Visit any grocery store today and you’ll likely find dozens of pre-mixed barbecue rubs on the shelf. They may be convenient, but have you ever thought about making your own?
Making a homemade barbecue rub is deceptively easy and is a great way to add a personal flair, tons of flavor, and a delicious crust to your meat.
And unlike store-bought options, you have complete control over what you put in, what you leave out, and how much of each ingredient you add. Avoiding too much sugar or salt for health reasons? You can tailor your rub to your dietary preferences as well!
We’re passionate about great barbecue, and we know that nothing adds a wow factor to a meal like knowing every component of it was homemade.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of creating a fantastic homemade barbecue rub that will have you ditching the store-bought stuff for good. From gathering your ingredients to mixing, storing, and using your blend, this guide has all of the info you need to create a dynamite custom rub.
Grab your spices and a bowl, and let’s get mixing!
Table of Contents
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Dry Rubs vs. Wet Rubs vs. Marinades
Let’s break this down to the basics: what exactly sets dry rubs, wet rubs, and marinades apart?
- First up, a dry rub: A dry rub is a blend of spices and herbs that you’ll rub on the meat, poultry, fish, or even veggies right before cooking. As they cook, the juices from the food mix with the rub to create a truly delectable flavor.
- A Wet Rub: As the name implies, a wet rub is almost the same as a dry rub except for one ingredient: liquid. If you add a sauce, citrus juice, vinegar, or oil to the spice mixture to create a paste-like texture, congrats, you’ve made a wet rub.
- A marinade: Marinades, on the other hand, aren’t applied right before cooking. Instead, the meat is placed in the liquid mixture (which is thinner than a dry rub) to soak up all the flavor.
Marinades can also help tenderize the meat and infuse it with more moisture. Of course, they won’t leave you with a crust like a rub will, but you will get a ton of flavor!
To learn more about dry rubs, wet rubs, and marinades, read my guide: Beginners Guide to Barbecue Sauces and Rubs
More About Dry Rubs
Dry rubs create a delicious crust on the meat that many barbecue fans crave, and they could not be easier to make!
Most dry rubs start with a salt base, which helps amp up the flavor of the spices and herbs but also helps the rub penetrate the meat better as it sits. After salt, you’ll commonly find some brown sugar (but not too much to avoid burning), black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika in dry rubs.
The one thing dry rubs won’t do is add moisture to your meat — if you have a particularly lean cut, you’re probably better off forgoing a crust and leaving it to soak in a marinade.
When Should You Use a Dry Rub?
You should add your dry rub to your food before cooking after the meat has been patted dry with a paper towel. Then spread the rub all over the meat, using your hands to gently pat it in so that it sticks to the surface.
But when should you use a dry rub? Here are some tips:
- When grilling: Dry rubs work well on grilled meats because they form a crust that helps to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
- When smoking: Smoking is a slow-cooking process that can take several hours, and dry rubs work well on smoked meats because they add flavor to the meat as it cooks.
- When roasting: Dry rubs are a great way to add flavor to roasted meats, especially when you’re cooking a large cut of meat like a roast or a turkey.
- When marinating isn’t an option: If you’re short on time and can’t marinate your meat, a dry rub is a great alternative. Add your rub to the meat a few minutes before cooking.
- When you want to add flavor to vegetables: Dry rubs aren’t just for meat. You can use them to add flavor to roasted or grilled vegetables, too.
Try experimenting with different combinations of herbs and spices to find your perfect flavor profile.
The Two Ways to Use a Barbecue Rub
When applying your dry rub, you have two options: sprinkle it on right before cooking, or pat it on and allow the meat to sit for anywhere from a half hour up until a day before you plan on cooking.
These are the two main ways to use a barbecue dry rub:
- Direct Application: The most common way to use a dry rub is to apply it directly to the meat before cooking. You start by sprinkling the dry rub onto all sides of the meat and patting it in with your hands. The rub will form a crust on the surface of the meat that locks in the juices and flavors, creating a delicious outer layer.
- Pre-Cook Rest: Another way to use a dry rub is to apply it before cooking and let it rest for longer. To do this, apply the rub as you normally would. Then, let the meat rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two. You can even let it rest overnight. The rub will penetrate the meat and infuse it with flavor before you even start cooking.
