Every good cook knows they have to have salt for cooking, but there are a few essential kinds Cantwell insists you have in your pantry for your barbecue. Kosher salt is the salt for pre-grill and smoker seasonings for Cantwell, and he also uses flake sea salt for finishing steaks, lamb chops, and more, and smoked sea salts to add a little oomph of smoky flavor to some of his dishes.
It’s not rocket science that there are some spices and seasonings required for your grilling rubs, but the ones Cantwell is never without are smoked paprika, onion powder, granulated garlic, and freshly cracked black pepper.
As a barbecue expert, Cantwell believes in a perfect barbecue sauce, but that doesn’t always mean starting from scratch. To save time and money, he recommends buying a store-bought variety and using seasonings, fruit juice, and fruit jams to make it taste unique.
You can’t go wrong having these two sweet ingredients on hand, especially when you’re making pork, says Cantwell. He injects vinegar or apple juice into pork before grilling to tenderize the meat, and the two are frequent ingredients in his barbecue sauces and marinades, as well.
Granulated honey is a common ingredient in many of Cantwell’s barbecue rubs. It adds the perfect amount of sweetness to his rubs without creating a clumpy, sticky mess.
Cantwell whips out his condiments well before he’s ready to dress his grilled specialties. He finds that using mayonnaise or yellow mustard as a pre-rub binder is a great way to inject a rich flavor into your meat without adding a residual aftertaste, and Worcestershire sauce is the perfect beefy flavor to rub down your brisket with before adding dry spices.
Whether it’s used in a brine or a marinade, as an injection, or added to a store-bought barbecue sauce, fruit juice is Cantwell’s favorite secret ingredient to adding a punch of fruity flavor to his barbecue.
Another common ingredient at Cantwell’s barbecues is granulated brown sugar. Whether it’s adding a subtle sweetness to a rub he’s creating or sweetening up his barbecue sauce, this unrefined sugar is a favorite of his.
Ground chile peppers such as ancho, chipotle, and cayenne are Cantwell’s best-kept secret for creating additional depth and heat to his sauces and dry rubs.
Along with fruit juice, Cantwell always has jams and jellies on hand to add a layer of fruitiness to his barbecue sauces.
Mexican food is often a common theme at Cantwell’s barbecues, and so he’s never without a dash of cumin. It’s not only a well-known seasoning of Mexican cooking, but its smoky appeal makes it a great match for the barbecue.
Ground coffee is Cantwell’s favorite wow-the-crowd ingredient when creating rubs with depth and flavor. A tablespoon or two is all he needs to amp up a traditional rub, so he’s never without it in his kitchen.
Along with store-bought sauces, Cantwell often buys prepared barbecue rubs rather than the seasonings separately to save time and money. If he doesn’t like a particular store-bought brand’s blend, he’ll tweak it by adding more heat or sweetness to make it exactly what he likes.
Just because you’re grilling doesn’t mean you don’t need this fatty staple, says Cantwell. He likes adding it to sauces for a layer of richness, or finishing his grilled steaks or chops with a thick pad of it.
Cantwell always has prepared stocks on hand to use as bases for his barbecue injections. The most obvious and his favorite ones to use are beef and chicken, and he’d never pass up on a chance of purchasing prepared pork stock whenever he sees it.