Top 5 Grilling Spice Rub Combinations


Make your meat less boring with a little spice. See more pictures of extreme grilling.“Make your meat less boring with a little spice. See more pictures of extreme grilling.iStockphoto/Thinkstock

When poet William Cowper wrote "Variety’s the very spice of life," he wasn’t talking about barbecue. But he might have appreciated barbecue rubs: varied combination of spices and other seasonings applied to the surface of meats before cooking. Rubs add flavor, color, texture — and adventure. Seasonings that might be in your spice cabinet this very moment can turn middle-grade meat into Thai-style shish kebabs.

Dry rubs are patted onto meat as powders. Wet rubs have moister ingredients that make them smearable. Most contain no fat, so they’re best on meats that come supplied with their own, like ribs and pork loin.

These recipes also have no salt. Although salt is generally good in rubs — it draws water, which carries flavorful compounds that bloom when they hit the grill — some people try to avoid it. If you’re not one of them, salt the meat before coating with the rub. Apply rubs a few hours or a day before cooking to let them work their magic.

Don’t feel bound by amounts or proportions, either. You might start with the recipe as written, and then adjust as your taste buds demand. As for how much rub to use, that’s your call, too.

Whatever ingredients you choose, store dry rubs tightly sealed in a cool, dry place. Wet rubs should be refrigerated. Use dry rubs within a few months, and use wet rubs the day they’re made.


  1. Pacific Rim Rub
  2. Jamaican Jerk Rub
  3. Southwestern Rub
  4. Carolina Rub
  5. Memphis Rub

5: Pacific Rim Rub

Grate lemon peel before adding spices.“Grate lemon peel before adding spices.Goodshot/Thinkstock

The Pacific Rim arcs from Hawaii to Indonesia, and the flavors are as diverse as the cultures. This rub concentrates the main sensations of heat from spices and the sweetness of citrus fruit. If fresh lemons are easier to come by than the dried peel the recipe calls for, mix and store the rest of the ingredients. Then grate or shred fresh peel over the meat before patting in the rub. You can also use orange peel. Add fruit juice or soy sauce to make a wet rub.

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 T. dried lemon peel
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

4: Jamaican Jerk Rub

Jerk goes well with a wide variety of spices, fruits and vegetables.“Jerk goes well with a wide variety of spices, fruits and vegetables.Hemera/Thinkstock

A jerk is a good thing in the foodie world — when it describes this traditional Jamaican recipe for roasting meat. Allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg are more often used in baking in the United States, but they’re also mildly hot (allspice is actually ground pimento, a relative of black pepper) and routinely included in Jamaican main dishes.

To make a wet rub, rum would be keeping with the Jamaican theme. If that’s too potent for your tastes, try pineapple or chopped onions.

For that matter, island cooking includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider sprinkling a little rub on some oiled, grill-friendly produce (whole onions, bell peppers, and corn on the cob come to mind) and adding them a few minutes before the meat is done.

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

3: Southwestern Rub

Ancho chiles give southwestern rubs their distinctive taste.“Ancho chiles give southwestern rubs their distinctive taste.Hemera/Thinkstock

"Southwestern" refers to the region of the United States where this rub is popular. It might just as well be called "southeastern" — as in southeastern Mexico, where its key ingredient, smoked peppers, originated with the early Native Americans The peppers provide an essential flavor. If you can’t find ancho chiles (smoked poblano chiles) you can use all chipotle (smoked jalapeños). Be aware, however: Although both are considered mild chiles, jalapeños are two to six times hotter than poblanos. If you can’t find either type, smoked paprika, which is more available, is the next best thing.

  • 3 T. paprika
  • 1 T. cumin
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground ancho chiles
  • 1 tsp. ground chipotle chiles
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

2: Carolina Rub

Try mustard for a Georgia-style rub.“Try mustard for a Georgia-style

It’s been said that there are more "real" sauce recipes in the Carolinas than in any other region of the same size. The folks there come by it honestly. Along the coast, colonial Scottish settlers left a legacy of thin, salt-and-vinegar based sauces (think fish and chips and it makes sense). Farther inland, waves of 18th century German immigrants brought their own  taste for sweet-and-sour combinations. Many of these settlers were farmers, who rounded out their recipes with that New World crop, the tomato. In the south near Georgia, however, mustard prevailed.

Three distinct traditions, one rub that combines them all. To make a wet rub that’s kosher, moisten with vinegar, apple cider or tomato juice.

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder

1: Memphis Rub

Memphis might be called the birthplace of the grilling and barbecue rub, in the same sense that it’s the home of the blues and the home of rock ‘n’ roll. If the technique didn’t originate there, its popularity did.

Legend credits one man and one restaurant: Charlie Vergos and the Rendezvous. Vergos was the son of Greek immigrants. His rub recipe evolved from traditional Greek seasonings his grandfather used to make chili and the Cajun cooking he discovered in Louisiana.

The Rendezvous recipe is by no means the only one in town, of course — not when the city boasts 100 barbecue joints or more. This recipe is a round-up of the best of the local flavor.

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 T. packed brown sugar
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. chili powder

Naked Ribs

In Memphis, purists eat ribs naked — meaning they’re eaten without sauce.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

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  • Grilling History 101: Who Made it Famous and Why?


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