What Are Dry Rubs? The Ultimate Guide to Dry Meat Rubs

What are Dry Rubs? The Ultimate Guide to Dry Meat Rubs

Get the Breakdown of Dry Rubs

For barbecue enthusiasts, there's nothing quite like the mouthwatering aroma of grilling. But what really takes barbecued ribs, brisket, chicken, and pork to the next level is the flavor-packed dry rub layer.

A quality dry rub can transform an ordinary cut of meat into a sublime culinary experience. The combination of herbs, spices, salt, sugar, and other seasonings permeates the meat to give it a complex depth of flavor. When barbecuing or smoking meat low and slow, a good dry rub will form a crispy, caramelized bark that provides texture and concentrated flavor with every bite.

So, what exactly is a dry rub and how do you make one that will have your barbecue guests begging for more? Let's break it down.

What Are Dry Rubs?

A dry rub is a blend of dried spices, herbs, salts, sugars, and other seasonings that is rubbed onto the surface of meat before cooking. The purpose of a dry rub is to add flavor, aid in forming a flavorful crust or bark when barbecuing and enhance the overall taste of the dish.

Dry rubs are quick and easy to make at home by combining ingredients like salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, and more based on the desired flavor profile. Many barbecue masters have their own secret mixes perfected over years of smoking meat or there are numerous brands out there – shameless pitch for Grillheads “Damn Good Meat Rubs” – that deliver excellent results.

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Dry Meat Rubs


Dry Rubs vs. Wet Rubs vs. Marinades

It's important not to confuse dry rubs with wet rubs or marinades, which serve different purposes.

A wet rub is made by combining dry rub spices with a small amount of liquid like olive oil, vinegar, or even mustard to create a paste that adheres to the meat. The added moisture helps the rub stick and penetrate.

Marinades are liquid mixtures used to soak meat in to tenderize it and infuse flavor. A typical marinade contains oil, vinegar or other acids, and a complex blend of seasonings.

While all three techniques add flavor, a dry rub is best for achieving a flavorful, textured crust when barbecuing or smoking meat low and slow. The lack of moisture allows the spices to caramelize and adhere to the meat surface.

How to Apply a Dry Rub

Applying a dry rub properly is key to getting the most out of it. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Pat the meat dry - Remove excess moisture from the surface of the meat so the rub will stick better. Blot with paper towels.
  2. Apply a thin layer of biner- Brush or rub with a small amount of olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, or melted butter to help the rub adhere.
  3. Generously coat all sides - Sprinkle and pack on the rub, pressing to form an even layer that sticks. It helps to pat the rub on to help it stick to your binder
  4. Cook as desired – After letting the meat sit (this can depend on personal preference and meat type), follow your preferred barbecuing or smoking method. The rub will form a flavorful, textured bark.
  5. Let rest before serving - Allow the meat to rest for 10-15 minutes (or longer depending on the meat) after cooking so juices can redistribute. Then slice and serve.

Dry Rub Ingredients

While dry rub recipes can vary widely based on regional barbecue styles and personal preferences, here are some of the most common ingredients and their uses:

- Salt - Essential for flavor. Kosher salt or sea salt recommended.

- Black pepper - Adds punchy heat and spice. Fresh ground is best.

- Paprika - Contributes a mild sweetness, red color, and subtle flavor. Smoked paprika amps this up.

- Brown sugar - Helps form a caramelized bark and balances spice flavors.

- Chili powder - Brings a kick of heat along with earthy flavor.

- Garlic powder - Provides a roasted garlic flavor. Onion powder is also commonly used.

- Ground mustard - Adds tangy flavor and helps bind the rub.

- Cumin - Earthy, nutty Southwest flavor. Works well with chili powder.

- Cayenne pepper - For extra heat and kick. Add just a dash or more to taste.

Getting creative with additional herbs, spices, and aromatics can lead to signature blends. But the basics above are a good starting point for nailing the perfect dry rub.

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Dry Meat Rubs

Dry Rubs for Different Meats

Certain dry rub flavors pair better with some types of meat over others. Here are suggestions for rub styles based on the protein:

  • Beef - Robust spices like black pepper, garlic, onion, cocoa powder, and chili powder. We recommend Jack of All Rubs.
  • Pork - Sweet spices such as brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, and paprika compliment pork well. We recommend Queen Bee.
  • Poultry - Poultry can handle bolder flavors like smoked paprika, chili powder, cayenne, garlic and lemon. Queen Bee and OMG work great on poultry. 
  • Fish - Lighter seasonings like dill, lemon peel, parsley, onion, and black pepper work best with fish. You can try all three of our rubs for fish! Any of the Damn Good Meat Rubs could pair well with fish! 

Of course, tastes differ and the possibilities for dry rub creations are endless. Don't be afraid to experiment with combinations until you discover your perfect signature mixes.

Layering rubs is one of our favorite ways to use them. For example, on a pork butt, start with a mustard binder, add a layer of OMG then follow up with a hearty layer of Queen Bee! 


Take your grilling game to new heights by becoming a dry rub master. Experiment, innovate, try new rubs and find your own signature flavors that will make your barbecue the star of any party or potluck. A quality dry rub is one of the easiest ways to impress guests and have them begging for your secret recipe.