It’s finally summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, which means priorities are about to shift to slow weekends and cook-outs. In case you were about to begin to plead that it’s too hot out for coffee, we’re here to show you a totally different way to rotate coffee in your summer menu: coffee BBQ rubs.
We hear you mumbling “Wut?” at your screen. Don’t get weird, get excited, because ground coffee adds a new dimension to your meat that simple salt and pepper can’t achieve. A good rub accentuates and clarifies the flavors already present in the meat you’re barbecuing, but a great rub “gives the meat something extra… enhances the flavor and the overall eating experience.” So says Tim Midyett, creator of Midyett Premium, a BBQ rub made with salt, pepper, coffee, and sumac, blended with beef and game meats in mind.
Rubs—made with a huge range of ingredients limited only by imagination—have been making slow-cooked meat better for centuries. Without a layer of seasoning, the outside of the meat chars up over heat, but a thick layer of mix creates a crunchy, salty crust on the meat which adds an intriguing twist to the experience. When rubs are made with just salt and pepper, only the pepper chars, but adding coffee can create a deeper more complex flavor. Herb-based rubs can’t accomplish this because herbs are more delicate and don’t shine when cooked that way.
“The thing about coffee is that it’s already roasted, so it already has that deep complex flavor,” Midyett points out, which is what BBQ lovers are typically looking for in their summer steaks.
So how do you bring this to your table? Midyett recommends starting with darker roasts and heavier flavors, “something that has notes of a dark berry, or tobacco flavors.” A coffee that’s too light can impart a more vegetal flavor profile on red meat, which can be unpleasant, but Midyett also pointed out that light roasts might be okay for chicken or fish.
Rebecca Combs, the chef behind Spirited Cooking and the delicious coffee dinners profiled previously on Sprudge, agreed. “Something about [adding coffee] just gave the meat an earthier taste,” she said of her pulled pork rub. I decided to pay a personal visit to her kitchen to get serious about a recipe I, with my limited cooking skills, could try for dinner. Midyett had recommended a starting point of two parts salt, one part pepper, and Combs advised picking additional ingredients based on one's goal flavor profile.
“A little heat, a little smoke, a little acid, a little sweet—I like having all four of those components,” Combs recommends. Key is trying the mix before you put it on meat: “Take a little dab of it after it’s all mixed, and think, ‘Is that too much, do I like the flavor?’”
Don’t leave a coffee rub on your meat too long before cooking, Combs warns, because coffee has “such a strong flavor, you don’t want it to take over the meat.” She recommended letting coffee sit on the meat for only half an hour before cooking. Also important is your grind setting—too fine and the coffee will turn to sludge when the fat on your meat starts melting, but too thick and the grinds get caught in your teeth. Aim for a coarseness similar to what you’d use for a pour-over or batch brew.
Armed with this expert advice, I worked with food blogger Erin Parker Skinner of The Speckled Palate to arrive at a rub recipe we'd be proud to call our own.
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
1 ⅓ tablespoon coffee (we used a medium-roast coffee from Panama)
1 tablespsoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
Spread on a pork tenderloin, sear, then bake until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit
Paired with some mashed potatoes and zucchini? That’s an ideal summer dinner, one I’ve had dreams about since. When you make your own rub at home, keep experimenting and taste as you go.
And in case you fall on the sauce side of the great rub versus sauce debate, here’s a bonus idea: brewed coffee makes an excellent BBQ sauce base.