Smoke and Rubs

The distinctive flavor of grilled foods comes from the cooking as well as the recipe. Charcoal lovers wouldn't think of giving up that smoky taste.

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Although that smoky flavor is missing on a gas grill, wood chips and chunks can be used to boost the smokiness. Most manufacturers advise against putting this directly on the lava rocks or ceramic coals, since ash can clog the gas lines.

Instead, soak the chips or chunks for 20 minutes, drain and place in a metal or disposable foil drip pan. Poke several holes in the bottom of the pan and place it directly on the lava rocks or coals. Preheat it with the grill.

Many other interesting alternatives exist for those who use a charcoal grill. Flavored smoke, a combination of heady aromas from hardwoods and fresh or dried herbs, imparts a special flavored to barbecued foods.


A little usually goes a long way. Use just enough to complement, but not overpower the food's natural taste. Always soak flavorings, such as wood chunks or chips, in water at least 20 minutes before adding to the coals so that they smolder and smoke, not burn.

Herbs can help achieve that classic grilled smoky flavor.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Fresh rosemary adds a fragrant flavor
when sprinkled over hot coals.

Soaked wood chips can help achieve the classic grilled smoky flavor.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Spread the soaked chips over the hot coals.

Small bunches of fresh or dried herbs soaked in water can also add fragrant flavor when sprinkled over hot coals. Rosemary, oregano, and tarragon, for example, can be teamed with wood chips or simply used all by themselves for a new taste.

Soak wood chips or chunks for 20 minutes when grilling.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Soak wood chips or chunks
for twenty minutes.

For a different effect, try soaking wood chips and herbs in wine, rather than water. For poultry and seafood, use white wine with basil, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, or dill. For beef and pork, use red wine with thyme, marjoram, or bay leaves.

Many diverse woods are available for use on the grill. You can find them in supermarkets, hardware stores, and specialty stores. Only hardwoods and fruitwoods, such as hickory, oak, mesquite, pear, or apple should be used to produce aromatic smoke. If you chip your own wood, never use softwoods, such as cedar, pine, or spruce; these emit resins that can give food an unpleasant taste.

Flavored smoke is just one way to enhance the taste of grilled foods. Rubs, marinades, basting liquids, and dipping sauces are all part of the grilling tradition.

Rubs, Marinades, Bastes & Sauces

It's only natural, given the ease of grilling, that there should be simple ways to add extra flavor and excitement to grilled meats, poultry, and seafood. Rubs and marinades take two different approaches to achieving this goal.

Rubs add flavor, and in some cases, seal in juices to form a delicious crust. They can be applied just before cooking, or the rubs can be applied to the food and refrigerated for several hours for a more pronounced flavor.

Rubs can enhance the flavor when grilling meat.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Use fingertips to rub the mix
over both sides of the meat.

Dry rubs are seasoning blends that are rubbed onto foods before grilling and often include coarsely ground black or white pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Sometimes mustard powder, brown sugar, and ground red pepper are used. Crushed herbs, such as sage, basil, thyme, and oregano are other good choices.

Paste rubs are dry seasonings held together with small amounts of wet ingredients, such as oil, crushed garlic, prepared mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or horseradish.

Marinades add flavor and also moisten the surface of the meat to prevent it from drying out over the hot coals.

Flavoring marinades are used for fish, boneless/skinless chicken breast halves, vegetables, and already tender cuts of meat. These foods are only marinated for a short period of time -- 15 minutes to 2 hours.


Tenderizing marinades include an acidic ingredient such as wine, vinegar, yogurt, tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice, combined with herbs, seasonings, and oil. Some fruits also contain tenderizing enzymes. These include, pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and figs. Beef, pork, lamb, and bone-in chicken pieces should be marinated in a tenderizing marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Turn marinating foods occasionally to let the flavor infuse evenly.

Marinating can tenderize foods for grilling.
©Publications International, Ltd.
Marinating in resealable plastic bags
is easy and there's no clean up.

Marinating grilling recipes helps pop the flavor.
© Publications International, Ltd.
Marinating infuses flavor into
all kinds of grilled foods.

Marinating with a tenderizing marinade should be done in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container. The acid can cause a chemical reaction if an aluminum pan is used. Resealable plastic food storage bags are also great to hold foods as they marinate.

Barbecue sauce is a delicious basting sauce for grilling.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Add barbecue sauce when meat is
almost done so it doesn't burn.

Basting and dipping sauces can add another boost to grilled foods. You can prepare a separate recipe. Or, you can simply reserve some of the marinade before adding the meat and use it to make a dipping sauce or to baste the meat while it is cooking.

Only use marinade drained from the meat as a basting sauce if the meat will cook on the grill for at least 5 minutes after the last application of the marinade.

If you want to use marinade drained from the meat to make a dipping sauce, you must follow food safety practices. Place the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring it to a full boil and boil for at least 1 minute. These precautions are necessary to prevent the cooked food from becoming contaminated with bacteria from the raw meat.

Safety Tips
To prevent contamination:
  • Always marinate foods in the refrigerator.

  • Never save and reuse a marinade.

Now that you know the mechanics of making delicious grilled foods, all you need are some quick tips to make sure you're off to the right start. We give you some great grilling tips in the next section.

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