Memphis is second only to Kansas City as a town of barbecue renown. Many Memphians prefer their ribs "dry", with only a spice rub, so Memphis is justifiably known for rib rubs. A restaurant's gotta have confidence in its meat to serve it with spices only and no sauce. My Memphis Dust is the result of years of fiddling.
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons rosemary powder
About the sugar and salt. I encourage readers to experiment with recipes, and "no rules in the bedroom or dining room" is my motto, but I have gotten some emails that require a comment. One said he loved this recipe but left out the salt. Another left out the white sugar. I appreciate the need to reduce sugar and salt in our diets, but they are in the recipe for more than flavor enhancement, they help form the crust (a.k.a. called "the bark" by the pros), an important part of the texture of the surface of ribs and slow smoke roasted pork. The salt pulls some moisture to the surface to form a "pellicle" and the sugar mixes with the moisture, caramelizes, and also contributes to the crust. There's only about 2 tablespoons of rub to a large slab. Of that about 1 tablespoon is sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. If you eat half a slab, you're not eating much sugar and salt. I recommend you leave them in. And for those of you who object to white sugar for non-dietary reasons, and use brown sugar instead, you need to know brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added. It is not unrefined sugar. I use brown sugar for the flavor and white sugar because it improves the bark. You can substitute table salt, but beware that if you do, you should use about 2/3 as much. Read my article on salt.
About the rosemary. One reader hates rosemary and leaves it out. Trust me, it hides in the background and you will never know it is there. Substitute thyme or oregano if you must, but I think rosemary is the best choice. If you can find ground rosemary, good for you. It's hard to find. So just grind the rosemary leaves in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder. It will take 2 to 3 tablespoons of leaves to make 2 teaspoons of powder.
About the paprika. If you read my discussion of paprika by clicking the link you'll learn about the different kinds of paprika. In short, garden variety grocery store paprika has little flavor and is used mostly for color. But fresh Hungarian or Spanish paprika have mild but distinctive flavors. If you can find them, they improve this recipe. If you wish, you can use smoked paprika, especially good if you are cooking indoors, or even mix in some stronger stuff like ancho (slightly spicy), chipotle powder, cayenne, or chili powder. Chipotle can be quite hot, so be thoughtful of who will be eating your food. I usually go easy on the heat in deference to the kids and wimps (like me) and add it to the sauce or put chipotle powder on the table for the chile heads.
About the ginger. I think it is a very important ingredient. If you don't have any, get some.
1) Mix the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. If the sugar is lumpy, crumble the lumps by hand or on the side of the bowl with a fork. If you store the rub in a tight jar, you can keep it for months. If it clumps just chop it up, or if you wish, spread it on a baking sheet and put it in a 250°F oven for 15 minutes to drive off moisture. No hotter or the sugar can burn.
2) For most meats, sprinkle just enough on to color it. Not too thick, about 2 tablespoons per side of a large slab of St. Louis Cut ribs. For Memphis style ribs without a sauce, apply the rub thick enough to make a crunchy crust, about 3 tablespoons per side (remember to Skin 'n' Trim the back side). To prevent contaminating your rub with uncooked meat juices, spoon out the proper amount before you start and seal the bottle for future use. Keep your powder dry. To prevent cross-contamination, one hand sprinkles on the rub and the other hand does the rubbing. Don't put the hand that is rubbing into the powder.
3) Massage the rub into the meat at least an hour before cooking. Better still, rub them up, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them overnight before cooking.
I typically use about 1 tablespoon per side of a slab of St. Louis cut ribs, and a bit less for baby backs. Store the extra in a zipper bag or a glass jar with a tight lid.