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What Is a Dry Rub?
A dry rub (a.k.a dry brine) is any type of dry seasoning applied to meat before it is cooked. At its simplest, a dry rub can be a palmful of salt, though most barbeque dry rubs contain additional herbs and spices. The function of a dry rub is to season meat ahead of time, giving the salt and other flavorings time to penetrate the meat, so that you’re seasoning the whole piece—not just the surface. It’s called dry to distinguish it from wet brines and marinades, which involve liquids. (Think: buttermilk-soaked chicken breasts.)
What Does a Dry Rub Contain?
In addition to the salt, dry rubs often contain dried spices or herbs, usually ground or finely chopped to maximize the surface area that can come into contact with the meat.
Experiment with different spice blends to create your own signature barbecue rub, or keep things simple like Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin, who only uses coarse salt and black pepper, sometimes with a little paprika for color.
Popular dry-rub additions include light brown sugar, dry mustard, and celery seed. Blend your favorite spices together or look for regional inspiration:
Try rubbing Jamaican Jerk seasoning (allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper, paprika, sugar, salt, garlic powder, and ginger) on chicken wings or turkey.
Use an Italian seasoning blend of dried oregano, rosemary, marjoram, sage, onion powder, and crushed red pepper on pork chops or pork tenderloin.
Make a Mexican spice mix of chipotle or ancho chili powder, cumin, and coriander for fajitas.
3 Tips for Applying Your BBQ Dry Rub on Meat
The best way to use a dry rub depends both on the cut and type of meat you’re using, along with how you’re cooking it.
For the juiciest smoked pulled pork and baby back ribs, you’ll need to season the meat ahead of time, not just slather it with barbecue sauce at the end of cooking. If you’re roasting a small chicken, seasoning can be as easy as rubbing a palmful of salt into the skin. When smoking large cuts of meat, applying the rub can get a little trickier.
- Use a shaker. To make seasoning easier, mix rub ingredients in a plastic shaker with an adjustable lid and sprinkle the rub onto the meat directly from the shaker.
- Slather just enough. Before applying the rub, apply an emulsifier like mustard or hot sauce to help the rub stick and form a bark. After a long cook, the slather won’t have much impact on the flavor of the meat but it’s still good to be judicious in how much you apply. The more slather you use, the more likely it is that your bark will flake off as the meat shrinks during the cook (though that’s a much bigger concern for a cut like brisket than for, say, pork butt). Aim to get the meat tacky, but not wet.
- Rub smart. Identify the “presentation side” of your meat: for pork butt and brisket, it’s the fattier side; for ribs, it’s the “outside” of the ribs. Starting with the non-presentation side, slather the meat with mustard or hot sauce, then shake or sprinkle the rub from side to side in an even layer until the surface is covered. To make things easier for yourself, use one hand to slather and turn the meat and the other to sprinkle the rub. When applying rub to the sides of a pork butt or brisket, cup one hand along the side of the meat and use it to catch the rub and press it evenly onto the meat. Flip the meat over to the presentation side and repeat. Allow meat to rest at room temperature, about 30 to 40 minutes. The meat will begin to absorb the rub and the salt will start drawing out the internal moisture.
Aaron Franklin’s Homemade Dry Rub Recipe
MakesMakes enough seasoning for an 8- to 10-pound pork butt or 12-pound brisket (or two racks of pork ribs).
Prep Time5 min
Total Time5 min
- ¼ cup kosher salt (or ⅙ cup for two racks of ribs)
- ¼ cup 16-mesh “café grind” black pepper (or ⅓ cup for two racks of ribs)
- Big pinch paprika, for color (omit for brisket)
- Mustard or hot sauce, for slather
- In a plastic shaker with an adjustable lid, combine salt and black pepper with a small amount of paprika for color.
- Mix or shake in shaker until ingredients are evenly distributed.
For pork butt: The fattier side of your pork butt is its “presentation side,” so apply the slather and rub to this side last. Use one hand to slather and turn the meat and the other to sprinkle the rub. Starting with the non-presentation side, slather the meat with mustard or hot sauce, then shake or sprinkle the rub from side to side in an even layer until the surface is covered. Next, slather the sides of the meat and season with the rub. Cup one hand along the side of the pork and use it to catch the rub and press it evenly onto the meat. Flip the butt over, so the fat side faces up. Slather and rub. Allow the pork butt to rest for 30 to 40 minutes. This will give the rub some time to penetrate the meat and begin drawing out the internal moisture.
For ribs: Go light with the slather on the meatier side of the ribs—the texture should be tacky rather than wet—and a little heavier with both the slather and the rub on the fattier portions, as the extra stickiness will help the smoke adhere and give the ribs a more uniform flavor. The “outside” of the ribs is your presentation side, so apply the slather and rub to the “inside” first. Use one hand to move and slather the meat, and the other to apply the rub. Slather with mustard or hot sauce, then shake or sprinkle on the rub. Moving from side to side, parallel to the rib bones, distribute the rub in an even layer along the length of the rack, then flip it over to the presentation side and repeat. Allow the ribs to rest at room temperature while you build your fire and get the smoker up to temp.
For brisket: The fattier side of the brisket is the presentation side, so apply the rub to it last. Use one hand to move the brisket and apply the slather, and the other to sprinkle on the rub. Starting with the fat side down, slather the meat with mustard, hot sauce, or a bit of water, getting the surface just wet enough for the rub to stick. (No need to over-slather—after 12 hours in a smoker, you won’t really taste the slather anyway.) Next, shake the rub across the brisket from side to side in an even layer until the entire side is covered. Keep an eye out for any gaps or imperfections in the surface of the meat as you go, and avoid filling deep pockets with salt and pepper. Gently pat the rub into the meat once you’ve finished. With the meatier side still facing up, cup your free hand along one edge of the brisket. Pour the rub directly into your hand as you move along the length of the brisket, evenly pressing the rub into the side as you go. Repeat on the other side, then flip the brisket over so it’s fat side up. Apply the slather to the fat side, then sprinkle the rub on top, patting it in at the end. Allow the brisket to rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes. The meat will begin to absorb the rub and the salt will start drawing out the internal moisture.
Learn more about Texas barbeque recipes and techniques in Aaron Franklin’s MasterClass.