Dry Rubs

From Smoke & Spice
by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison


Bill and Cheryl Jamison

Dry rubs are combinations of dried spices massaged into food before cooking. Originally developed long ago for preservation, rubs in barbecuing help seal in flavor, add another dimension to the taste, and form a savory crust...

The appropriate ingredients in dry rubs vary with the kind of food you're cooking, but some items are more common than others. Salt and sugar probably appear more often than anything else, in both commercial and homemade rubs, though they are also the most controversial ingredients. Some pitmasters say that salt draws the moisture out of meat, and everyone agrees that white or brown sugar burns on the surface of food. We follow the course of moderation, using salt and sugar when they round out the taste of a rub, but keeping the quantity in careful balance with other ingredients. From a flavor standpoint, if nothing else, they are normally better in a supporting rather than starring role.

Garlic powder, onion powder, and lemon-pepper seasonings are a close second in popularity, particularly in homemade rubs. They all work better in a dry spice mix than they do in most kitchen preparations but by themselves their potential for adding punch is pretty limited. We usually supplement them, or even supplant them, with pepper and dried chiles, plus some combination of secondary seasonings, such as dry mustard, cumin, sage, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

When applying a rub, add it thoroughly and evenly. Generally you don't skimp on the amount, though some dishes benefit from a light touch. If you're cooking chicken or other poultry, spread the seasoning both over and under the skin, being careful to avoid tearing the skin. If you're rubbing vegetables, cover them first with a thin layer of oil. Always wash your hands well with soap and hot water before moving on to other tasks.

After coating the food, let it absorb the spices in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic. We favor zipper-lock bags or industrialsize food-safe plastic bags, depending on the size of the item. Oven-roasting bags, the type used for Thanksgiving turkeys, work, too. As we indicate in our recipes in later chapters, fish fillets and shrimp need to sit for thirty to forty-five minutes before cooking, big cuts of meat like an overnight sleep, and other kinds of food require some amount of time in between... Figure that two cups of rub will yield enough to flavor a couple of briskets or a half-dozen slabs of ribs.


Smoke & Spice:
The Real Way to Barbecue



From Smoke & Spice
by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison
Harvard Common Press
$16.95 / Paperback
ISBN 1-55832-110-1
Reprinted by permission.
Copyright 1994. All rights reserved.


All About Marinades


The electronic Gourmet Guide launched in 1994 and later merged into the Global Gourmet website in 1998 (now This is an edited archive of one of those early pages.


Modified June 2007