The first option adds flavor and essentially causes the rub to act as a seasoning salt if you’re short on time. Option two will give you a more complex flavor since, depending on how long you let it sit, the rub can partially cure the meat.
Some people prefer a direct application for quick-cooking meats like chicken breasts, while others prefer a pre-cook rest for slow-cooking cuts like pork shoulder.
Homemade Barbecue Rub Spice Foundation
While you can get a barbecue rub from the store, creating your own is fairly easy and allows tons of experimentation with your favorite flavors!
Below we’ll cover the most common base ingredients that almost all BBQ rubs on the market include. This will give you an idea of where to start with your experimentation. From there, you can increase or decrease these ingredients according to your personal preference and even add additional spices as you go.
Here’s what you’ll need to build a fantastic base for a custom barbecue rub:
A little bit of sweetness goes a long way in a barbecue rub. It can help enhance the rub’s overall flavor, plus assist with browning and forming that crust we’re looking for.
You can use white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, or even a bit of artificial sweetener if you avoid sugar for health reasons. Just don’t add too much, as sugar does tend to burn!
As we mentioned earlier, salt is the cornerstone of any good barbecue rub. It can help amp up the flavors of the herb and spices, reduce bitterness, and help lock in moisture in your food.
But not all salt is created equal, so don’t go reaching for the table salt here! Kosher salt is the best option to use in a rub since its large granules work well in spice blends. You can use sea salt, table salt, or Himalayan salt as well; you’ll just need to use a bit less since their granules are smaller.
You can cut back on salt if you’re watching your sodium intake, just don’t remove it entirely, or you’ll have a bland rub!
Savory Herbs & Spices
The herbs and spices in your rub are where you’ll get to experiment and really have some fun. Not every spice will work well together or with the food you’re cooking, so if you’re cooking for a crowd it’s a good idea to test out your dry rub on your meat of choice ahead of time.
Some options you can play around with include black pepper, garlic or onion powder, cumin, paprika, ancho chile, celery salt, thyme, basil, rosemary, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, saffron, mace, dill, or chili powder.
If you want to kick your rub up a notch, consider adding an ingredient with a little heat to it, like black pepper, ginger, mustard, cayenne pepper, chipotle pepper, or horseradish.
Start small and taste test as you go. Needless to say, it’s not so easy to take out spice once it’s been added.
Selection & Creation
Before you go emptying out your spice rack, check that your spices and herbs aren’t expired. While spices don’t really go bad, they do lose their potency over time and won’t be as flavorful.
It’s also a good idea to start with a pretty basic rub recipe from a cookbook or website to get the hang of blending and applying your rub. After that, you can make any tweaks you like to fit your personal preferences, what you’re cooking, and what ingredients you have on hand.
Gather Your Chosen Ingredients
To get started, it’s important to gather all of your chosen ingredients before you begin. This will save time running back and forth, and you’ll be sure not to leave any ingredients out accidentally.
When choosing your ingredients, it’s important to consider the type of meat you’ll be using the rub on. For example, if you’re making a rub for beef, you might want to include stronger, bolder flavors like cumin and chili powder. If you’re making a rub for chicken, you might want to include more delicate herbs like thyme and rosemary.
Here are some other tips for gathering your ingredients:
- Make a list: Before you start gathering your ingredients, make a list of everything you’ll need. This will keep you organized and help to make sure that you don’t forget anything. It will also act as a log to compare against for the next batch.
- Check expiration dates: Make sure that all of your spices and herbs are fresh and haven’t expired. Expired spices can make your rub taste stale and unappetizing.
- Consider texture: Think about the texture of your rub and how it will adhere to your meat. Coarser rubs work well for larger cuts of meat, while finer rubs work well for smaller cuts.
By following these tips and gathering your ingredients ahead of time, you’ll be well on your way to creating a delicious and flavorful BBQ dry rub that will take your grilling to the next level.
Creating a great rub is like doing a chemistry experiment, and just like in chemistry, measurements are important! Play it safe by measuring your ingredients out over a separate bowl or container, so if you accidentally overpour, the extra falls into that container and not your final rub.
- Measure your ingredients: To ensure that your rub is well-balanced and full of flavor, it’s important to measure your ingredients carefully. Use measuring spoons and cups to get precise amounts of each ingredient.
Remember, you can always add more of an ingredient in — but it’s much harder to take it out once you’ve added it to your rub!
