How to Use Dry Rubs to Instantly Elevate Flavor

Step aside marinades, there's a new flavor-enhancing ingredient in town. Learn how to use and make dry rubs to instantly elevate your grilling game.

We're always looking for new ways to amp up our grilling game because when you live in a cool climate you really have to make the most of the precious grilling months. Dry rubs might not be new to the whole barbecue game, but if you haven't yet given them a try now is as good a time as any. They're a super easy alternative to the traditional marinade and will instantly amp up food's flavor.

What they are: A dry rub is essentially a combination of dry spices, sugar and seasonings that are rubbed into meat or vegetables before grilling. Unlike marinades, a dry rub will enhance flavor and create a delicious crust without the use of any liquid; they adhere to the food's natural moisture.

How do I use it? Liberally apply the mixture to meat or vegetables and then rub in by hand before grilling. If you're working with skin-on chicken, be sure to add the rub under the skin as well to really give it a kick. For best results with red meat, allow the rub to several hours or overnight before cooking, so that it can really soak up the flavors. When you're ready to get cooking, create two heat zones on the grill. Sear your meat or vegetables on each side to develop a mouth-watering crust, then move to a cooler spot on the grill to finish cooking (and avoid burning). Dry rubs can burn, so be sure to keep a watchful eye over food.

How to make one: While you can find any number of dry rubs on the shelves of your supermarket, making them at home is not only incredibly simple, it allows you to customize flavors to your own tastes. Most rubs will consist of five or more spices and herbs, but they all have salt, pepper and a little sugar (usually brown) in common. Paprika and garlic powder are also fairly standard dry rub ingredients that will impart a smoky, savory flavor to food. Once your bases are covered, you can start to get a little creative, creating a custom mix of your favorite spices. Cayenne, lemon pepper, cumin, thyme and mustard powder all make great additions. Test out a few recipes your first time around, then use your nose as a guide to create your very own inspired rubs.

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