Layer on the Flavor: How to Use BBQ Rub

Last Updated on August 10, 2021


Annabelle Watson

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

Homemade BBQ Sauce and Rub

Image Courtesy: Michael Salazar

With grills within easy reach all year long, the weather can’t keep you from barbecuing the perfect meal anytime you choose. However, the only thing holding you back may be not having anything new to try or boredom with the same old ways of grilling, barbecuing, or smoking different cuts of meat.

One way to deliver new flavors consistently is by using various types of bbq rubs. With so many variations available, you’ll never run out of options to try. Before jumping in, however, there’s a whole lot of know-how in choosing and using these rubs properly.

1. What is a BBQ Rub?

A bbq rub is a complementary mixture of seasonings and other flavorful ingredients that you apply to poultry or meat’s outer layers before cooking. BBQ rubs come in both wet and dry forms, with one not being better than the other but instead, depend on individual preferences.

With so many variations of bbq rubs on the market and in homemade recipes, it may seem you can throw a bunch of spices together and do fine. Maybe so. But a good bbq rub is a complex blend of ingredients that work together to create a unique flavor outcome. It can also be simple, such as the right mix of pepper and garlic salt to bring out the better flavor in a cut of meat.

Overall, rubs usually have similar types of ingredients, including both salty and sweet ones. For instance, add a sweetener to your basic salt base, such as dried molasses or brown sugar. This enhances the flavor and overall crusting, or bark, on the meat. Other ingredients add a more subtle effect to the taste, including onion powder, cumin, oregano, and mustard. Colorful paprika or chili powder are also excellent choices. 

These rubs are specifically meant for the low-temperature barbecuing method, such as slow-cooking brisket. If the grill is too hot, rubs containing a sweetener, such as sugar, will blacken, beginning to burn at 265°F.

2. Why Include Paprika or Chili Powder in a BBQ Rub?

Ever notice how red paprika and chili powders are? While these two can add a lot of flavor, they also add color. The use of one or both of these in your rub is important since meat cooked at lower barbecuing temperatures will not turn brown because of the non-formation of the Maillard reaction

The Maillard reaction occurs when you heat foods containing proteins to 310°F or higher, such as when grilling or searing. This leads to browning, much like the process of caramelization of sugars. The Maillard reaction not only causes coloring, however but also creates a boost in aromas and flavors. In barbecuing, you make up for this by knowing how to use bbq rub methods to add-in flavor and color.

3. What is the Difference Between Wet and Dry Rubs?

While both wet and dry rubs add undeniable flavor to foods, the one you choose depends on your use and taste preferences.

A dry rub is naturally a dry ingredient mixture to rub on your meats before barbecuing. These rubs mix with the natural juices of the meat as they cook. Common ingredients include:

  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic or onion powders
  • Celery salt
  • Mustard powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika or chili flakes
  • Brown sugar
  • Dried molasses
  • Honey crystals
  • Other spices and herbs

A wet rub may contain some of the same dry ingredients listed above but with an additional wet one, creating a more paste-like substance. The wet ingredient can be Worcestershire or soy sauce, Tabasco, vinegar, fruit juice, or various oils. 

Once you add the wet rub to the meat, the moisture eventually evaporates, leaving the wet ingredients’ flavors to meld into the meat and mix with the remaining spices and herbs.

4. How to Use Barbecue Rubs?

Once you’ve chosen your preferred rub, it’s time to get started. Knowing how to use BBQ rub will make for a more flavorful and satisfying outcome. There’s no exact hard and fast rule on how much to use, so go with your gut and just make sure every surface is covered as evenly as possible.

If using a dry rub, you’ll need to massage the mixture into every area of the meat or poultry. Use one hand for sprinkling a layer over the meat’s entire surface and the other to rub it in. You may be tempted to moisten the meat first to get the rub to stick. This is up to you, but most of your meat will have its own moisture before cooking. Also, place the rub under skins, such as with chicken.

For wet rubs, you will have a paste-like substance. Use this to coat your meat or poultry evenly on all sides.

When it comes to applying a bbq rub, there are proponents for both applying the rub hours before cooking and adding it shortly before barbecuing. This will take experimentation on your part, finding the method that works best for you and provides the rich flavoring you desire.

Once you have your meat covered in a dry or wet rub, it’s time to get barbecuing. Place it directly on your grill for slow cooking, monitoring the temperature. Typically, the temperature for barbecuing is 225°F so use a digital thermometer for the most accurate measurement.

5. How Long Will BBQ Rubs Last?

Dry rubs can keep for months in secure containers if stored in a cool, dry place. The best practice is to store the dry ingredients for your rubs together, then if you choose, add a wet component right before your next barbecue. Otherwise, store wet rubs in the refrigerator, where they will last for up to two weeks.


Annabelle Watson


Whatever your preference, dry or wet, bbq rubs can add more flavor to your barbecued food. With so many variations available, you’ll never run out of new rubs to try. Create your own combinations or find that one perfect brand that always turns whatever you are barbecuing into a masterpiece.