Mixing Your Ingredients
When mixing your ingredients for a BBQ dry rub, you want to make sure that everything is combined well. You don’t want pockets of salt or sugar in one area and none in another.
- Start by adding all of your spices, herbs, salt, and sugar into a bowl. An excellent way to mix your ingredients thoroughly is to use a whisk. This will help distribute the spices evenly and make sure everything is well blended.
- Another important thing to keep in mind is the quantity you make. If you only need a small amount for your next grilling session, make only what you need. However, if you plan on using the rub often, make a larger batch and store it in an airtight container like a glass jar. This will help keep your rub fresh and ready to use.
Before using the rub, shake the jar well to make sure all the ingredients are still well mixed. With a well-mixed rub, you’ll be sure to get consistent and delicious flavor every time you grill.
Additional Mixing Methods
When it comes to mixing your dry rub ingredients, the traditional method is using a bowl and whisk. However, if you don’t have access to a kitchen, or if you’re in a hurry, other methods can work just as well.
- Zip-to Bag: If you’re on the go, a large zip-top bag can also be used for mixing. Simply add your ingredients, seal the bag, and shake it until everything is well combined.
- Blender: you can use a blender or food processor to mix your ingredients. This can be especially useful if you have some larger spices or herbs that you want to break down into a finer powder.
- Mortar and Pestle: Another option is to use a mortar and pestle, which can be a great way to really grind your ingredients together and release their full flavors.
Regardless of the method you choose, make sure that all of your ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture so that each bite of your BBQ has a consistent flavor profile.
How to Apply Dry Rub
To apply your rub, first make sure the surface of your meat is thoroughly dried with a paper towel. If you need a bit of liquid to help the rub adhere, add it after you’ve dried the meat off.
Next, you’ll want to use a two-handed method to add your rub to the meat. Shake the rub on with one hand (your dry hand), and use the other to massage and pat the rub into the meat (this will be your “wet” hand).
You should aim to use approximately one tablespoon of rub per pound of meat or more if you’re cooking a large cut of meat that you really want to infuse with flavor. If your cut of meat is larger, feel free to get a little aggressive when pressing the rub in to make sure it’s covered every inch of surface space.
Getting Your Dry Rub to Stick
While the natural juices in meat will usually help the rub adhere, you may need a bit of extra help if you’re cooking a drier cut or a non-meat ingredient like vegetables.
If you’re cooking veggies, toss them with a little bit of oil and before adding your rub to get the spices to stick.
For meat, you can add a bit of oil, yellow mustard, or Worcestershire sauce to help the rub adhere. Remember, your oil, or “binder as it is called isn’t here to add flavor, just adhesion, so don’t add too much.
Dry Rub Storage & Usage
To store your rub, first make sure your jar, container, or bag is sealed with as much air removed as possible.
Then store that container in a cool, dark location like a pantry or even the freezer — placing your spices above the stove will make them age faster and they will lose their potency quicker!
A Note on the Different Types of Paprika
We mentioned earlier in this guide that paprika makes a great addition to a barbecue rub — but did you know there are different types of paprika, and the one you choose can greatly change up the flavor of your rub?
- Sweet Paprika: There’s sweet paprika, which adds color and a sweet pepper flavor to a dish without adding any heat. This is the type of paprika you’ll usually reach for if a recipe doesn’t specify which type of paprika to use.
- Hot Paprika: Then there’s hot or Hungarian paprika, which adds way more peppery, spicy flavor to foods in addition to color.
- Smoked Paprika: Finally, there’s smoked paprika, which is made from peppers smoked and dried over a fire. This gives the final product a super rich, smoky flavor, which ranges from mild to hot.
Sweet paprika can be used in any recipe where paprika is called for — just add a little bit of cayenne pepper if you want some heat. However, if your rub calls for hot paprika, it’s recommended that you don’t swap in smoked instead, as it can drastically change up the flavor.
BBQ Rub Cooking Methods
A dry rub is a versatile ingredient that can be used on a variety of foods and cooked using various methods.
Here are some cooking methods to consider when using your BBQ rub:
- Grilling: Grilling is one of the most common ways to cook food with a dry rub. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat, sprinkle your rub over your food, and grill to your desired temperature.
