The Skinny on Rubs

So you want to barbecue—or maybe you just want to know more about barbecue (that’s cool, too). Once you get past the basics of low-and-slow cooking and smoking, it’s time to start thinking about the meat. And that means thinking about rubs.

Rubs are typically used for barbecue, not grilling over high heat, because those containing sugar start to burn at high temperatures. That can be great for blackened salmon or other specific dishes, but most experts recommend just a simple salt-and-pepper coating before direct-grilling steaks or other things.

When you’re smoking or indirect grilling, though, you’ve got a lot more flexibility to use rubs. And that’s great, because a rub can add spectacular flavor to your barbecue.

Wet versus dry
Most people think of a rub as a powder, a mixture of dry spices and other things. That’s a dry rub. But add citrus juice, molasses, or oil, making a kind of paste, and now you’ve got a wet rub. (An all-liquid coating isn’t a rub, it’s a marinade. Yeah, we know. So many different terms.)

We usually use dry rubs at Big Sur Smokehouse, but it’s all about the flavor you want and your preferences. We don’t worry about adding oil or other liquids to make a paste, because brown sugar has a bit of moisture, and besides, we really rub our rubs in all over the meat. You shouldn’t be shy about that, either, whether you choose wet or dry.

Here’s our standard rub recipe.


  • Paprika- 1 cup

  • Cumin- 2 teaspoons
    Granulated Garlic- .25 cup

  • Dry English Mustard- 1 tablespoon

  • Cayenne-1 teaspoon

  • Cinnamon- .25 teaspoon

  • Brown Sugar- .5 cups

  • Black Pepper- .25 cups

  • Kosher Salt- .5 cups

We use a stand mixer to blend all of this goodness together. If you’re making a smaller batch, you should be able to use a hand mixer or just a little elbow grease—which is another key ingredient to fantastic barbecue.

And one more note about rubs: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try adding things or taking ingredients out. Come up with your own combinations from scratch. Put your own personal stamp on your barbecue!

Heather brown