What are Dry Rubs? The Ultimate Guide to Meat Rubs

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Meat Rubs

What is a Dry Rub?

A dry rub is a blend of dry spices, herbs, salts, sugars, and other flavorings that is liberally applied to food, usually meat, before cooking. Dry rubs add incredible flavor and can help create a flavorful, textured crust on foods. They are easy to make and use, allowing you to get creative with different spice combinations to suit your individual tastes.

In this ultimate guide, we will cover everything you need to know about making and using dry rubs, including:

  • What's in a dry rub?
  • Dry rubs vs. wet rubs vs. marinades
  • How to choose ingredients for rubs
  • Tips for making your own dry rubs
  • How to apply dry rubs
  • Cooking methods that work best with dry rubs
  • Storing and keeping your dry rubs fresh

So let's get rubbing!

What's in a Dry Rub?

A dry rub typically starts with a salt base - usually kosher or sea salt. The salt enhances flavor and helps the spices permeate into the meat. Many rubs also contain black pepper.

Beyond that base, rubs feature an array of spices, herbs, sugars, and other flavorings.

Common ingredients include:

  • Sugar (brown sugar, white sugar, honey, etc.) - enhances flavor, aids browning
  • Chili powder or cayenne - adds heat
  • Paprika - contributes flavor and color
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Mustard powder
  • Spices like cumin, cinnamon, allspice, etc.

Rubs range from tangy and spicy to sweet and smoky. Feel free to experiment with ingredients to create your own signature blend.

Dry Rubs vs. Wet Rubs vs. Marinades

There are a few different ways to impart flavor into meat before cooking:

  • Dry rubs - A blend of dry spices applied directly onto raw meat
  • Wet rubs - A paste made by combining a dry rub with a liquid like olive oil or vinegar
  • Marinades - A liquid mixture that meat soaks in to absorb flavors

Dry rubs create a flavorful, textured crust and don't mask the natural flavor of the meat. They are quick and easy to use right before cooking.

Wet rubs also add great flavor, and the paste helps the seasoning better adhere to meat. Wet rubs work especially well for tough cuts that take longer to cook, allowing more time for flavors to penetrate.

Marinades do penetrate deep into meat to make it very flavorful and tender. However, extended soaking can mute the inherent flavors of quality meats. Marinades also inhibit browning.

So whether to use a dry rub, wet rub or marinade depends on your goals - crusty flavorful exterior or tender, infused meat. Dry rubs strike the best balance for many barbecue fans.

Choosing Ingredients for Great Rubs

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Meat Rubs

Most dry rub recipes contain these elements that build flavor:

  • Sugar - Enhances sweetness in the rub and helps browning reactions. White sugar, brown sugar and honey work well.
  • Salt - Boosts existing flavors. Kosher and sea salt are common.
  • Spices & Herbs - Provide the main flavor directions - smoky, spicy, herby, etc. Options like garlic, paprika, cumin and oregano.
  • Heat - Chili powder, cayenne, black pepper, mustard powder, etc. add a kick.
  • Savory Umami - Ingredients like tomato powder, nutritional yeast, dried mushrooms.

When formulating a rub, strive for balance between the elements so no single flavor overpowers. Sweet and salty form the base, then layer on spices, herbs and heat to taste.

Savory umami ingredients are optional but can add great depth. Get creative and make each rub uniquely your own!

Tips for Crafting Amazing Homemade Dry Rubs

  • Follow these tips for making stellar spice rubs at home:
  • Grind whole spices to release the fresh volatile oils for maximum flavor
  • Toast spices briefly to intensify flavors
  • Blend a small test batch first to tweak flavors before making a big batch
  • Label jars with recipe & date to remember what's inside and ensure freshness

Investing a little extra time into making rubs using these tips will really pay off in the incredible flavor of your finished dishes!

How to Apply Dry Rubs onto Meat

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Meat Rubs

Applying dry rub is simple, but follow these steps to do it right:

  1. Pat meat very dry so rub adheres properly
  2. Apply a thin layer of binder (optional) to help seasoning stick. Usually oil or mustard
  3. Sprinkle rub evenly over all surfaces, using about 1 Tbsp per pound of meat
  4. Rub it in thoroughly with your hands, pressing into meat
  5. Let sit at least 30min at room temp for flavors to penetrate (can also apply right before cooking)

Distribute the rub evenly so no bite is spice-free and others too intense. Letting it rest allows the salt and moisture to work into the meat, carrying flavors with it.

Now your meat is ready to throw on the smoker, grill or oven!

Best Cooking Methods to Use with Dry Rubs 

While dry rubs are right at home on the grill and smoker, you can use them with almost any cooking method:

  • Grilling - Classic pairing. Rubs hold up well to high heat.
  • Smoking - Low and slow cooking gives rubs time to penetrate deep into meat
  • Pan searing - Quick cooking retains moisture while developing a flavorful crust
  • Baking - Dry heat of oven intensifies seasonings
  • Broiling - Creates a charred, spice-crusted exterior

So explore using dry rubs across different cooking techniques. The possibilities are endless!

Storing Dry Rubs So They Stay Fresh

To maintain flavor and prevent spoilage, store dry rubs properly:

  • Keep in airtight containers in a cool, dark place
  • Shelf life for homemade rubs is about 3-6 months
  • Write the date you made it

Following proper dry rub storage guidelines ensures you get the most flavor and mileage from the spices in your homemade blends.

What are Dry Rubs The Ultimate Guide to Meat Rubs

How to Choose a Dry Rub at the Store

Based on the information provided, here are some tips for choosing a dry rub at the store:

  1. Consider the type of protein you plan to use it on. Different meats and proteins pair better with certain flavors. For example, sweeter rubs with brown sugar or honey work well with pork. Savory and spicy rubs suit beef nicely.
  1. Read the ingredient list to understand the flavor profile and determine if it matches your taste preferences. Most rubs contain salt, sugar, pepper, paprika and garlic powder as the base along with other spices.
  1. Look for rubs with ingredients you recognize and can pronounce rather than artificial additives. Homemade rubs use simple fresh herbs and spices for the best flavor.
  1. Pay attention to texture - coarser rubs are better for steaks and thicker cuts to develop a nice crust while finer blends coat poultry and ribs evenly.
  1. Smell the dry rub through the packaging holes and use your senses to determine if the aroma seems appealing before purchasing.
  1. Consider trying both single note-focused blends, like garlic or coffee rubs, along with more complex all-purpose blends to test preferences.

Taking the time to educate yourself on dry rub ingredients and flavors will ensure you find the right match for the dish you want to create. It also allows you to experiment with different spice combinations.


So now you are armed with all the core knowledge about how to craft, store, choose and use dry rubs! Follow the tips here to start enhancing chicken, beef, pork, lamb, seafood - you name it! A flavorful, spice-crusted exterior takes any dish from boring to extraordinary.

Get creative with your own signature spice mixes and rubs. Part science, part art, mastery of rubs is a badge of honor for any griller or barbecuer. Impress yourself and your guests with incredible meat made incredible easy with the help of dry rubs. Happy rubbing!

Feel free to check out our selection of dry rubs.