The BBQ rub is the second most important part of the barbecue process, next to the smoking technique. There are two main concepts to keep in mind when formulating your rub. The proportion of salt should be great enough to trigger osmosis and begin to draw the moisture from the surface of the meat, and (some may disagree with this) the proportion of sugar should not be excessive because it will caramelize and burn during smoking and leave a bitter taste. However, since sugar contributes to osmosis, it is an important component and shouldn't be eliminated.

Beyond that, your rub should only be limited by your imagination. Other ingredients to consider can include paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano, sage, or whatever sounds good to you.

I like to keep my rub in a shaker for easy application. BBQ Rub should be applied at least the night before smoking. Anything longer, up to three days, is better. Shake the rub over the entire surface of the meat to be smoked. Use a generous amount at first and then, as it starts to get moist and adhere, add more. I don't think it's necessary to "rub" it in. I find that only results in uneven distribution, and besides, it stains your hands. Wrap the meat loosely in butcher paper and leave in the refrigerator until a couple of hours before smoking.

I find rubs to be far more useful than marinades especially for large pieces of meat such as briskets and pork butts. For cuts such as these, the internal and external fat melts through the meat during cooking keeping it moist. I believe that the texture of the meat is improved by drawing out excess moisture, before cooking, through osmosis. The dry surface of the meat and the rub itself combine to produce a flavorful and attractive crust on the finished product. Unless it is thoroughly blotted dry on the surface, marinated meat won't color properly.

My favorite rub comes from a great book, "The Thrill of the Grill" by Schlesinger and Willoughby.

All-South Barbecue Rub
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cumin, ground
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons paprika
Simply mix together. I usually double or quadruple the recipe since it is used liberally.

Finding the right barbecue rub for you isn’t all that hard. Start with something simple. Do you want sweet, spicy or savory? Now look through various rub recipes for something simple. The best rubs start with just a couple of ingredients and build up from there. Once you get the basics down, you can experiment until you have the barbecue rub that is to your liking.

Our best collections of BBQ Rub recipes include:

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