Dry Rubs: What They Are and How to Use Them

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 1, 2022

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

What is meat rub? It’s a mixture of dry spices and herbs used to season meat before cooking. It’s usually rubbed onto the meat before cooking, but you can also baste or glaze with it.

Meat rub is a great way to add flavor to meat, but it’s not the only way. You can also use a wet marinade or sauce to add flavor to your meat (these are the best to smoke with). In this guide, I’ll explain the differences between these methods.

In this guide, I’ll explain what meat rub is, how to use it, and share some great recipes. Plus, I’ll share some tips and tricks to get the most out of your meat rub.

What is dry rub

Spice Up Your Meat: The Ultimate Guide to Dry Rubs

A dry rub is a mixture of ground spices and herbs that are applied to the surface of raw meat cuts to add flavor. Unlike wet rubs or marinades, dry rubs do not contain any liquid. They come in a wide range of blends, from standard to exotic, and typically include salt, chili powder, paprika, garlic, onion, and other spices.

How to Make a Dry Rub?

Making a dry rub is easy, and you can find a lot of recipes online. A classic dry rub recipe typically includes salt, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and brown sugar. You can also add other spices like cumin, mustard, or dried herbs. If you love a sweet and spicy flavor, you can add a sweetener like honey or brown sugar. Note that the price of the spices can vary depending on the type and quality, but a standard dry rub can be made with low-cost ingredients.

What Spices to Include in a Dry Rub?

The spices you include in your dry rub depend on your personal taste and the type of meat you’re cooking. Some of the most common spices used in dry rubs include:

  • Salt: an important flavor enhancer that helps to tenderize the meat
  • Chili powder: adds heat and depth of flavor
  • Paprika: adds color and a mild smoky flavor
  • Garlic powder: adds a classic savory taste
  • Onion powder: adds a sweet and slightly pungent flavor
  • Brown sugar: adds sweetness and helps with browning
  • Mustard powder: adds a tangy flavor and helps to emulsify the rub
  • Cumin: adds a warm and earthy flavor
  • Dried herbs: adds freshness and complexity

Two Ways to Achieve Meat Nirvana with Dry Rubs

1. The Standard Method

The most familiar way to use dry rubs is to apply them to the meat before cooking. This method creates a complex and spicy mixture that allows the natural flavors of the meat to shine through. Here are some steps to consider when using the standard method:

  • Choose the best dry rub for the particular cut of meat you are cooking. Some rubs are better suited for beef, while others are perfect for pork (and here’s the wood to accompany it).
  • Trim any excess fat from the meat before applying the rub. This will allow the rub to penetrate the meat more effectively.
  • Apply the rub generously to all sides of the meat, making sure to cover it completely.
  • Allow the rub to sit on the meat for at least an hour before cooking. This will give the flavors time to penetrate the meat.
  • Cook the meat as desired, whether it be grilled, smoked, or baked.

2. The Million-Dollar Method

For those who love to perform culinary magic, there is a second way to use dry rubs that takes things to the next level. This method involves creating a rub, then using it to create a sauce that is applied to the meat during cooking. Here are the steps to achieve meat nirvana with the million-dollar method:

  • Create a dry rub by mixing together your favorite dry rub ingredients. This can include sugar, salt, spices, and herbs.
  • Mix the dry rub with a liquid base, such as olive oil or vinegar, to create a paste.
  • Apply the paste to the meat, making sure to cover it completely.
  • Wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This will allow the flavors to meld together.
  • Remove the meat from the wrapping and cook it as desired, basting it with the remaining rub mixture as it cooks.

Remember, there are different types of dry rubs and different ways to use them. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Dry rubs come in many different forms, from easy-to-buy versions to complex mixtures that you create yourself.
  • Dry rubs can be stored for a long time, making them a great choice for quick and easy cooking.
  • When choosing a dry rub, consider the type of meat you will be cooking and the flavors you want to achieve.
  • Different people have different preferences when it comes to dry rubs, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.
  • Wood can also be added to the cooking process to improve the flavor of the meat.
  • Sides can also be included in the wrapping to achieve a more flavorful result.
  • Water can be added to the wrapping to achieve a more tender result.