- Smoking: Smoking your meat with a dry rub can give your dish a rich, smoky flavor. Smoke your food at a low temperature for a longer period, allowing the rub to penetrate the meat.
- Roasting: You can use a dry rub when roasting food in the oven. Preheat your oven to 350°F, coat your food with the rub, and roast until it reaches your desired level of doneness.
- Pan-Searing: Dry rubs can also be used when pan-searing meat. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add a small amount of oil, and sprinkle the rub over the meat. Cook until it is browned on the outside and reaches your desired temperature.
- Dutch Oven: Using a Dutch Oven is a great way to slow-cook meat with a dry rub. Preheat your oven to 350°F, coat your meat with the rub, and place it in the Dutch Oven. Add a small amount of liquid, cover, and bake for a few hours until the meat is tender.
- Cast-Iron Skillet: Using a cast-iron skillet to cook meat with a dry rub is a quick and easy method. Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat, add a small amount of oil, and sprinkle the rub over the meat. Cook until it is browned on the outside and reaches your desired temperature.
As you can see, dry rubs aren’t only for barbecuing!
Tips for Making Dry Rub Spice Blends
Making your own dry rub spice blend at home is a great way to elevate your barbecue game and add some unique flavor to your meat.
If you’re ready to skip the store-bought stuff and make your own dry rub spice blend at home, there are a few tips to keep in mind.
When making your own BBQ dry rub, it’s important to remember that balance is key. Your spice blend is meant to enhance the flavor and texture of your meat, but the meat itself is still the star of the show here.
Here are some tips to help you achieve the perfect balance in your dry rub spice blend:
- Start with a base of salt and pepper: These are the foundation of most dry rubs and will help bring out the meat’s natural flavors.
- Add sweetness: A little bit of sugar or honey can help balance the rub’s saltiness and create a nice crust on the meat.
- Experiment with different spices and herbs: You can add a variety of spices and herbs to your rub, such as paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, coriander, and more. Just be sure to use them in moderation so they don’t overpower the meat.
- Use fresh ingredients: Whenever possible, use fresh herbs and spices for the best flavor. If you’re using dried herbs, make sure they’re not too old or stale.
- Taste as you go: As you mix your spice blend, taste it frequently to ensure the flavors are balanced and not too intense. Adjust the amounts of each ingredient as needed until you get the desired flavor.
Keep your flavors balanced and make sure they don’t overpower the flavor of the food you add the rub to.
Wake Up the Spices
You can “wake up” your spices before adding them to the blend by gently grinding them in a mortar or pestle or with a spice or coffee grinder for better flavor. This will help release their flavors and aromas.
I like to buy whole spices because they have a longer shelf life than ground spices and will stay fresher longer. So by buying them whole and grinding them yourself before using them can help them last longer. When I use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind my own spices, it helps give me more control over the texture and consistency of my dry rub.
Use High-Quality Spices
The quality of your spices will directly impact the flavor of your dry rub, so I try to use high-quality, fresh spices whenever possible.
I look for spices that are vibrant in color and avoid spices that have been sitting in my pantry for too long.
Bloom the Spices
Blooming spices is a common technique used by chefs and home cooks alike to bring out the flavors and aromas of spices and herbs. Blooming involves toasting the spices in a dry pan or with a bit of oil until they become fragrant and their flavors are enhanced. This can add an extra layer of depth and complexity to your dry rub.
Here are some tips for blooming your spices:
- Use a dry pan: If you’re blooming your spices in a dry pan, make sure it’s completely dry before you begin. Heat the pan over medium heat until it’s hot, then add your spices.
- Watch carefully: Spices can go from toasted to burnt very quickly, so keep an eye on them and stir constantly. You want to toast them until they’re fragrant and slightly darker in color, but not burnt.
- Add oil: If you’re using oil to bloom your spices, add just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil over medium heat until it’s hot, then add your spices.
- Use low heat: You want to gently heat the spices in the oil, so use low heat and stir frequently.
- Let cool: Once your spices are bloomed, remove them from the heat and let them cool completely before adding them to your dry rub.
Don’t Forget About the Sugar
Sugar is a key component in most dry rubs as it helps to balance out the salty and savory flavors of the other spices.
Brown sugar is a popular choice for barbecue rubs as it adds a depth of flavor and can help to create a caramelized crust on your meat. I recommend using dark brown sugar.
