What’s the Deal with SPG?
SPG (salt, pepper, and garlic) doesn’t need much introduction. It’s possibly the most commonly used rub in all of barbecue. And for good reason – salt, pepper, and garlic are the flavors barbecue. When you think of barbecue, you think of those flavors.
But I’ll be honest – when I got into grilling, it was all about plain salt and pepper – and that’s what I have stuck with through the years. My first steak was plain salt and pepper, and since then I have never found a better method.
Nevertheless, you can’t read a post or watch a video online that doesn’t include garlic, so I decided, after all these years, that it was time to try out the famous SPG.
But I faced a dilemma. When I checked online to find out the “proper” salt/pepper/garlic ratio, there were lots of different opinions. And I also wasn’t sure if they needed to be adjusted to account for the extra saltiness of kosher meat.
So, in the name of science, I decided it was time to have a cookout…
Combing the internet, the two most popular SPG mixes were:
- 1-1-1, equal parts of all three ingredients, and
- 4-2-1, four parts kosher salt, two parts garlic powder, and one part black pepper
Now, it just so happened that earlier in the day, I saw a video by Kosmo’s Q called “Best Smoked Chicken Wings” that used SPG, and nothing gets me more excited than “Best Smoked Chicken Wings,” so the menu was going to be easy.
I tend to like peppery food, so my hunch was that I would prefer the 1-1-1 ratio, but there was only one way to find out!
Preparing the Wings…
First thing we needed to do was unpack the wings and sprinkle the rub. These were both pretty potent spice mixes, so I only sprinkled on a moderate amount. Here’s a photo of the seasoned wings. The 1-1-1 wings were on the left, and the 4-2-1 wings were on the right.
On the Grill…
Time to heat up the grill. I cooked these in the 22″ WSM using both grates, and an empty water pan. I used a medium fire – about 325 degrees. The benefit to cooking over a medium indirect fire is that I didn’t have to flip the wings mid-cook, and the skin still turned out nice and crispy. If I used a cooler fire, the skin wouldn’t have crisped up properly. If I used a hotter fire or cooked over direct heat, I would have had to keep flipping every few minutes, and they still might have burned.
After 10 minutes on the grill I checked the internal temp, and I saw that it had risen from 50 degrees to 120. I guessed that I still had another 10 minutes to go. The pit temp was holding steady at 325.
Ten minutes later the wings look perfect. Internal temp was 165 degrees and they were ready to come off. I let them rest a few minutes before digging in.
All of chicken looked and smelled great, and we couldn’t wait to dig in.
First we tried some 4-2-1 pieces. They were ok – but being completely honest, not amazing. We felt they were very “one-dimensional.” They basically tasted like salted wings, with just light hints of garlic and pepper. This rub could work as a “base-layer” for a finishing sauce down the road, but it didn’t provide enough flavor on its own.
Next we tried the 1-1-1 chicken. Now this was alot better! The equal parts salt and garlic gave the chicken a great sweetness, however, the black pepper at the end was a bit too much – even for me.
One taster commented that although the 1-1-1 chicken was very peppery, it was still quite tasty since the pepper didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. Overall, it was a tasty rub, with just a bit too much pepper.
So you’d think it would be pretty clear which rub I liked better, but, in the name of science, we decided to have another bbq the next night, and try one more SPG mix. This one was a combination of the first two:
- 4-3-2, four parts kosher salt, three parts garlic powder, and two parts black pepper
(If you do the math, this one is an exact combination of the first two rubs.)
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a lot of pictures, but I can share our tasting notes. This last rub had the perfect amount of black pepper, yet it still wasn’t the perfect all-purpose rub. It was very heavy on the garlic, and I’m personally not a huge garlic fan.
So what do I recommend in the end? To tell the truth, I don’t really think SPG is well suited as a stand-alone seasoning in most cases. It doesn’t provide much depth or complexity of flavor, and it needs to be combined with other flavor elements.
But – if you have a good finishing sauce or marinade, SPG can be an excellent way to give your bbq food some extra spice. Use 4-2-1 to add saltiness, 4-3-2 to add a garlicky flavor, and 1-1-1 for a peppery kick.
Let me know what you use SPG on, and what your favorite ratio is. Hope you enjoy!For reference, here are links to the barbecue gear and supplies I use.
- Ratings Guide: Reviews of the Best Grills, Smokers, Accessories, Sauces, and Rubs
- Price Tracker: Crowd-sourcing the Lowest Prices Online for Ingredients, Supplies and Disposables