Mastering the Art of Dry Rubs: Tips and Tricks

When it comes to using dry rubs, the type of meat you choose is crucial. Some cuts of meat are better suited for dry rubs than others. Here are some tips to help you choose the right cuts of meat for your dry rub:

  • Pork: Pork is a versatile meat that works well with a variety of dry rubs. It contains a high protein content, making it perfect for grilling and barbecue.
  • Beef: Beef is another great option for dry rubs. When choosing beef, look for cuts that contain a nice amount of fat, such as brisket or ribeye.
  • Trimming the Fat: If you prefer leaner cuts of meat, you can trim the fat before adding the dry rub. This will help lower the fat content of the meat and make it a bit healthier.
  • Bacon: Bacon is another meat that works well with dry rubs. Adding a dry rub to bacon can create a unique flavor that is perfect for breakfast or brunch.

Preparing the Meat

Once you have chosen the right cuts of meat, it’s time to start preparing them for the dry rub. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Clean the Meat: Before adding the dry rub, make sure to clean the meat thoroughly. This will remove any bacteria or other contaminants that may be present.
  • Pat the Meat Dry: After cleaning the meat, use paper towels to pat it dry. This will help the dry rub stick to the meat better.
  • Adding Oil: If you want to add a bit of moisture to the meat, you can add a small amount of oil before applying the dry rub. This will help the dry rub stick to the meat and create a nice crust.
  • Applying the Dry Rub: When applying the dry rub, make sure to cover the entire piece of meat. Use your hands to spread the dry rub evenly over the meat, making sure to cover all sides.
  • Let it Rest: After applying the dry rub, let the meat rest for a bit before cooking. This will allow the flavors to penetrate the meat and create a nice crust.

Measuring the Ingredients

When making a dry rub, it’s important to measure the ingredients carefully. Here are some tips to help you measure the ingredients correctly:

  • Use a Scale: Using a scale is the best way to measure dry rub ingredients accurately. This will ensure that you are using the right amount of each ingredient.
  • Dial it in: If you don’t have a scale, you can use measuring spoons instead. Make sure to level off the ingredients to get an accurate measurement.
  • Sugar: When using sugar in a dry rub, make sure to use it sparingly. Too much sugar can burn and create a bitter taste (here are more reasons it happens when smoking).
  • Black Pepper: Black pepper is a great addition to any dry rub, but make sure not to overdo it. Too much black pepper can overpower the other flavors in the rub.

Adding Dry Rub to Vegetables

Dry rubs aren’t just for meat – they can also be used to add flavor to vegetables. Here are some tips for adding dry rub to vegetables:

  • Choose the Right Vegetables: Some vegetables work better with dry rubs than others. Vegetables with a firmer texture, such as potatoes or carrots, work best.
  • Build a Nice Crust: When adding dry rub to vegetables, make sure to spread it evenly over the entire surface. This will help create a nice crust on the vegetables.
  • Cover the Vegetables: After adding the dry rub, cover the vegetables with foil or a lid. This will help the vegetables cook evenly and allow the flavors to penetrate.

Using Dry Rubs in a Restaurant or Company Setting

If you’re going to be using dry rubs in a restaurant or company setting, here are some tips to help make the process easier:

  • Pre-Measure the Ingredients: To save time, pre-measure the dry rub ingredients before you start cooking. This will allow you to grab the ingredients you need quickly and easily.
  • Mix the Dry Rub Ahead of Time: Mixing the dry rub ahead of time will allow you to simply grab it and use it as needed.
  • Plenty of Time: Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to prepare the dry rub and apply it to the meat or vegetables.
  • Sounds Perfect: Taste the dry rub before using it to make sure it sounds perfect. Adjust the ingredients as needed to get the best possible result.
  • Handle with Care: Dry rubs can be messy, so make sure to handle them with care. Use gloves or wash your hands frequently to avoid getting the rub on other foods or surfaces.

Tips for Making the Best Meat Rub

1. Use Fresh and Aromatic Spices and Herbs

When making a dry rub, it’s essential to use the freshest spices and herbs possible. Spices tend to lose their aroma and flavor over time, so make sure to grind your spices and herbs just before adding them to your rub. You can even use freshly ground coffee or black pepper to add an extra kick to your rub.

