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One of my earliest memories of food are the barbecues my parents used to throw for friends and family. It wasn’t just the meat itself, but the heaps of potato salad, coleslaw, beans and other side dishes covering tables. And the meat that came off the old pit smoker Dad had made from a surplus drum just seemed to melt in my mouth, especially the chicken with beautifully browned and crisp skin that had been spiced with a simple rub. So good, you didn’t even need his homemade sauce.

Use marinade in addition to a rub to impart maximum flavor, but if you don’t have time to marinade, rubs are a quick way to spice up your grill. Here’s a good, all-purpose barbecue rub that you can use as a base for your own cooking explorations. I’ll give it to you in proportions so you can make as much or as little as you like.

4 parts salt
4 parts brown sugar
4 parts cracked or coarse-ground black pepper
4 parts paprika
2 parts garlic or onion powder
1 part chili powder
Ground red pepper (cayenne, ancho or chipotle, for example) to taste

Thoroughly mix spices in a bowl with a tight lid. Rub generous amount on all surfaces of meat before grilling or smoking. Keep surplus rub covered.

When using this rub with pork, try adding ginger, dry mustard or turmeric. For beef, crank up the red pepper. Toss in a little lemon pepper or citrus zest with chicken.

Play with your food. You might like what happens. And even if your dish is a dud, you’ve learned something.