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What Is a Dry Rub?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dry rub is a spice mixture that is worked into meat before cooking. It is popular in Southern and Cajun cuisines, but can be adapted to fit whatever spices families are preferred. It is called "dry rub" as it is used in place of a liquid marinade for meat. For meat that is better without added liquid or moisture, dry rub is recommended as a way to keep the texture at the right level.

In the food of the Southern United States, a rub is often used on grilled or barbequed meats. Dry rubbed ribs are a popular dish, but steaks, hamburgers or pork chops are also given flavor through a spice rub. Most typical Southern style spice rubs include chili and cayenne pepper, garlic and onion powder, salt and black pepper, paprika and dry mustard. Although the quantities of hot ingredients can be adjusted, this is an extremely spicy mix and adds a powerful kick to meat.

Cajun mixtures are similar to those in traditional deep-South cuisine, but have a few different ingredients. In addition to chili powder, salt and pepper, Cajun blends often add cumin, coriander and dried sage or thyme. In addition to use on meats, these rubs are great to add flavor to homemade French fries or even as an all-purpose spice mixture for soups or stews.

Although in Indian cuisine, meat is usually served as part of a curry, you can give grilled meats or vegetables a real power boost with an Indian-influence spice rub. To a basic spice mixture, try adding, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, garam masala and Indian chili powders. Indian dry rubs will add a hint of sweetness along with heat, and are a great addition to hamburgers or grilled vegetable medleys.

To use dry rubs, cake your spice mixture into the meat and work in with clean hands. Allow the meat to refrigerate for at least an hour before cooking. Some chefs recommend letting the spices soak into the meat overnight, but be sure to adequately refrigerate the meat to prevent spoilage. Grill as usual without adding any additional marinade.

Rubs make a great gift for any barbecue-enthusiast on your gift list. Simply mix up a batch of signature spices in a sterilized glass jar and seal tightly. Having a jar on hand can allow you to add extra flavor at a moment’s notice and is excellent for frequent entertainers. If you would prefer to buy pre-made rub mix, it is often available in the spice section of most grocery stores. It may be worth it to experiment with your own flavor combinations and mixes, to determine your own secret dry rub recipe.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for DelightedCooking. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On May 27, 2014

I just throw whatever sounds good together for a dry rub. You can't go wrong with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and dried thyme. If I'm doing Mexican, I'll add cumin and chili powder.

You do have to be careful not to burn the rub, though. Otherwise, you'll have to peel off the crust and hope the meat is cooked inside, or you'll have to continue cooking it without the rub, which renders the whole idea pointless.

By Grivusangel — On May 27, 2014

Dry rubs are really the basis of a lot of Southern barbecue. Adding sugar to the dry rub allows the heat to caramelize the sugar, creating a nice outer crust.

Every cook has his or her own particular dry rub recipe, so what goes into the mixture is mostly a matter of personal taste. You don't have to grill the meat, though. Roasting also is a good method for cooking meat that starts out with a dry rub, especially if the rub is under the skin and the meat is roasted with the skin on.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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