Can’t stomach another plain grilled chicken breast for dinner? Before you begin sifting through the millions of recipes you’ll be hit with by a Google search, head over to your spice rack.

Mixing dry spices and rubbing them onto meat has been used by barbeque pit masters for years to procure meat with deep and layered flavors. Thankfully, you don’t need a smoker or 7 hours of cooking to take advantage of a dry rub. All you need is the right spice combination and a willing chicken breast, pork tenderloin or fish fillet.

Dry rubs can definitely amp up your food and take you out of your culinary rut. But their goodness just begins there. A dry rub is also a great way of boosting the flavor of food without adding calories, sodium or excess fat. Spices are calorie-free, and as such they are fat-free and carbohydrate-free.

I keep two or three dry-rub mixes on hand, each with its own flavor angle, to take my mundane protein to another level in minutes. When I’m in the mood for fiery spice, I go for the chipotle rub; and when I’m in more of a mellow, earthy mood, the coffee rub is my answer. Spices also deliver a punch of color to your proteins, which will entice your eyes as much as your taste buds. The best part is that these mixes can be made well in advance, so long as they are stored in air-tight containers.

Rub in the mix, and then grill, roast or sear your meat or fish. Dinner will never be boring again!

Secret Spice Weapons
smoked paprika: smoky
chipotle powder: fiery and smoky
instant coffee or espresso: earthy
cumin: zesty
brown sugar: sweet and candied*

*Will add 11 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon. If you add this to your mix, store it in the freezer to prevent the sugar from drying out.

Dry Rubs
Punching up the flavor of your protein with a dry rub is quick, easy and calorie-free. Take a few minutes to blend the rub recipes below, and store them in an airtight container for days when your food needs a little boost. Keep in mind that rubs don’t have to contain multiple ingredients; one of my favorite flavorings is a generous sprinkling of smoked paprika on my shrimp or pork tenderloin. It provides the same smoky flavor and dark wood hue you would get from cooking with sausage or bacon but without all the calories and fat.

Note that salt was not added to any of the rub recipes, so be sure to season your protein with salt first, if desired.

Chipotle Rub: Smoky & Spicy
Great for fish, chicken and pork; yields about 1/2 cup.
1/4 cup chipotle chili powder
2 tablespoons (tbs) ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons (tsp) ground cumin
1 tbs plus 1 tsp dried oregano

Coffee Rub: Earthy
Great for beef and pork; yields about 1/3 cup.
3 tbs instant espresso powder
1 tbs Spanish paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin

How to Apply a Dry Rub
Sprinkle couple of tablespoons of spice blend onto cutting board and press protein over it. Lift protein and press down on areas that need rub adhered to them. Add more spice rub to board if necessary. Turn protein over and press it onto board to completely coat its other side. When you are done, you should not be able to see any meat through spice rub.

Source: Original recipes by Lourdes Castro, MS, RD.