Your Next Steak Rub Should Take Notes From Your Morning Cup Of Joe

From velvety espresso used as a cocktail base to a dash of brew added to brownies to highlight the notes of chocolate, coffee appears in many unlikely dishes. The distinct bitter flavor and acidity add an undertone of complexity that give coffee the coveted "secret ingredient" status for certain dishes. So, what can it do to elevate your steak?

You may think that a great steak is all about the cut of meat, however, if you enjoy a crackling crust on your medium rare, a dry coffee rub could be the touch that brings you up to restaurant quality. The fact is, your dry rub doesn't only flavor the meat; it also tenderizes and texturizes it. Ground coffee plays a role in all three aspects, adding subtle bitterness and a crunchy crust while its acidity helps soften the meat. It also goes well with many other ingredients that are dry rub staples, so there's little reason not to try it the next time you slap one over the heat. 

Why coffee and steak go well together

The first difference you'll notice with a dry coffee steak rub is that the crust formation is better. That crackling crust and juicy pink middle you get on restaurant steaks is partly a result of high-heat cooking. Coffee, like coarsely ground salt and pepper, enhances the texture by helping form a nice crust even at lower temperatures.

As far as flavor is concerned, you don't need to worry about your steak tasting just like your morning cup of joe. Coffee imparts deep, smoky, somewhat earthy notes that don't overpower the other ingredients in the rub, and it helps bring out the umami flavors of the meat. The acidity of coffee also acts as a palate cleanser, much like a sip of wine would in between succulent morsels of fatty meat. The pros at Koffee Kult compare the acidity of coffee to the tannins found in wine, saying that the right coffee rub has an effect similar to pairing your tender ribeye with a robust red. 

The acidic nature of coffee beans also comes into play for tenderizing your meat. Salt, enzymes, and acid are the three natural tenderizers that break down meat proteins, so a coffee rub can help make your steak softer. You can also tenderize a less-than-perfect cut by soaking it in a marinade made with rebrewed coffee grounds. However, dry rubs are best for crust formation, as the moisture of a marinade will hinder a proper sear. 

How to make the best coffee steak rub

Because of its deep and subtle flavor, coffee compliments many staple steak rub fixings. If you've got a high-quality New York strip that you want to savor, a basic rub works well — salt to taste, pepper for some spice, coffee for the bitterness, and a touch of brown sugar to balance it all and help kick-start the browning. With just these ingredients, you get a flavorsome crust that allows the steak's meatiness to take center stage.

Now, if you want to venture further, add a little heat using chipotle or cayenne powder. Garlic and onion powders are also great additions, as are herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Once you've built up some flavor-balancing prowess, you can explore the earthy realms of powdered cumin and coriander and fruity, spicy notes of powdered paprika and cinnamon. Even your existing steak rub recipe can be tweaked to include coffee grounds without worrying about different taste profiles clashing.

Anything from fine to medium-grind coffee works well enough, but use freshly ground beans for best results. Instant espresso is also an option and will give your steak darker and more smoky notes. However, it's important to adjust how much of it you add to the rub, because the espresso will be much bolder.