Grilling Tips: Dry Rubs

Dry rubs are extremely popular these days among many grillmeisters. There are also probably as many different recipes for dry rubs as there are cooks grilling. If you ever watch any of the grilling contests on television or are lucky enough to attend one of the major ones like Memphis in May, you will probably hear many of the folks preparing meat for the grill say that their recipe for their dry rub is a secret.

Usually, however, the “secret” is one or two unexpected spices added to what is generally considered a traditional rub. (I even have my own secret ingredient for my dry rub. I might share it with you at the end of this article.)

Dry rubs are simply made with dried herbs and spices and then massaged into the meat. The rub adds lots of flavor and also can form a tasty crust called “bark.” (I absolutely love a good bark, sometimes almost preferring it to the meat itself. I laugh when others say that they do not want to eat the “burnt” part. I graciously tell them to just cut it off and give it to me.) There are some arguments, however, about what should be included in a dry rub.

Many dry rubs include both salt and sugar (usually brown sugar). Some pitmasters, however, believe that salt can make the meat dry and will not add it until after the meat has been cooked. Others also believe that brown sugar can cause the surface of the meat to burn. I do add brown sugar to my dry rub; however, it is not the primary ingredient, which means that the rub will not cause the bark to become burnt. I use the brown sugar to balance the flavors — most of which tend to be rather hot — of the other ingredients.

There are several ingredients that are common to many dry rubs. You will probably find all or some of each of the following in dry rubs: garlic powder, onion powder, cracked pepper, lemon-pepper, and some type of chili powder. Dried ancho chili powder has become rather popular in dry rubs. Of course, crushed red peppers are frequently found in dry rubs, as well. Other herbs and spices that might be found in dry rubs include: allspice, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, and thyme. My husband adds rosemary to everything. Still, the herbs and spices included in any dry rub really depend upon the tastes of the person making it.

To use a dry rub, you should spread a generous amount on the meat, rubbing it into it. If preparing poultry, apply the rub not only to the outside of the skin but also underneath the skin and even in the cavity if cooking a whole chicken. (You can also use your dry rub on vegetables. It helps to brush your vegetables with some type of oil, such as vegetable or olive, in order to help the rub stick better.)

Once you have prepared your meat with the dry rub, cover it and allow the meat to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour to give the rub a chance to be absorbed into the meat. (You can also leave the meat in the refrigerator over night.) There are no hard-and-fast recipes for dry rubs. I suggest that you experiment and have fun inventing your own. Oh, and did I not mention earlier that I have a secret ingredient for my dry rub? Okay, okay. I will share it this one time. It is lime mint. (The rest of the ingredients, however, must remain my little secret.

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