2. Mix the Spices and Herbs in the Right Proportions

To get the best flavor, it’s crucial to mix the spices and herbs in the right proportions. A simple rule of thumb is to use a lot of rub for large cuts of meat and a small amount for smaller cuts. You can also add additional spices or herbs to the rub to suit your taste.

3. Store Your Prepared Rub in a Cool, Dark Place

After you’ve prepared your rub, make sure to store it in a cool, dark place. You can keep it in a jar or a sealed bag. Label and date the container, so you know when you made it. A good rub can last for months if stored correctly.

4. Apply the Rub Generously and Massage It into the Meat

When applying the rub, make sure to spread it evenly over the meat. You can use your hands to massage the rub into the meat, making sure it gets into every nook and cranny. Let the rubbed meat sit for a few minutes to absorb the flavors.

5. Refrigerate the Rubbed Meat Overnight

Refrigerating the rubbed meat overnight adds an extra layer of flavor. The rub will penetrate the meat, and the flavors will meld together. When you’re ready to cook, take the meat out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before grilling or baking.

6. Use the Rub versus Sauces and Glazes

Dry rubs are incredibly versatile and can be used on any type of meat. They add flavor without caramelizing or burning, which can happen with sauces and glazes. A rub can also be used as a base for additional sauces or glazes.

7. Get Creative with Your Rub Combination

There’s no right or wrong way to make a rub. Experiment with different spices and herbs to find the combination that fits your taste. A good rub can make an amazing combination with whichever meat you prefer.

The Trick to Amplifying Flavor: Blooming Your Spices

Blooming is a technique that involves heating spices in a hot, medium, or low heat pan with oil or fat. This process draws out and extends the spice flavor, releasing oils and changing the chemicals and constructions of the spice compounds. Blooming is an essential technique that amplifies the fragrance and flavor of your dish, making it more flavorful and aromatic.

How to Bloom Your Spices?

Here are the steps to bloom your spices:

  • Heat oil or fat in a pan over medium heat.
  • Add your spices to the pan and stir.
  • Continue to stir the spices for a minute or two until you notice a fragrance jump.
  • Turn off the heat and let the spices sit in the oil for a few seconds or minutes.
  • Shake the pan to pull the extra oil from the spices.
  • Use the bloomed spices in your dish.

Why is Blooming Your Spices Valuable?

Blooming your spices is a valuable technique because it:

  • Amplifies the flavor and fragrance of your dish.
  • Gives your dish an extra layer of depth and complexity.
  • Helps the spices spread throughout the dish more easily.
  • Permeates the dish with the spice flavors as it cooks.
  • Infuses the oil with the spice flavors, making it more flavorful.
  • Creates a Maillard reaction, which adds extra flavor and color to your dish.

What Spices are Best for Blooming?

All spices can benefit from blooming, but some spices that work particularly well include:

  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Mustard seeds
  • Fennel seeds
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Black pepper

How to Use Bloomed Spices in Rubs?

Here are the steps to use bloomed spices in rubs:

  • Bloom your spices using the steps above.
  • Let the spices cool down.
  • Mix the bloomed spices with other dry ingredients to create your rub.
  • Rub the mixture onto your meat, making sure to coat it evenly.
  • Let the rub sit on the meat for a few minutes before cooking.

Blooming your spices is a valuable technique that can take your dish to the next level. Try it out the next time you’re cooking with spices and see the difference it makes!

Proper Storage of Dry Rubs: Keeping Your Meat Mixtures Fresh and Flavorful

When it comes to preparing meat for barbecue, chefs and home cooks alike love adding a dry rub to their cuts. These mixtures of ground spices, sugar, and other ingredients come in a wide range of flavors, from hot and spicy to sweet and savory. But once you’ve created your perfect blend, how do you store it to keep it fresh and flavorful? Proper storage of dry rubs is key to ensuring that your meat comes out mouth-wateringly delicious every time.

