Dry rubs are one of my favorite and most useful methods for tenderizing and giving flavor to meats. I often use them for wild game such as venison, but I simply couldn’t do without them for poultry. They add lots of flavor without extra calories!
In this updated post I share my secrets for the best dry rub.
I find dry rubs much more convenient than brines for large birds like turkeys. Plus I can control the salt content a bit more. This is especially important if you are watching your sodium.
This year, I am using a dry rub and then smoking my turkey for Thanksgiving. The turkeys seemed to be outrageously big this year. That is a good and bad thing. My family is large, so we will all eat well, but my refrigerator space and smoker aren’t equipped for such large whole animals.
Spatchcocking the turkey saves a little space and adds more area for the dry brine. Not only will I get more even cooking from spatchcocking, but the skin will be super crispy with crazy great flavors from the dry rub.
Dry Rub FAQ
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about dry rubs — what they are, how they work, and how to use them.
What is a dry rub?
A dry rub is a mix of spices and herbs with two must-have ingredients: salt and sugar. Otherwise, you can put literally anything dry into the mixture. The best rubs are 50/50: 50 percent salt to 50 percent other seasonings. The last thing you want to happen is to make the perfect roast but then find you undersalted it. But the spice blend is totally up to you.
How does it work?
A dry rub is a fantastic technique to use when cooking with any sort of protein: turkey, chicken breast, ribs, pork, steak, and more. It works by soaking up the moisture from the exterior of the meat, creating a barrier the juices can’t escape and a crispy skin, not to mention the unbeatable flavor it adds.
You can apply a dry rub anywhere from a few hours to a few minutes before cooking the meat. Personally, I prefer to let the spices flavor the meat for at least 24 hours.
With a dry rub, the exterior of the meat will be super dry, so when you go to sear the meat, you’ll have a perfect crust on the outside.
If you have time to let your meat sit in the rub, make sure you don’t cover it. By letting the meat sit out in the air (refrigerate for food safety), it’ll dry the rub even more, which will guarantee a perfectly crispy crust.
How long should you leave a dry rub on?
Depending on the type of meat and the thickness of the cut, a dry rub can stay on for anywhere from 2 days to just a few minutes. The longer the rub is on, the more flavor the meat will have. However, the meat, especially fish, tends to get mushy if you leave it in the rub too long.
Do you put dry rub on before or after cooking?
You put a dry rub on the meat before cooking it so that the rub has a chance to flavor the meat, tenderize it, and help create a crust.
Do dry rubs really make a difference?
Yes. A dry rub is a must to enhance any tough or ordinary meat into a masterpiece. It is super simple to make and completely transforms any meal, from sit-down dinners to casual barbecues. You might even like them on grilled veggies.
What are the best ingredients to use?
Onion powder? Cayenne pepper? Smoked paprika? Dry mustard? Coriander? What makes the best dry rub? What are the best herbs and spices to use? The sky’s the limit.
You will find many great recipes out there for homemade rubs. From BBQ rub to turkey, the best combination of ingredients depends on your preferences and purpose.
Other than the necessary sugar and salt, you have full creative license. You can add spicy spices like cayenne or fruity seasonings like cinnamon. Whatever you take a liking to is absolutely perfect for any dry rub.
I love the combination of Kosher salt, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, brown sugar, mustard powder, cayenne and black peppers. This mixture perfectly flavors just about any meat but is super on turkey. I think the touch of sweetness from the brown sugar with that tang of mustard powder just works. It’s truly amazing.
Additionally, for wild ducks, turkeys, deer, and wild boar, I adore using coffee in the dry rub. Coffee is acidic, breaking down the meat that much more. Click here for my chili-cocoa dry rub recipe.
However, for an all-purpose rub, I leave the coffee out. Feel free to add it to the ingredients of this recipe, though, if you need a little extra tenderness to your meat.
Are dry rub and seasoning the same thing?
Not quite, but they are very similar. To be a dry rub, the rub has to have a high salt and sugar content. A seasoning, on the other hand, has no rules — the salt or sugar are optional.
Dry Rubs vs. Wet Rubs vs. Marinades
You may be wondering what the difference is between these approaches to preparing meat. Basically, a dry rub has a high salt and sugar content and no liquid added. A wet rub , on the other hand, mostly consists of water and salt.
Marinades are a blend of both a dry rub and a wet rub. A marinade is mostly liquids high in acid, like wines or vinegars, plus a lot of seasonings. Marinading over multiple days is great for tenderizing meat with a tougher cut.
How to Store the Spice Mixture
Simply place the seasonings in an airtight container and put them wherever you normally put your most-used spices. The stored rub will last anywhere from 6 months to a year. Keep in mind, though, that the longer it sits, the less flavor it will have.
How Do You Make Dry Rub?
Ready to get started? It’s super simple. Just mix all your ingredients in a bowl. Then massage the spice blend thoroughly into the meat and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. I usually refrigerate for 24 hours, and if it is wild game, 48 hours.
Dry Rub: Perfect for Turkey, Chicken, Pork and Beef
- 1/4 cup Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup ground cumin
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup garlic powder
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp ground black pepper
- Mix all ingredients and rub thoroughly into the meat. Cover the meat and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. I like to leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours or overnight.