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Picking a high quality of meat and planning just the right menu are important to bring out the best in your ribs, chicken, or pork chops. Applying a barbecue rub will bring your meals to the next level with little extra effort.
Learn what makes a barbecue rub work so well, the differences between rubs, and how to make your own rub for a variety of dishes.
A barbecue rub is any mixture of seasonings (herbs, spices, sugars, and salts) that are applied to the meat before starting the barbecue process. Rubs are designed for the low and slow heat that barbecuing utilizes. Because barbecue rubs often contain sugars, they work best when not cooked above 265 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature at which sweeteners burn.
Barbecue rubs can be wet or dry and offer any number of flavor combinations and profiles.
Depending on the flavors you want the meat to take on, you will choose between a wet or dry rub. Dry rubs use only dried ingredients such as garlic powder, sea salt, brown sugar, or paprika. Wet rubs are just that: wet. They may be pasty or creamy but contain at least one wet ingredient such as Worcestershire or vinegar, that keeps them from being truly dry.
Wet rubs made with an oil base are used when you’re trying to get dry ingredients to stick. The seasonings don’t dissolve in the oil, and it keeps the spice from falling off the meat while cooking.
Whether you choose a wet rub or dry rub will depend on what you want the rub to do and what it is made of. Either one will provide a surface-level seasoning. They won’t penetrate the meat, so go bold with your flavors to carry that taste through the entire dish.
If some rubs are wet, does that make them a marinade? Not really. Marinades have a completely different purpose than wet rubs. Wet rubs are for seasoning the surface of the meat, and they won’t do more than cling to the meat when cooking.
Marinades, on the other hand, are made for the meat to swim in for hours and hours before cooking. The marinade does more than flavor the meat throughout, it can also tenderize by breaking down the tissue. Marinades are often used for cheaper cuts of meat or tougher meats like brisket that can use a little tenderizing before they meet the grill.
Because marinade isn’t a rub, you can still choose to use a rub when you have finished the marinade process. Just be sure the marinade and rub flavors work well together. Picking the right combo can make all the difference in your barbecue experience.
Rubs have their origins in various places all over the world. The varieties you like best may be rooted in experiences you remember as a child. You may also choose your favorite rub based on how it pairs with the dish you are eating. There are as many barbecue rub options as there are options for combining spices. Some are simple, while others boast 12 ingredients or more.
Here are a few of our favorite rubs.
Our own “use it on anything” Traeger Rub combines simple ingredients for an all-around tasty experience on anything you can imagine barbecuing. It offers garlic, basil, oregano, paprika, and chili peppers, along with a nice hint of salt. Use it on any meat.
Pairs well with Traeger ‘Que BBQ Sauce and Sweet & Heat BBQ Sauces
Coffee and cocoa are often overlooked ingredients that give a smoky barbecue dish a deeper flavor over time. While you can whip up your own rub with ingredients in your pantry, Traeger Coffee Rub takes the guesswork out of balancing the right notes of a mixture. It combines black pepper, garlic, paprika, coffee, and cocoa to create a bolder, better barbecue.
Pairs well with Texas Spicy BBQ Sauce
Prime rib is an amazing cut of meat, but it doesn’t come cheap. Why not treat it to a special rub that celebrates all it has to offer? Traeger Prime Rib Rub mixes rosemary, garlic, and a blend of other spices to create a sweet and savory finish. You can also use it on other premium beef cuts that deserve the best treatment.
Pairs well with: Traeger Texas Spicy BBQ Sauce
Whether you enjoy ribs, chops, or a fat ham, adding some pork rub right before barbecuing makes sense. Traeger Perfect Pork Rub features notes of sweet brown sugar, along with smoky paprika, garlic, and the right amount of salt. It’s one of the easiest ways to turn ho-hum pork dinners into memorable moments.
Pairs well with Traeger Sugar Lips Glaze and Sweet & Heat BBQ Sauce
Not sure which rub to start with? With the Traeger BBQ Rub & Spice Sampler Kit, you don't have to choose. It offers a packet of each of our top flavors, including Beef Rub, Chicken Rub, Coffee Rub, Traeger Rub, Prime Rib Rub, and Pork & Poultry Rub. If you can barbecue it, you can rub it, and this kit gives you a chance to try the sweet, savory, and spicy options available.
Barbecue rub makes a difference in how your meat comes off the grill, and it takes just a few extra minutes to prepare and apply. You will want to ensure your meat is ready to go, whether you need to trim it, tenderize it, or marinate it.
From there, use a clean paper towel to blot dry. You will want the surface as free of moisture as possible, even if you plan on using a wet rub.
Then, liberally sprinkle the rub all over the meat. You can use your hands to get into the difficult-to-reach areas. Don’t be afraid to mash some of the spices right into the meat.
After that, time does most of the work, seasoning the surface of the meat while you wait. Allow at least 15 minutes or up to a few hours for the most flavorful experience. Be sure to properly refrigerate the meat if you won’t be cooking it right away. Use a food-grade plastic wrap to keep it clean and dry while it rests.
Bark, or that thick seasoned crust that can form on the outside of a piece of meat, is one of the tastiest parts of barbecue or smoking. It seals in the moisture of the meat and is why so many people ask for the end pieces of the prime rib or brisket.
How do you get a bark? You’ll need a good spice rub that has both sugar and salt, smoke, low temperatures, and moisture – all things that can come from a well-executed barbecue process. You can get the bark on most any larger cut of meat including brisket, ribs, and butt roast.
To improve your chances of a good bark, make sure you use a dry rub on a slice of meat that's been patted dry (you won't get bark using a wet rub). Put the meat directly on the grill grates, and let the air hit the meat while it cooks. This means no foil or cooking pans. Avoid the temptation to baste the meat in its own juices as you really want it to stay dry on the surface to form the bark.
If you choose a “low and slow” recipe that uses lower temperatures over time, you make it easier for that crust to form.
Rubs are simply spice mixtures that sometimes include sugar. For this reason, you’ll want to store them like you would any quality spice. Keep them away from heat and in a cool, dry place. Storing them near your stove or grill isn’t a good idea as they can get too hot and humid, causing the sugar to clump and the spices to lose their flavor quickly. If you don’t grill often, go with smaller portions of DIY rub or consider Traeger Dry Rubs and BBQ Seasonings that come in tins, as these keep out moisture and offer reasonable amounts that you can use in one season.
Rub recipes are easy to make, assuming you have the right ratio of spices. Here are some quick ones you can create in minutes.
Yes, you can quickly mix up a kosher salt and fresh ground pepper blend for a simple yet effective rub. Be sure to ratio the pepper to twice the amount of salt or more. Get creative with different types of salt including Himalayan sea salt and a variety of white, black, or pink peppercorns.
Having an all-purpose blend on hand really keeps your barbecue routine simple and worry-free. For this “king of everything” mixture, just mix the following ingredients in a bowl.
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
The best part is that you can also use this blend on veggies, potatoes, and breads. Anything savory and smoky will get a flavor boost.
This barbecue rub goes great on steaks, chops, or fish. For a simple Montreal steak seasoning recipe, mix the following ingredients.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Montreal steak rub also works as a seasoning for things after you cook them. Don’t hesitate to sprinkle a little on your veggies or soups and salads.
A well-balanced rub can take your dishes from good to amazing without much additional effort. This Competition BBQ Pork Ribs recipe uses a proven mixture to bring out its very best. The next time you avoid a rub because you think it may be too complicated, give it a try. With so many great pre-made mixes available, you can’t go wrong.
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