such as ‘This one rubbed me the wrong way’ and ‘Ay, there’s the rub’ are this week’s expert judges: artist (culinary and otherwise) Micah Donovan, a member of the Food Jammers; Sarah Ladouceur, production ninja on Chopped (Food Network Canada); and Johanna Weinstein, cookbook author, TV & film food stylist, all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items were blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars. On the menu: New York strip steaks.


Brand One

The Keg

Steak Seasoning

180g, $4.29

widely available

for more information visit kegsteakhouse.com

Micah : Brand One tastes like a mix of ingredients you can get at home, which is puzzling – to me the whole point of a rub is enjoying seasonings you don’t already own. Anyway, in order of appearance I’m picking up: lots of salt, onion, garlic, and dill. Potato chip flavours.
TWO STARS **

Sarah : Brisket smell, anyone? This rub looks like a yellow paste made of mini pebbles and it tastes incredibly salty. There are hints of rye and caraway, but more than anything there’s the pepper, which leaves a weird tingling sensation in my mouth. Some people might like that.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Jo : Oh Lordy does it smell like old pepper … Brand One has a chunky appearance, and the texture is like dried onion bits. It tastes like salt, onion, and mustard seed, from the cottage pantry.
TWO STARS**

Brand One Total SIX AND HALF STARS ******1/2


Brand Two

Metropolitan Chef

Steak and Rib Rub

32g, $3.99

available at fine food stores & online at metropolitanchef.com

Micah: Gone South! Brand Two has a chili and red pepper appearance, a kind of Tex Mex thing. The cumin is right out front, dominating the cayenne and oregano. The previous rub felt like it was scaled for big hunks of meat; this would be better for strips.
THREE AND A HALF STARS***1/2

Sarah: Yes, like a fajita. This rub has a smoother, finer grind, and smells like cumin and hot pepper. It does have that San Antonio feel –the big selling point is that it’s not ruled by salt or pepper. I’d try it on pork loin.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Jo: The whole paprika/cumin Southwest thing would work perfectly with chicken. I love the natural red colour of this rub, and there are one or two flavour notes that are really nice – thyme, for example, which I’m tasting at the end.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Brand Two Total TWELVE AND A HALF STARS ************1/2




Brand Three

Schwartz’s

Steak and Beef Spice

160g, $4.79

available at fine food store and online at montrealsteakspices.com

Micah: It’s not too chunky, which is good because your tongue is not being meteored by big granules. It tastes and smells like straight-up steak seasoning: pepper, mustard seed, chili flake, caraway. Brand Three is not bad, it’s just not exciting. It’s very suburban – it wears casual slacks.
THREE STARS***

Sarah: On the steak Brand Three has a crunchy crust, and not too much sodium. It has a Montreal-type vibe. This one would taste amazing in a cold roast beef sandwich, with a perfect fat tomato.
THREE STARS***

Jo: I don’t mind it, but I wouldn’t remember Brand Three the next day. I like what it doesn’t do – for example, it isn’t musty, or overloaded with salt or pepper. I think I would make a seasoned mayonnaise with this rub.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Brand Three EIGHT AND A HALF STARS ********1/2


Brand Four

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s

Meat Magic

71g, $3.99

widely available

for more information visit chefpaul.com

Micah: There’s smoked paprika in there as well as cumin – this is like a Tex-Spain style. It looks like a smooth chili rub, and it tastes slightly smoky with a faint after- tingle.
THREE STARS***

Sarah: Brand Four has a powdery, dusty red appearance, and it smells like smoke and paprika. I find it has a barbeque flavour, with your standard barbeque seasonings. Brand Four would be good for skillet cooking.
THREE AND A HALF STARS***1/2

Jo: I like the texture, Brand Four is finely ground. There’s a mild, smoky flavour but overall I find the whole thing a bit too much like barbeque potato chips – kind of bland ones at that.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Brand Four NINE STARS *********


Brand Five

David’s

Special Steak Rub

175g, $7.99

Available at Ontario fine food stores,

for more info visit davidscondiments.com

available online at foodiepages.ca

Micah: It smells like lemon, and it tastes like pepper and mustard seed. Brand Five is kind of lackluster – like Kettle Pepper Chips, or a one note samba minus the samba. Maybe you could use it for chicken seasoning maybe.
HALF STAR1/2

Sarah: I’m getting sugar. There are big white chunks of onion in this rub – not very appetizing – Brand Five tastes like sugar and pepper and not much else. There’s a citrusy strong smell.
ONE STAR*

Jo: Oh, this is gnarly. Brand Five has a nasty peppery fragrance, with added fake lemon. It tastes like pepper and thyme, with a very bad burning aftertaste. I can’t get over the eau de bogus lemon.
ONE STAR*

Brand Five Total TWO AND A HALF STARS **1/2



Brand Six

Rufus Teague

Steak Rub

176g, $8.00

widely available

for more information visit rufusteague.com

Micah: It’s a mixed bag texture-wise; it smells like your grandparents’ kitchen;
and any excitement seems to be about salt and pepper. It might be trying for a deli
effect. This is classic rock – definitely no psychedelia.
TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Sarah: This rub might work on a flank steak, cut super thin. It looks very retro – black and white salt and pepper.
ONE AND A HALF STARS*1/2

Jo: Brand Six is middle of the road in just about every way. This rub has a back-of-the-cupboard odour; a pleasant texture; and a pedestrian taste. It smells a little smoky.
THREE STARS***

Brand Six Total SEVEN STARS *******


Brand Seven

Barberian’s Steak House

Steak Seasoning

198g, $5.99

available at fine food stores across Canada

to order on line visit canadianfavourites.com

Micah: Brand Seven is refreshingly not like the others. For the first time I’m getting something in the clove direction – there’s a slight Pier One Import thing, maybe a trace of Jamaican style. Balanced salt to spice ratio. Now I want a nice crisp ginger ale.
FOUR STARS****

Sarah: It looks like a seasoned salt, but it has more than that going on. Brand Seven is all about smoke and thyme, and I probably wouldn’t use it on steak – probably wings or a pork loin. I would mix it in potato salad, and quaff down some vino verde.  
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Jo: A shandy! I like the fact that there’s not a lot of heat – I can taste the meat more effectively. Brand Seven is like Tex Mex with thyme, and the ingredients seem fresh and well thought out.
FOUR STARS****

Brand Seven Total TWELVE AND A HALF STARS ************1/2


Brand Eight

President’s Choice

Montreal Style Steak Spice Mix

188g, $3.50

available at Loblaws stores and wherever President’s Choice brand is sold

for more information visit presidentschoice.ca

Micah: I think I know where Brand Eight wants to go – to a Montreal delicatessen. There’s nothing wrong with the smoked meat approach but most of the time I want my fresh steak to taste like actual fresh steak, not pastrami.
THREE STARS*** 

Sarah: Maybe Brand Eight is better suited for roasting than grilling? I agree that it seems to be going for a sort of Duddy Kravitz appeal, but the effect is like someone is trying to preserve the meat rather than season it. Tastes good though.
FOUR STARS****

Jo: N – O ! I think this rub overpowers the steak. It’s trying for a Montreal feel but ends up tasting like a mouthful of really peppery pastrami. And like so many of these rubs it would benefit from some added fat.
ONE AND A HALF STARS*1/2

Brand Eight Total: EIGHT AND A HALF STARS ********1/2

Results: A tie for top choice: Port Alberni’s own Metropolitan Chef and the right stuff from Harry Barberian’s fabled steak house in Toronto. With the exception of one product, the others had their attractions. David’s fell short of the mark – not to rub it in or anything.
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