What is a spice rub?

Rubs are flavoured seasoning mixes made from dried herbs, spices, sugar and salt. They might contain just a few ingredients, or be made from a complex cocktail of different elements, all harmoniously coming together to create a new taste. Rubs are used a lot on barbecued foods, but also work well with roasted meats and pan-seared items.


How to use a spice rub

There are two main ways to use a spice rub.

1) Apply the rub several hours or days before cooking. This way, it becomes more of a marinade, and really penetrates the food. This method will give you deep layers of flavour and tenderise cuts of meat, so it’s great for large pieces of meat and poultry. But, this method doesn’t work with delicate fish or veg. To apply the rub, gently massage or ‘rub’ it into the meat, as the name suggests.

2) The other option is to season food with a rub by sprinkling it over just before cooking. This will add a milder surface layer of flavour, and is ideal for delicate foods, such as fish or barbecued veg.

If you like, you can also sprinkle a rub over charcoal to create an aromatic smoke that will lightly flavour barbecued foods.

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How to make a spice rub

Whether you call it a rub, seasoning or spice mix, there are infinite ways to combine dry ingredients to flavour food. But, when you’re barbecuing, ensure that you base your rub on these four key flavour profiles, so you’ll always have a well-balanced seasoning.


Use sugar as a base. The type and darkness will determine the depth of flavour it brings – dark brown sugar will be more treacly than white sugar. Sugar also helps with surface caramelisation, and builds a crust on food. It’s not essential, but it’s usually included in barbecue rubs.


To provide the most prominent flavour in a rub, think aromatic spices like cumin, fennel seeds, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder and mushroom powder, or dried herbs, like oregano and rosemary. Don’t worry about toasting the spices first, as they’ll wake up when they’re heated on the barbecue.


Peppery heat can bring a rub alive, and when you make your own, you can be in control of how hot it is. Dried chillies, chilli powder and cayenne pepper are obvious choices, but different types of pepper, mustard powder, powdered ginger and wasabi powder will all add heat, too. Choose one that fits the flavours you’re working with.


This enhances all the other flavours, and if you’re leaving the food to ‘marinate’, salt will transform the rub into a cure. But, if you’re on a low-salt diet or simply cutting down your intake, salt-free rubs will still add flavour.

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Which spice rub will you try? Leave a comment below.

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