Unique Spice Rubs

Unique spice rubs
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Competition BBQ cooks guard their spice rub recipes like the government guards gold at Fort Knox. But you can be your own grilling champion by creating a rub mixture that becomes your signature. And the nice part is there are no rules. Rubs are totally based on personal preference.

First of all, why use a rub? Sometimes salt and pepper is all you need. But some cuts of meat – particularly ones that tend toward the bland – get a flavor boost from a rub. Pork and poultry love an extra shot of flavor. Certain cheaper cuts of beef such as flank steak and skirt steak are also good candidates for a rub.

There are a few guidelines to follow. The first is to start with fresh spices and dried herbs. If your paprika, onion powder and oregano have been sitting in the cupboard for a year, it’s time to invest in new spices. If you don’t start out with good, you can’t end up with great.

And a certain amount of salt needs to be in every rub. Salt is not a spice, but it elevates the tastes of the spices you do use.

There are a few spices that should always have a place at the table. They are black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and paprika. In fact, if you made a rub from nothing but salt, black pepper, onion and garlic powder and paprika, you’d probably be pretty satisfied.

But to make a rub truly your own, add signature ingredients – flavors you particularly like. A few choices would be cumin, dried oregano, dried thyme, smoked paprika, ground ginger, ground cinnamon or coriander. Become a mixologist, tasting as you go until you have a mixture that appeals to you.

Many rubs contain brown or turbinado sugar to add sweetness.  Add those to rubs for low-and-slow cooked meats such as Boston butts or ribs. Don’t use granulated white sugar. It burns too quickly.

Once you have your mix, rub it in.

Basic Rub

Pork tenderloin with a liberal application of rub
Pork tenderloin with a liberal application of rub

You don’t want to cake your meat with rub, but you don’t want to gingerly sprinkle the rub either. And clean hands are a cook’s best tool. Wash them before applying the rub and then again after you’re done. And if there’s any rub left over that has come in contact with the meat, don’t save it. That’s a food safety issue.

Unique spice rubs
The rub is now liquified and will coat the meat more thoroughly once it’s on the grill

Now you want to let the rub set. Why? Because it liquifies and coats the meat more thoroughly. The quickest way to achieve this step is to wrap the meat in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Then you grill your masterpiece.

Basic spice rubbed grilled pork tenderloin
Basic spice rubbed grilled pork tenderloin

The rub provides a beautiful, flavor-packed crust on grilled meats and poultry that is uniquely yours. You can then add a glaze or sauce for extra flavor if you want. (Glazes and sauces tend to burn quickly because they contain a lot of sugar so they’re always the last steps in the grilling process.)

Char-Broil All-Star Blogger Danielle Dimovski, better known as Diva Q, has an award-winning sugar-based rub for pork or poultry. You’ll want to try it so here’s the recipe.

And here’s a recipe for a non-sugar rub that works on any grill but particularly well in The Big Easy.

And one last thing. You’ll notice this recipe only makes 1/2 cup of rub. Test it out on a pork chop or tenderloin. You can easily double or triple it if you like the flavors.

Basic barbecue rub

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1/2 cup

This basic rub is easy to make and pairs well with any meat for the grill.


  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place or store in your freezer.


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