Use the Right Amount of Salt
Salt is a crucial ingredient in any dry rub, but it’s important to use the right amount. Too much salt can overpower the other flavors in your rub, while too little can leave your meat bland.
I always aim for a balance of flavors and adjust the amount of salt as needed as I go.
Experimentation is half of the fun of creating your own dry rub (the other half is cooking and eating your delicious creation!).
One of the great things about making your own dry rub is the ability to experiment with different flavor combinations. Don’t be afraid to try new things and mix up your spices to find what works best for you and your taste buds.
Just remember that you won’t be able to accurately tell the flavor of your rub until after it’s added to the food and cooked. The process of herbs and spices heating up, mixing with the juices from the meat, and blending with the flavor of the meat itself can dramatically change how it tastes compared to what it tasted like before cooking!
Helpful Equipment for Making Dry Rubs
To make things easy for yourself, it’s a good idea to gather a few handy tools before making your dry rub.
Here are some of the most helpful tools and equipment you can use:
- Small bowl and whisk or zip-top bag: Use a small bowl and whisk to mix your dry rub ingredients, or a large zip-top bag to shake and mix them on the go.
- Mortar and pestle or dedicated spice grinder: To create a more refined dry rub texture, use a mortar and pestle or dedicated spice grinder to grind up your spices and herbs.
- Measuring spoons: Accurately measuring your spices and herbs is key to making a perfectly balanced dry rub, so make sure you have measuring spoons on hand.
- Spice jars and funnel: If you plan on making a larger batch of dry rub, you can store it in spice jars. Use a funnel to make sure your dry rub goes directly into the jars without any mess.
- Sealable container: Once you’ve mixed up your dry rub, store any extra in a sealable container. This will keep it fresh and ready to use the next time you want to grill or barbecue.
Barbecue Dry Rub FAQ
Still have some questions about creating your own homemade barbecue rubs? Check out these common questions about creating your own DIY rubs!
If you have any questions about making homemade dry rubs that we didn’t answer in the guide or our FAQ section, send us an email or leave us a comment below! We’ll do what we can to find you an answer, and you might even see your question added to this guide.
Is a Dry Rub the Same as Dry Brining?
No, a dry rub is not the same as dry brining. A dry brine means that salt is applied to meat for a long time and rinsed away before cooking. A dry rub is applied shortly before cooking, contains more than just salt, and will stay on throughout the cooking process.
Is a Dry Rub and Seasoning the Same Thing?
Dry rub and seasoning are similar in that they’re both made of dry ingredients and are used to apply flavor to food before cooking. However, dry rubs typically contain less salt than seasoning blends, have a coarser texture, and are applied much more liberally to the meat.
Is Dry Rub Better Than Marinade?
A dry rub is typically preferred over a marinade if you’re looking to create a crust on your meat since it doesn’t add any additional moisture to the surface. You can use a dry rub first and introduce moisture later in the form of a sauce or a glaze applied toward the end of cooking.
Is It Cheaper to Make Your Own BBQ Rub?
Yes, it is generally cheaper to make your own BBQ rub! While there are plenty of delicious store-bought rubs out there, they’ll come at a much higher price point than if you assembled the ingredients and made a similar rub yourself.
What’s the Best Base for a Dry Rub?
The best base for a dry rub is typically a blend of salt, sugar, and spices. You can adjust the ratios of these ingredients to your liking, but generally, a good rule of thumb is 1 part salt to 2 parts sugar, with a mixture of spices to taste.
Final Thoughts on Our How to Make Your Own Homemade Barbecue Rubs Guide
With the information in this guide, we know you’re ready to take on creating your own delicious homemade barbecue rub that will blow the store-bought versions out of the water!
With the perfect ingredients, the right equipment, and my proven techniques, you can create a rub that perfectly complements your favorite meats and dishes.
Remember to balance your flavors, experiment with blooming your spices, and use helpful tools like a mortar and pestle or dedicated spice grinder. And with the freedom to customize your rub to your exact taste preferences, the possibilities are endless.
There’s so much room for experimentation and creativity when making your own rub, and I know you’ll have a blast coming up with your signature blend.
So go ahead, gather your ingredients, mix up your blend, and get ready to enjoy your signature BBQ dry rub that will impress all your friends and family at your next cookout!
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A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!
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