Understand the basics so you can freestyle & develop your own

Some foods just don’t need anything other than a little seasoning with salt and pepper.

A nice, locally sourced steak, needs very little done to it.

But then other cuts of meat are better with marinades and rubs, like pork ribs or cheaper cuts of beef.

For the past two weeks, I’ve posted Part l dry rub recipes and Part ll dry rub recipes for you to try out on your BBQ meat.

So, I thought it was worth posting some insight into what key ingredients make up a rub and how they work so you could try experimenting with your own ideas.

What’s in them?

Most barbecue rubs contain salt and sugar.

Then it’s just a lot of experimentation.

But the main ingredients used include onion powder, garlic powder, chili peppers, black pepper, mustard powder.

The four S’s

Here is the basis of a good rub, broken down into the main components you need to think about when developing your own.


Sweetness is a common in rubs because it’s a flavour enhancer, it helps browning and crust formation as well.

  • White sugar – highly refined cane and will scorch at high temperatures.
  • Brown sugar – white sugar combined with molasses. 


Can also include seasoned salt such as garlic salt, onion salt, and celery salt.

Remember, you can always add salt but you can’t take it away so go easy when developing a rub.


Savoury flavours come from amino acids called glutamates, green herbs, some spices, garlic, etc

Here’s some of the usual suspects used:

  • Onion powder – versatile, strong flavour.
  • Garlic powder – a good staple.
  • Cumin – aromatic with nutty flavour
  • Mustard powder – strong flavour.
  • Oregano – strong flavour, earthy/musty, green and minty notes
  • Rosemary – aromatic, lemon/pine flavour.
  • Sage – slightly bitter, pine-like flavour.
  • Thyme – subtle, a little bit sweet, with a slightly minty taste.
  • Basil – subtle peppery flavour and a hint of mint.


Spices are flavourings made from seeds, berries, fruits, bark, and roots.

Spices give a nice heat and depth of flavour – not all spices are just for heat.

  • Black pepper: I got this little tip from Jamie Oliver for making a carbonara…. to get a much more potent peppery kick you grind peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and sieve the fine pepper out to use this in your dish. The coarse stuff left in the sieve is less strong. Try it, it’s an incredible the difference.
  • Ground chilli powder: This is not “chilli” powder but is made from dried chillies such as chipotle.
  • Cayenne pepper: Made from a variety of dried chillies. Can be very hot.
  • White pepper: Lighter in color and milder in flavour.
  • Chilli powder: This is a seasoning mixture of dried chillies, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and gloves.
  • Paprika: Flavour ranges from mild to powerful and hot. Often in the UK you switch out recipes asking for American ancho chillies with paprika

Water or oil under the rub?

You can put a rub right on bare meat.

But you can help it stick by moistening the meat with a little water, oil or bit of mustard.

Bloom your spices for next level flavours

Toasting many spices amplifies their flavours.

It helps release their oils.

So, next time try doing this:

  •  Warm a frying pan over medium heat and pour in your spices.
  •  Stir or shake them often as you don’t won’t to let them burn.
  •  You’ll know they’re done (approx. 2 mins) as you’ll smell them, then remove them immediately.

How long do you leave on a dry rub?

It depends on the type of meat.

Delicate meats only need about 15 mins.

Tough cuts of meat, like pork shoulder or brisket, can be left on overnight if you want.

Enjoy experimenting and developing your own rubs!

Do you have some tips on making dry rubs? Leave a comment.

Reference: Amazing Ribs