Americans are culinary wusses!
It’s true. America is the spice wimp capital of the world. We produce the mildest, blandest, least interesting food in the world, and then try to disguise that fact by drowning our food in sugar. People swarm to Chinese, Japanese and Mexican restaurants in search of flavor, but even then, once Americans take ownership of these restaurants, the first thing they do is remove all the authentic flavor from the dishes.
You may think I exaggerate, but I recently went to an American “Mexican” restaurant and ordered the grilled fajita taco salad. I received a plate full of lettuce with some lightly seasoned beef, topped with tomatoes and bell peppers. Are you kidding me? I asked the waiter if I could at least get some jalapeno peppers — a Mexican staple and the most popular pepper in the world. The only thing they had was a jar of pickled jalapeno slices. This is for real. A Mexican restaurant that doesn’t have a single jalapeno in the store. Welcome to America.
So this brings me to my tip. When you first start barbecuing or smoking meat, you will likely turn to Google in search of recipes. Be forewarned, the vast majority of these recipes will have you using small quantities of generic spices and then disguise those flavors will large amounts of sugar. For the love of God, don’t go down this road.
Recommendation #1 — The three spices I can’t live without:
Now, you don’t have to use these brands, but for barbecue rubs or even chili seasonings, these flavors make an enormous difference. The dark chili powder has a deep rich, almost cocoa-like flavor. The Chipotle powder and Paprika are both very sweet and smoky flavored. Before you go out and buy the large quantities I’ve shown here, go to your local supermarket or international grocery and buy a small 2 oz. container and give them a try. I won’t have to sell you, I guarantee.
Recommendation #2 — Don’t follow the recipes:
Any recipe that calls for Cayenne pepper, I substitute Chipotle pepper. Try just sprinkling some of this on your deviled eggs. I’m telling you, there is no wrong way to use it. It’s especially true with barbecue rubs, where you are already trying to add smoky flavor to your food, right?
But here’s the curve ball: Almost all American barbecue recipes are written by confirmed spice wimps. I know you’ve seen these recipes. Your following a recipe to make a cup of chili seasoning and it calls for 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. What? This is going to season 2 gallons of chili. 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper in 2 gallons of chili is going to do what? You might as well just omit it. No one would know the difference.
So, yes… I sometime borrow other Americans wimpy recipes, but I always modify them for what I’m doing. Where it calls for chili powder, I’ll use dark chili powder, or I might use Ancho chili powder, depending on the flavor profile I’m looking for. When it calls for paprika, I used the smoked paprika, and when it calls for 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne I’ll substitute with something more reasonable, like 2 teaspoons of Chipotle powder.
Of course, you’ll need to experiment to find your own sweet spot, but don’t be afraid of spices. They are healthy and full of flavor. It’s all the sugar we consume that is extremely unhealthy. You may find that if you infuse your food with enough natural flavor to start with, you won’t find it necessary to add all that sugar, including the ubiquitous “barbecue sauce”. Folks, food doesn’t have to be drowned in liquid sugar to be delicious.
Let’s change the way America cooks, and let’s start in our own backyard.