When it comes to smoking meat, a good dry rub is key to imbuing serious flavor to the meat. However, while many pit masters just massage that rub into the meat by itself, some use something a little extra – mustard. Before adding the dry rub, the meat – typically pork shoulder or ribs – is slathered in a thick layer of mustard. Why is that? Does the mustard give an extra layer of flavor? Does it help the rub bind better to the meat? If so, why not use something else like hot sauce or even maple syrup?
Unlike with other gourmet dishes like beef wellington, a solid slathering of English mustard doesn’t give smoked meat any additional flavor. In fact, after hours of smoking, diners will be hard pressed to find any mustard flavor on the meat at all. However, mustard does give good smoked barbecue a different sort of edge.
Instead of letting some of a spice rub melt off with the slowly melting fat, the mustard actually binds it better to the meat. This is especially true of meats where a good volume of the meat is lost to fat. If you like smoked meat with an awesome, flavorful bark, then add a layer of mustard to it. It doesn’t need to be a thick layer, or even an expensive mustard. Since smokers aren’t adding the mustard for flavor, a thin layer of cheap yellow mustard works best. However, for those that do want some serious mustard flavor, you can’t go wrong with a South Carolinian-style barbecue sauce.