Who doesn’t love a good BBQ or cookout? Outdoor cooking is a universally loved activity. Not only does it bring friends and families together for one of the things that bind us all – food – that food is actually great tasting.

There’s something about food that has been cooked on an outdoor grill that just makes it taste so much better, and most of us will have fond memories of eating barbecued foods.

Depending on what you’re using to grill your foods, there may be some taste imparted without adding any marinades or spice rubs. Both charcoal and pellet grills will give the food some taste from the charcoal or the type of wood pellets you are using, but a gas grill doesn’t add any flavor at all.

It’s always best to flavor your food with a marinade or spice rub before cooking it, to add that extra depth of flavor, but there are so many to use from. Which ones are the best?

Well, let’s have a look at that now.

Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper are the backbones of any spice rub. These two spices really help bring out the flavor of your food, salt, in particular, makes food taste even better.

There’s a fine line with salt, however. You want to use enough to enhance the flavor of your food, but not so much that salt takes over every other flavor and leaves all your diners reaching for glasses of water all evening.

Pepper goes very well with salt, and adds a more complex flavor to your dish. It is better to use whole peppercorns that are ground or crushed as you use them, as they hold much more flavor.

All spice rubs will have salt in, and most will have ground peppercorns, so it’s always a good idea to have these in your cupboard.

Ground Spices

Ground spices are always useful to have in your spice cupboard. They last for months to years, which means it will save you money instead of buying fresh ingredients every time, and only using a small amount.

David Johnson, of Barbecuelogic.com was asked what he feels are the best spices for rubs, and some of the staples to have in your cupboard, that will be used in almost every spice rub, are garlic powder, onion powder, chilli powder, cayenne pepper and paprika.

If you have these four, along with salt and pepper, you will be able to make a rub for most things.

Garlic and onion powder work very well at adding some depth and complexity to your meat’s flavor, and smoked paprika will add a lovely depth of smokiness.

Paprika comes in many different varieties, from sweet to smoky depending on your tastes, but smoky is often used in BBQ rubs for the extra level of smokiness it adds.

Chilli powder or chili flakes will, of course, add some heat to your rub, and you can add as much or as little as you want depending on the taste of you and your guests. Chilli comes in many different flavors and levels of heat – so always double-check what you are using.

Cinnamon is not a necessity for spice rubs, but it can be used on occasion to add a level of sweetness to your cooking, which may otherwise be missing. Cinnamon goes particularly well with apples, so if you were using apple flavored wood chips, you would get an interesting combination using cinnamon within your spice rub.


Herbs are another staple of the kitchen that are best to have in dried form. You often don’t need much at all, so buying them fresh every time would soon lead to you spending a fair bit of money for a lot of wastage.

Some dried herbs to keep in your spice cupboard are thyme, oregano, basil, sage, coriander, rosemary, mint and parsley. You can also get a mixed one called ‘italian herbs’ which has most of these in.

The dried spices we have already covered are more commonly used for spice rubs, but if you want a different flavour, maybe something more subtle and less heated, then herbs could be the way to go.

Some herbs work particularly well with certain types of meat, for example, mint is well known for complimenting lamb very well.

What Else Could You Use?

You could consider adding some mustard seeds to your barbecue rub, as these add a lovely flavor. You can grind the seeds if you prefer, but you often get much more flavor from the seeds as they cook over the heat.

These do have a very strong flavor, so you may want to use them sparingly to avoid your food tasting of nothing other than mustard seeds, unless that’s what you want, of course.

Sugar, usually brown sugar is a useful ingredient for your spice rub. It will add a beautiful layer of caramelization to your food as it cooks.

How Do You Use A BBQ Rub?

You can either use your spice rub dry or add a small amount of oil to make it into a wet rub.

When using it dry, first pat the meat with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as you can, then sprinkle the rub onto the meat and rub and press it in. You will need about 1 tablespoon for every pound of meat.

Dry rubs will result in your meat having a lovely, flavorsome crust, and is better for meat that is being cooked fairly quickly at a high temperature.

When using a rub as a wet rub, add a small amount of oil to make it spreadable, then spread it across the meat you are cooking. Wet rubs will not give you the same crusting as the dry rubs, and is better suited to a slower, lower temperature cook.

There is no exact recipe for spice rubs. You could start with some recipes that can be found online and then adjust amounts of different ingredients until you have your signature rub.

Have fun!