Ode to Magic Dust

Many years ago I spent quite a bit of  time in Memphis on business.  One morning, while I was scouting locations for a large event, I found myself on Beale Street.  I had a 10 am site survey appointment at a famous Memphis barbecue joint.  I needed to see the private rooms, strategize a seating plan, get a sense of the menu, etc.  This was the first of many stops that day.

I was promptly met by the hospitable General Manager and wife team who greeted me with a red plaid paper carton full of dry beef ribs.  Or were they pork?  How nice, I thought, to bring some show and tell to the meeting.  After all, this is what my guests would be eating.

“Arent you going to try the ribs?” they asked right away.  I have an issue with bones, prefer using a knife and fork, crave coffee over meat at 10 am  and am not a huge beef or pork eater but I also have a sense of decorum so I had a seat with the couple and got down to business.    I picked up a rib (with my hands) and obliged.

I couldn’t help but notice that, as well as standard salt and pepper shakers, every table had a shaker of some reddish-brown powder on it.  “What’s this?” I asked.  “Why, that’s Magic Dust”, they replied.  “That’s what we rub our ribs with before we cook them nice and slow for hours.”  And so began my love affair with Magic Dust.

Magic Dust is a combination of spices – paprika, salt, sugar, mustard powder, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic.  The hotness or sweetness can be adjusted with the addition or subtraction of sugar or cayenne.

Coincidentally, upon my return, I decided to make baked beans as a side dish.  Several of the recipes I sourced all had Magic Dust as an ingredient.  So, I set out to make my first and far from last batch of the dust.  I ended up making a larger quantity than I needed for the beans and started looking for other uses for this magical powder.

We now have a shaker full of it at the ready.  In our house, there are three main, almost weekly, uses and countless other “well, I guess we could put some Magic Dust on it” moments.  The three primary uses are:

1) as a dry rub on pork tenderloin

2) as a “hmm, what is in here?” ingredient for a Bloody Mary and for a decorative and tasty addition to the cocktail glass rim

3) on popcorn.

Magic Dust

I have also found that people love receiving it as a gift.  Different, unexpected and fantastic.  Here is the recipe for when you too want to experience the magic of Magic Dust.

Magic Dust Rub

by Mike Mills


½ cup paprika

¼ cup kosher salt, finely ground

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons mustard powder

¼ cup chili powder

¼ cup ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

¼ cup granulated garlic

2 tablespoons cayenne


Mix all ingredients and store in a tightly covered container.  You will probably want to keep some in a shaker next to the grill or stove.  It keeps indefinitely but it doesn’t last for long.



Filed under Condiments

10 responses to “Ode to Magic Dust

  1. Abracadabra!!! Sounds like a kaleidoscope of flavors and aroma!! Congratulations on making to the Top 9!!

  2. I JUST came back from my first trip to Memphis and had some fantastic BBQ at another spot outside of downtown. This is awesome. I’m going to put together a little jar to have ready for oh so many moments where it can come in handy. Thanks for posting–cheers!

  3. Wonderful. A beautifully written story. And I can’t wait to try your magic dust.

  4. I love magic dust too, but I’m not a big fan of pork these days either. Maybe I will try it on popcorn!

  5. I like my ribs wet but my wings dry… this should be tasty at my next cook out!

  6. AJ

    Memphis eh? Makes me wonder just how many places/people use Mike Mills’s Magic Dust as their own 😉

  7. Johnny

    I am going to make a batch of this this afternoon! It sounds great !!!

    I wonder how it will do on flavoring Miso Soup …..

  8. Nice combination of spices. I gotta try that too. Thanks for sharing! Happy Easter! 🙂

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