What You Need to Know About Storing Dry Rubs

Here are some key things to keep in mind when storing your dry rub:

  • Dry rubs are usually a mixture of different spices, herbs, and other ingredients, and they can be complex and loaded with flavor.
  • They can come in a wide range of flavors, from plain and simple to hot and spicy.
  • Dry rubs are commonly used to add flavor to pork, beef, chicken, and other meats.
  • They can be used on their own or in combination with wet rubs or marinades.
  • Dry rubs are easy to make at home, and they’re usually cheaper than buying pre-made rubs.
  • The ingredients in a dry rub can include everything from black pepper and red pepper flakes to sugar and rice flour.
  • Some dry rubs are named after the foods they are commonly used on, such as pork rub or beef rub.
  • The size of the pieces of spices in a dry rub can vary from fine to larger, and the key is to make sure that they are evenly mixed so that every bite of meat gets the same flavor.
  • Dry rubs can be stored in a large container or in smaller portions, depending on how much you plan to use.
  • When adding a dry rub to your meat, make sure to handle it gently and evenly to ensure that the rub is spread evenly across the surface of the meat.
  • Dry rubs can be used right away or allowed to rest for a longer period of time to allow the flavors to meld together.
  • When preparing a dry rub, it’s important to judge the amount of salt needed carefully, as too much can overpower the other components.
  • A basic dry rub requires mixing the spices together in a bowl, but more complex rubs may require some work to get the right balance of flavors.
  • Adding a bit of water to a dry rub can help it adhere better to the meat and turn into a paste.
  • Dry rubs can include natural ingredients, such as herbs and spices, that have a wide range of health benefits for diners.

Dry Rubs vs Wet Rubs vs Marinades: What’s the Best Way to Flavor Your Meat?

Dry rubs are a mixture of spices and herbs that are rubbed onto the surface of meat before cooking. They are called “dry” because they don’t contain any liquid component. Here are some things to keep in mind when using dry rubs:

  • Dry rubs are great for pork, chicken, and other meats that benefit from a flavorful crust.
  • Dry rubs are similar to wet rubs and marinades in that they add flavor to the meat, but the difference is that they don’t tenderize the meat or add any liquid to it.
  • The best way to use dry rubs is to apply them generously to the meat and let them sit for a few hours before cooking. This allows the spices to penetrate the meat and infuse it with flavor.
  • Dry rubs are a favorite among grillers because they create a crispy crust on the outside of the meat while keeping it tender and juicy on the inside.

Wet Rubs: Adding a Liquid Component to Your Rub

Wet rubs are similar to dry rubs, but they have a liquid component added to them. The liquid can be anything from vinegar, alcohol (beer, bourbon, juice), oil, or even mustard. The thought with a wet rub is that it will adhere the dry ingredients to the meat better. Here are some things to keep in mind when using wet rubs:

  • Wet rubs are great for meats that need to be tenderized or that benefit from a liquid component, such as chicken or tougher cuts of meat.
  • Wet rubs are similar to marinades in that they add flavor and tenderize the meat, but the difference is that they are applied directly to the meat rather than soaking it in a liquid.
  • The best way to use wet rubs is to apply them generously to the meat and let them sit for a few hours before cooking. This allows the flavors to absorb into the meat and tenderize it.
  • Wet rubs are a favorite among people who want to add a lot of flavor to their meat without having to marinate it for hours.

Marinades: Soaking Your Meat in Flavorful Juices and Acids

Marinades are a liquid mixture of spices, herbs, and acids that are used to flavor and tenderize meat. Here are some things to keep in mind when using marinades:

  • Marinades are great for tougher cuts of meat that need to be tenderized, such as flank steak or pork chops.
  • Marinades are different from dry rubs and wet rubs in that they are a liquid mixture that the meat is soaked in for several hours.
  • The best way to use marinades is to soak the meat in the mixture for several hours, allowing the juices and acids to penetrate the meat and tenderize it.
  • Marinades are a favorite among people who want to add a lot of flavor to their meat and tenderize it at the same time.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about meat rubs. They’re a great way to add flavor to meat before cooking, and can be used with any type of meat. 

You can use a dry rub to season the meat, or a wet rub to marinate it. As long as you use the right amount and don’t overdo it, they’re a great way to add some extra flavor to your meat.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.