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Turkey Rub

Turkey Rub: Seasoning, Dry Brine, Paste, Basting Sauce, Marinade, Finishing Sauce

Nomenclature gets in the way here, what is a turkey rub?

Many barbecue terms are ill defined. People pretend that they have specific meanings but different terms are used for the same products - while the same term may be used by different people to describe different products.

Lets look at "rub." Most often a rub (sometimes called a dry rub) is a combination of seasonings with salt as the main ingredient.

In this case it is the same as "dry brining", or "pre-salting". Here the salt carries other flavors into the meat. It is rinsed off before cooking the meat so that it will not be too salty. We believe in brining wet or dry so in that sense we use a rub, but we give it time to work overnight and we call it a dry brine.

The term rub is also used to describe a mixture of seasonings containing little or no salt. To us this is just seasoning. You can sprinkle it on or rub it into your turkey. This gives the flavor of the spices but does not brine the meat. Remember too that the flavor of many spices transform during the barbecue process as they mix with smoke and as they themselves cook.

Some people refer to a wet rub or wet turkey rub. By this they mean seasoning that is no longer dry. It has oil or other liquid added so that it can be used as a barbecue sauce.

So what is the recipe for a Turkey Seasoning Mix? There are as many recipes as there are combinations of seasonings. Here is an example of a simple one.


Turkey Seasoning Recipe

A simple turkey seasoning or what might be called a non brining turkey rub is:

1 part onion powder
1 part garlic powder
1 part ground sage
1 part ground celery seed
1 part thyme
1 part or more secret ingredient
Salt and pepper to taste

Dry Turkey Brine -

This "Dry Rub" Recipe is what we refer to as a dry brine - read about dry brines here - this is not to spice the turkey but to brine it. To turn the above recipe into a dry brine turkey rub use 16 parts salt to the other ingredients. For example use one cup of salt to 1 tablespoon of all of the other ingredients.

That is:

1 cup salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground sage
1 tablespoon ground celery seed
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon or more secret ingredient


Turkey Paste Recipe

To turn the first Turkey Seasoning Recipe into a Paste just combine butter with the other ingredients.

So what makes a barbecue sauce? There are at least two very general categories of barbecue sauce. One is used during the cooking process sometimes called a mop or basting sauce, the other sometimes referred to as a finishing sauce or a dipping sauce is used at the end or after the cooking process.

Barbecue Basting Sauce

There are many ways to turn the Turkey Seasoning Recipe into a Basting Sauce or Mop. Often this type of sauce has oil especially if it will be used on less fatty meat like turkey and it usually has some acid to brighten the flavor, and to marinade the meat during the cooking process. It often has little or no sugar because the sugar could burn as the sauce is applied during the cooking process, but sometimes sugar is used and the heat is kept low to prevent burning.

So the Seasoning Recipe could be turned into a Basting Sauce by adding oil and acid for example:

1 stick of butter or 1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground sage
1 tablespoon ground celery seed
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon or more secret ingredient

Turkey Marinade

A marinade is used to flavor meat by soaking it in the marinade. The difference between a brine and a marinade, besides the fact that all brines are technically marinades, is that brines are salt based and work through osmosis while marinades are acid based.

So how can we turn our Turkey Seasoning Recipe into a marinade?

The recipe for the Basting Sauce works fine for a Turkey Marinade. If you are deep frying a turkey you may want a marinade with a little more heat (spice). This will also work as an injection marinade, but again you may want more hot cajun spices if you are looking for an injection marinade for a deep fried turkey.

Finishing Sauce

A finishing sauce often has some sweetness added. There is no longer a problem of sugar burning because this sauce is used at the end of the cooking process or as a dipping sauce. This type of sauce often has less oil than basting sauce and the most popular have a tomato base.
So our Seasoning Recipe could be turned into a finishing sauce by adding a little oil, some acid, some tomato, and some sugar for example:

1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Cup tomato puree
3/4 Cup cider vinegar
3/4 Cup water
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 Cup tomato paste
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon ground sage
1 tablespoon ground celery seed
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon or more secret ingredient


There are many other types of finishing sauces. You can see some on our turkey barbecue sauce page.

And now we have sorted out all of the different turkey sauces and turkey rubs. Or have we.

Add a too much salt and a non brining turkey rub becomes a dry brine. If you add acid to a brine is it a marinade. If a mop has sugar is it really a finishing sauce? There are no real answers. These recipes work as a continuum.

There is no consensus. Barbecue experts vehemently disagree as to whether mops or rubs should be used. Some say nothing but dry turkey rub should ever touch meat, others insist that it isn't barbecue without barbecue sauce.

What brings the flavor that you want is the real answer. Experiment and share your answer with us.

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Copyright © 2009 - 2015 The Perfect Turkey
Copyright © 2009 - 2015 The Perfect Turkey
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