The 9 Best Barbecue Spices and Rubs for Mastering Smoked Meat and More
Wherever you are in the world, there is barbecue. While the jury on whether barbecue sauces are a must remains hotly divided by state and region, nothing makes the most out of smoking and grilling like a dry rub. And the spice world has never been more exciting. As farmers have greater control over growing conditions and harvest cycles, the selection of single-origin spices spans from Szechuan chilis to citric citrus blends. The complexity and subtle flavors of a well-sourced spice blend will complement whatever food it touches, and make the familiar taste new again.
Burlap & Barrel remains one of our favorites for its single-origin blends and freshness, while newcomer Occo sells single-origin spices in pre-portioned servings. Well-known chefs like Stephanie Izard (This Little Goat) and David Chang (Momofuku) have even entered the game, as has pitmaster Matt Pittman with Meat Church. Read on for the best barbecue spices and rubs of 2022.
Our Top Picks
Burlap and Barrel
Snake River Farms
This Little Goat
Spice mixes and rubs help make barbecue an event to remember, but these seasonings work wonders on other foods, too. Take advantage of unique producers and experiment with different seasoning blends, or combine spices to make your own.
Pro Panel Q+A
Q: How do you apply a dry rub to meat?
A: There isn't one way to correctly apply rubs to meat. "The way I apply rub depends on the desired effect," says David Sandusky, pitmaster and owner of Beast Craft BBQ in St. Louis. "Some meats require a shake of rub for seasoning, and others require more pressure to make the rub stick in order to form a bark. For better bark, I recommend coating the meat in cheap yellow mustard before adding rub to help the rub stick to the meat."
Esaul Ramos, pitmaster and co-owner of 2M Smokehouse BBQ San Antonio, also recommends mustard, which he lathers on brisket in a 50/50 ratio with pickle juice. "Give it a gentle pat to make sure the seasoning sticks," he says.
A wet applicator like mustard, gochujang, or honey helps spices adhere, but it's not always necessary, says Jason Dady, chef and owner of Two Bros. BBQ Market in San Antonio. "The most important part of applying the rub is to season from up high: a minimum of 12 inches above the meat so that you get a nice, even layer of spice applied," he says.
Others, like chef Aaron Bludorn of Bludorn in Houston, insist that planning ahead matters most. "I rub the meat the day before. It helps marinate the meat and lets the protein interact with the spices, especially if salt is involved. The salt draws out the moisture and in turn takes in the spices and flavor from the rub. Think of it as a dry brine or cure. When spices are involved, the flavor is deeper in the meat," he says.
Q: Can you use dry rub and barbecue sauce?
A: Yes. Dry rubs and barbecue sauces can complement each other. "The rub directly flavors the meat, and the sauce can then penetrate deeper and give more flavor," says Bludorn, who also cautions that sauce can turn the burnt ends of meat from crispy to soggy.
With this in mind, think of barbecue sauce as a finishing sauce, like a glaze, that doesn't go on the meat till the last 30 minutes of cooking, says Dady. Ramos finishes meat with barbecue sauce once it reaches the desired internal temperature. Sandusky suggests smoking meat with a rub and finishing it with sauce in the barbecue pit or on the grill.
Q: What makes a good barbecue rub?
A good barbecue rub comes down to personal preference. For many Texans, like Dady, this means either coarse salt and coarse pepper or a blend of seasonings, including salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, mustard powder, and brown sugar, he says. Ramos prefers a combination of unique flavors, like orange-pepper or hibiscus-rosemary, with ingredients high in sodium and acidity.
Alissa Fitzgerald is a chef, recipe developer, and food writer with over 15 years of experience in the food industry. For this piece, she interviewed Aaron Bludorn of Bludorn, Esaul Ramos of 2M Smokehouse BBQ, Jason Dady of Two Bros. BBQ Market, and David Sandusky of Beast Craft BBQ to find out what the pros look for in barbecue spices and rubs. She then used their insights and her own expertise and market research to curate this list.