Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Regional Rib Rub Challenge

I heard from a friend that local superstar chef Kent Rathbun had a line of BBQ rubs and sauces available at Central Market. After finding several other commercial rubs available from regional producers, I decided to pit them against one another in a "Rib Rub Challenge".

Here's the line-up:
Angelo's Pork Ribs and Poultry Bar-B-Que Seasoning; Fort Worth, TX
Sucklebusters Competition BBQ Rub; Coppell, TX
Kent Rathbun Elements Barbeque Rub; Manor, TX
Big Fatty's Mistress Karlita's Spanking Rub; Valley View, TX

I also threw in a control sample of fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt at a 4:1 pepper to salt ratio.

I fired up the smoker with some hickory and apple wood, and rubbed five half racks of baby back ribs.

When they were done, I packed them all up to go to the park and meet a fried who'd smoked a pork shoulder with a hefty dose of Kent Rathbun's rub.

The Rathbun rub had a good kick of spice, so it worked well on the pork shoulder that had a high meat to surface area ratio. The pork was pulled on site, and was good and juicy. I'd recommend this rub for the same cut, but it needs to go on pretty lightly. All of that paprika (first ingredient) created a powdery coating that just can't soak into the meat if the rub is too heavy. A dip into any of Rathbun's three sauces didn't improve the flavor, so we enjoyed it without sauce.

That same powdery character became even more apparent on the ribs, and the importance of salt became paramount.

I had planned to get some photos of each half rack after cooking, but when it came time to eat we were just too quick. All I got was this shot of the Angelo's rubbed ribs, which was the favorite for the commercial rubs. Having salt as the first ingredient was key to its win. The paprika and other spices were there more for color and to add a hint of flavor so they didn't gum up the texture of the bark. The basic reason for this is that rub ingredients like salt and sugar dissolve into the meat and flavor it, while powders like paprika, garlic and onion powders sit on top of the meat and do not dissolve. If those powdery ingredients make up too much of the rub, then the result is a grainy texture of spices rather than a good bark. This was the main reason for Kent Rathbun's rub to take the next spot down. It's got the most coarse texture and has paprika as the first ingredient. Sucklebusters came next. The rub smelled of Lawry's seasoned salt, and the finished product didn't have enough saltiness which makes sense since salt is its fourth ingredient. With salt and sugar as the first two ingredients, you'd expect Big Fatty's to have a fine showing, but this rub was just too spicy to be enjoyable. None of the other flavors could compete with the heat from four types of pepper.

In the end, the basic salt and pepper rub was the winner, and was the only half rack that was finished off. Here are the full results:

1. Salt & Pepper
2. Angelo's
3. Kent Rathbun
4. Sucklebusters
5. Big Fatty's

- BBQ Snob


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the experiment. Highly useful info.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your comparison! I like it, keep them coming. Are you planning a rub comparison on brisket?

BA said...

We like the Angelos for both our brisket and for our pulled pork.Both kinds good for commercial rubs.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to beat salt and pepper on pork ribs. I sometimes add a little seasoned salt, but never so much as to be overbearing. I've also been sampling ribs smoked with different woods. I've always been a mesquite fan, but I have to say that hickory imparts a great flavor into the pork.

Michael said...

Love the detailed reviews...! Anyway, just dropped by to let you know that the several million visitors to Mattters over the last year have selected your blog as one of their favorite blogs of 2010 (in the top 10 on the BBQ channel).

You can see your blog, along with the other contenders, on the BBQ channel at

P.S. We made a cute little '2010 Blogs that Mattter' award that you can pin up on your website if you like those sort of things (you can see it at

Oh, and if for some reason or another you ever think your blog should be on a different channel, or even multiple channels, or perhaps none at all, (or you just want to chat!) just send me a quick email at

All the best,
Social Guy in Chief
Mattters - Follow Your Interests!

SuckleBuster said...

Hey there, thanks for the feedback. Our Competition BBQ Rub was made for beef brisket, although it can be used on any meat. If you cook ribs, try our Hog Waller Rub, it was made for reeebs.


Ping me, I'll be happy to send you a bottle to try.


BBQ Snob said...

Thanks for the info SuckleBuster. Can I find it at Central Market? I'm going this evening to pick up ribs for the weekend.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.