Here’s the Rub

Texas-style barbecued beef brisket
Texas-style barbecued beef brisketAndré Baranowski

Spice rubs, also called dry rubs, are essential to Texas-style barbecued beef brisket. Some rubs are a simple blend of salt and pepper; among the others are sugar and ground dried thyme, oregano, cumin, chiles, and paprika. "A rub is all we use—no sauces," says Keith Schmidt, the owner of Kreuz Market, a revered barbecue establishment in Lockhart, Texas, whose rub consists of nothing more than salt, pepper, and cayenne. Massaging a rub onto the surface of the meat the night before cooking will flavor it and, thanks to the salt in the mix, tenderize it. If you add sugar—brown, cane, and granulated beet sugars are all used—it will caramelize during cooking to produce a browned and deliciously toasty exterior, but even the simplest salt-and-pepper rubs form a savory crust, which makes for an appealing texture and seals in moisture. Dry rubs work beautifully on a well-marbled cut like brisket, which conducts the fat-soluble spice to its interior as it cooks. "Once the fat gets hot and fluid, the rub will permeate into the meat," says Schmidt. "It's integral to the flavor—you'd sure notice it if it wasn't there."