The Background

Why “411”?
Why is it called Big Al’s x11 Spice Rub? Well, from my picture on the front page I think the first part of that might be obvious. I’m Big Al. But where does the x11 come from?

The 411 Spice Rub recipe was originally inspired by Alton Brown’s 8-3-1 (+1) recipe on the “Who Loves Ya Baby-Back?” episode of the Good Eats show on the Food Network. I tried that recipe a few times and found it to be terrifically too salty, and I found out I don’t care for “braised” (i.e. “steamed”) ribs. They ended up with the taste and texture of liver.

But the recipe worked as a minimal starting point. The 8-3-1 denoted the ratio of brown sugar (8 parts), salt (3 parts), and chili powder (1 part), +1 part of whatever other spices you might like to add. As you will see, my recipe differs quite substantially from that one.

I started with the exact recipe and proportions provided in that show. Experimenting, I replaced some spices with others, increasing and decreasing amounts, cooking rack after rack of ribs over the course of several years to nail this 411 Spice Rub recipe down. This recipe is the result of those many dozens of trials. I even kept a spreadsheet with notes on what I did and what to try next if it wasn’t quite right.

The reason I called it x11 is that I intended to have four versions of it for sale. The 111, the 411, the 811, and the 911. The 911 was going to be the hottest (“Call 9-1-1!”), the 811 just a bit less so. The recipe I’m providing here is a starter with just a little bit of a spicy heat kick. The 111 of course is one that can be prepared without any of the hot pepper if so desired. You can change the heat factor just by adding more or less cayenne pepper (although that would change the all-important proportions).

Sure, looking at the recipe, all the ingredients are standard things most people have in their cupboards. But it is the preparation and the proportions of these ingredients that turns this recipe into something special. I found that varying one of the elements by even one-quarter teaspoon created a big change in the final product, so modify at your own risk.

This is a dry rub that, when properly applied, creates its own sauce. So you can have your ribs “dry” (but still moist, chewy, and tasty), or apply the sauce that renders out if you so desire. Personally, I save those drippings and add them to beans, vegetables, or potatoes instead. The ribs don’t need it!

I also call it “Spice Rub” instead of “Rib Rub” because it is a very versatile starting point for a mix that works well in beans, on cooked apples, or the crowning glory, Bacon Candy. Seriously, people just go crazy for that. I’ll tell you how to modify the recipe for that application as well.

Please consider donating if you find my recipe useful. (You don’t even have to tell anyone you yourself didn’t come up with it!)

CAUTION: LONG STORY FOLLOWS!

In 2008 I was laid off from my job of 15+ years at the same place. I was totally blindsided by this and had had plenty of plans for the future as the company I worked for (the company which shall not be named) had had before that a reputation of a “great company to work for”, “once you’re an employee, you’re an employee for life”, etc. So I had expected to be working there until retirement age and perhaps beyond, because I really liked what I was doing and was really good at it. Why was I laid off? A lot of people were, at that time. I just happened to be in-between projects at that time and I had already trained in a new crew, so the Company didn’t think they needed me any more. Perhaps I had done too well in producing the documentation on “The Way Things Work” as even the newest newbie could now follow my procedures to complete even the most complex task. I was too good a teacher in that I taught what turned out to be my replacements too well. (Still in contact with some former co-workers, I discovered that even though my procedures were laid out well, the replacements were very slow at implementing them. What I could have done in five minutes was taking two hours or more. Not to mention the company now missing the expertise I offered by knowing where to look to handle those unique and unusual incidents that were more rare, but more serious. I found out about one incident that occurred that I could have fixed handily, that cost the company in downtime more than they would have paid me in a year.)

So, I now had a lot of time off. What else to do? I knew how to cook, and drink (and did a lot of both at the time). Eventually I began to focus on this spice rub as I was getting compliments on how unique and excellent the ribs and other offerings were turning out. At one point I decided to really pursue the variations to make the very best recipe I could come up with. I began sorting out and carefully measuring ingredients. Sometimes I eliminated something, sometimes I added something. Sometimes I put back something I had eliminated. I kept a chart of what exact ingredients and proportions I used. The cooking method was always the same as I wanted to eliminate that variable. Besides, I knew that people would cook their ribs their own darn way regardless of my recommendations! I figured out that it’s not the particular ingredients that are important (after all, they are pretty standard), it is the proportions in which they are used.

So the random “+1” recommended by Alton Brown was actually the key to getting this mix to a perfected state. His recipe said, “Ehhhh… just throw anything else you got in there to make another 1 part”. For me that +1 part was crucial to getting the right recipe. Even a ¼ teaspoon difference in a single ingredient makes a huge difference in the final product.