Coffee: The Secret Ingredient in Rib Dry Rub

Nearly every pit master — including the backyard barbecuer — touts a secret recipe for grilled ribs. There’s usually a highly classified ingredient involved in the recipe, and with the right amount of praise for the chef, you may be able to uncover it. And chances are, it could be coffee. Barbecue enthusiasts have long been using coffee in their recipes, taking advantage of the bitter, peppery flavor and aroma that the ground beans bring to the meat.

The earthy flavor of coffee grounds works for all types of ribs, from beef short ribs to St. Louis-style pork ribs, so try adding them to your next dry rub. In addition to enhancing the flavor of the meat, coffee acts as a natural tenderizer. Similar to the tannins in wine and tea, tannins in coffee bind to protein strands and create a barrier between the strands when the meat is cooking, resulting in less tightening. Start by adding a couple of tablespoons of ground coffee to a simple three-ingredient dry rub recipe. Garlic salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and the grounds will tenderize the meat, and create a salty, smoky, sweet, and robust flavor profile. If you want to add more spices, the sky’s the limit with a dry rub, just be careful to balance the flavors. Also, the finer the coffee grounds, the bolder the taste, so consider this when choosing the strength of roast and the coarseness of your grind.

Coffee peps up dry rubs, marinades, and glazes

coffee grounds and beans

There are few rules governing the type of coffee roast you can use on grilled ribs, but staying away from flavored coffee is best. A good rule of thumb is to add the blend of coffee you enjoy drinking. Keep it simple; we’re not looking for hazelnut-flavored ribs here, and you can better obtain any sweetness you’re looking for by adding more sugar, honey, or natural sweetener. Once you’ve blended your dry rub, apply it liberally to your ribs, wrap them in plastic or foil, and refrigerate them for several hours to overnight. From here, you can throw your ribs directly on the grill, or try a double-cooking method like in this recipe for baked and grilled baby back pork ribs. When the coated ribs hit the grill, the dry rub will sear, and the coffee grounds — along with the sugars — will caramelize beautifully.

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If you’re interested in pre-marinating ribs, using brewed coffee lends a wonderfully earthy flavor without being overpowering. You can replace some of the liquid, such as soy sauce or vinegar, in your favorite tangy barbecue sauce or marinade with an equal amount of coffee. Likewise, liquid coffee can be substituted in a glaze for extra richness. Try swapping some of the cider in this easy glaze recipe of apple cider, honey, brown sugar, and spices. With a little experimentation, coffee may just become the secret ingredient that will have your guests clamoring for your recipe.

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