By Christie Vanover | Published September 19, 2015 | Last Updated March 14, 2023
As a pitmaster, I have experimented with a lot of spice blends and dry rubs, and this is one of my go-to recipes when I want an all-purpose BBQ rub that can go on any meat.
The easy recipe includes the basics of every rub – salt, pepper, garlic and onion – but what makes it special are the other three ingredients that add so much flavor.
The key to making a good BBQ rub?
When developing a good BBQ rub for smoked meats, it’s important to consider two main things – the perfect balance of heat and sweet and texture.
Sweet + Heat Balance
If your rub includes sugar, you can be a little more assertive with the spiciness. If you leave out the sugar, scale back on the heat.
Heat can be added by using different chile powders. Paprika is one of the most common because it’s very mild. It’s made from red bell peppers.
Personally, I like using ground ancho or guajillo chiles because they have more earthiness and depth to them, adding more flavor to the BBQ rub. Both are still fairly mild on the Scoville scale.
If you really like spice, amp up the heat with ground chipotle powder or cayenne pepper, but do so in moderation.
Texture of Ingredients
Not all ingredients should be considered equal when it comes to BBQ rubs. When pitmasters use seasonings, they choose coarse versions of the spices because they help form a bark on meat as it cooks for bold barbecue flavor.
Bakers, on the other hand, use delicate spices like table salt, granulated sugar and onion and garlic powder because they dissolve as they cook.
When creating a BBQ rub, start with kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. These will really add substance to the meat’s exterior. For the garlic and onion, go with granulated varieties. They’re not as coarse as the salt and pepper, so they will still dissolve, but they’re not so fine that they go unnoticed.
For the sugar in my rubs, I almost always use coconut palm sugar, honey granules or pourable brown sugar. Like kosher salt, all of these sugars take their time to dissolve, so they don’t burn too quickly.
They also work to create a candy-like shell, that when combined with the other balanced seasonings, is magical.
- Kosher Salt: This is a more coarse type of salt. I prefer the Diamond Crystal brand.
- Black Pepper: Again, you want coarse-ground black pepper. I get the best results with 16-mesh black pepper.
- Pourable Brown Sugar: This is brown cane sugar that has been crystalized so that it doesn’t clump. You could also use coconut palm sugar or honey granules.
- Garlic and Onion: I prefer using granulated garlic and granulated onion, but garlic powder and onion powder are fine, too.
- Ancho Chile Powder: Not only does this powder help add that mahogany color good barbecue is known for, but it also adds a subtle, smoky flavor of heat. It’s not too hot. It’s that good heat that hits you on the back of your tongue a second or so after you’ve taken a bite.
- Celery Seeds: Think about it…great backyard barbecues almost always include potato salad. It’s that cooling, fresh dish that pairs so well with grilled meat. One of the key flavors of potato salad is celery. By using celery seeds, you get that bright pop of flavor that cuts through the fat of whatever meat you’re cooking.
Substitutions: Instead of the ancho chile powder, you can also use smoked paprika, ground guajillo or chili powder. You can also use celery salt instead of celery seeds. If you’re going to use the rub right away, it’s okay to use light or dark brown sugar in place of the pourable brown sugar.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to make BBQ rub
Making a dry rub recipe is super simple. All you have to do is combine everything together.
- STEP ONE: Measure the spices and place them all in a small bowl.
- STEP TWO: Mix well with a spoon until combined. As an alternative, you can also mix the ingredients in a mason jar, add the lid and give it a shake.
How to use barbecue rub
This barbecue rub can be sprinkled on anything, including pork chops, pork shoulder, pork ribs, chicken, steaks, brisket, seafood and even vegetables.
You can add a light to medium coating straight on the piece of meat, or apply a binder of oil or mustard to the meat first and then follow that with the rub. The binder helps the rub stick.
This recipe makes 12 tablespoons of rub, and I usually plan on about 1 tablespoon of rub per pound of meat, especially if I want a heavy bark. If you prefer a light coating of seasoning, reduce that amount by half.
After you season the meat, grill it or smoke it. Then, wait to add BBQ sauce until the very end of the cooking process. When making recipes like pulled pork, you can sprinkle more BBQ rub in with the pork and barbecue sauce for added flavor.
I store all of my rubs in glass jars. Simply pour the BBQ rub into the jar using a canning funnel.
If you don’t have jars, you can store the dry spice rub in any airtight container in a cool dark dry place like a pantry for up to a year.
All-purpose BBQ rub also makes a great gift. Buy spices in bulk and make a big batch at once for all of those cooks in your life.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Start with fresh spices for the best results
- Use coarse-ground seasonings for the best bark and texture
- Taste the blend of spices and adjust to your liking
Frequently Asked Questions
Most barbecue rubs contain kosher salt, black pepper, ground chile powder and onion and garlic. Some also contain sugar and other spices.
The best part about making your own spice mixes is that you can control the ingredients. Pure herbs, spices, sugars and ingredients like salt and pepper are gluten-free.
Some pre-made BBQ seasonings may include gluten, which is why it’s important to read the labels. This BBQ rub recipe is gluten-free.
When cooking larger meats like smoked brisket or pork shoulder, the best way to add deep flavors is to apply the dry rub and let it season the meat in the refrigerator overnight.
If you’re cooking a smaller cut of meat like a rack of ribs or pork chops, season the meat with the spice mixture and let it dry brine while you heat your grill.
More Homemade BBQ Rub Recipes
All-Purpose Barbecue Rub
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 3 tbsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp pourable brown sugar*
- 2 tbsp ancho chili powder
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic
- 1 tbsp granulated onion
- 1 1/2 tsp celery seed
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
- Rub it on your meat before you barbecue or grill it.
This estimate was created using an online nutrition calculator
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