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BBQ Rubs and Crusts

With BBQ season just around the corner and the recent trend for low and slow cooking, I thought we needed a chocolate take on the movement.

By David Greenwood-HaighPublished 6 years ago 5 min read
Lamb studded with garlic and rosemary

What is a Rub?

A rub is a spice and/or herb mixture that is added to foods before cooking. Generally, there are two main types of rub, a dry rub and a wet rub. Rubs are most often used in barbecue and grilling because they can stick to meats when grilled or smoked. Most rubs start with salt and sugar, after that just about anything can be added. Rubs have become the great secret ingredient.

Ask any barbecue competition chef what their secret is and they will say that it is all in the rub. The truth is that rubs are just seasoning spice mixtures. Sea salt is usually the starting point for creating any rub the one true flavour enhancer. It helps the rub penetrate. Salt excites our taste buds causing them to open up it also rounds out the other flavours. Sugar is also a common addition to rubs it caramelizes when exposed to heat. Because barbecue is traditionally cooked at low temperatures with 130 degrees Celsius being the burning point of sugar, it is safe to use sugar.

Rubs are nothing new and their origin dates back to the origins of cooking. Any time that a blend of spices and herbs is applied to meats before cooking, you are using a rub, even salt and pepper. The term rub can be misleading, as it is usually dusted on to meats and not always "rubbed" into the surface.

Dry Rubs

A dry rub is a mix of herbs, spices, and seasonings that when applied the outside of meat, poultry, vegetables or fish, creates a crust or glaze adding flavour and texture to the protein

Dry rubs are most often used in barbecue and grilling because of their ability to stick to meats when grilled or smoked.

Each rub recipe is unique and there is a wide number of them out there, they tend to be relatively simple, most rubs are based on a standard set of flavours. In addition to the ingredients named above, it is typical to find garlic and onion powders, cumin, oregano, and many of the most common herbs and spices in the typical home spice rack.

Adding Cocoa Powder to Rubs

Cocoa is an under-used seasoning but it has a long history as a savoury inclusion. I often use single origin cocoa powder from Colombia at 12%, as not to overpower, but just lift, the already fantastic aromatics in spice mix. Adding cocoa powder to a dry or wet rub can transform dishes into more adventurous and tasty creations. “There is also chocolate curing,” This uses cocoa in a dry rub for seasoning chicken breasts or salmon fillets. Use cocoa-based rubs on red meats like pork or lamb, because they can take the complex flavours of chocolate.

Roasted Raspberry Chicken

Rubs Add Flavour and Colour

As well as helping to produce the "bark" surface on meats, rubs add colour. Bark is a smoke-infused crust on the surface of slow-smoked meats that is so prized in barbecue. To add colour, rubs often rely on a heavy amount of paprika and/or chili powder, depending on how spicy the chef wants their dish to be. These red spices give meats colour and, if used properly, help to create an almost glaze or sauce-like consistency on the surface but you can balance them with other ingredients that don’t have as much punch.

Blending Rubs

Like any other recipe, use the best ingredients you can afford. Each rub recipe is unique and there is a huge number of them out there, but most rubs are based on a standard set of flavours.

Start with salt and sweet, specifically sugar and sea salt. If you choose plain salt and plain sugar you will get a very basic base with which to start. Of course, most people who have been making rubs for a while use something different. Sugar can be white, brown, or any other kind of sugar you like salt can be smoked, and many people use Himalayan sea salt.

How Much Rub to Use

As a rule, the amount of rub needed for any piece of meat is whatever sticks to it. For this reason, it is a great idea to mix a good amount and keep them on hand. Apply rubs with a shaker evenly over the entire surface and whatever sticks is the right amount needed.

Applying Rubs

Don’t forget, a rub needs time to work its magic on the meat. How long a rub should rest on the food before cooking it depends on the density of what you are applying it to and how strong the flavours of the rub are? From as little as 20 minutes up to several hours.

When applying a rub to chicken with skin on, put it under the skin too.

Lightly scoring meat, poultry, and fish will help the rub flavours penetrate further.

Wet Rubs/ Marinades

Wet rubs are also called pastes, stick to food better than dry rubs. Wet rubs are made by adding a liquid element to a rub which can be practically anything that will add flavour. Common ingredients added to make a wet rub include honey, mustard, crushed garlic, oil, lemon or lime juice, spirits, whiskey, gin, port, sherry, soy or Worcestershire sauce, wine, horseradish, and yogurt.

Which Rub is the Best?

The best rub in the world is the rub you like best. More often than not, the rub you like best is the one you make yourself.

How to Store Rubs

Dry rubs will keep in tightly closed containers up to 6 months out of direct sunlight. If you're planning on making a large batch of dry rub, check the dates use the most recently purchased dried herbs and spices. Most lose their flavour after the bottle has been open for 9 months to a year. Wet rubs will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

Basic BBQ Rub

Preparation Time: 5 minutesCooking Time: 5 minsMakes: 4


  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp. chilli powder
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Xocolat Sweet & Spicy Rub

We can put chocolate on our meat fish and potatoes, not to mention our vegetables Chocolate has been savoury longer than it has sweet the Mayans knew how to make the most of this food of the gods.

Preparation Time: 5 minutesCooking Time: 5 minsMakes: 4 110ml jars


  • 125g Cocoa powder
  • 15g Sea salt
  • 5g Ground Black pepper
  • 100g Brown sugar
  • 10g Garlic powder
  • 10g Onion powder
  • 5g Smoked paprika
  • 15g Chilli Flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. chilli powder


  1. Place all ingredients into a clean dry bowl mix together thoroughly, store in jars until need.
  2. Sprinkle coating the meat on all sides grill or oven bake.

recipehow to

About the Creator

David Greenwood-Haigh

Multi award-winning chocolatier with over forty years experience.fellow of the institute of hospitality, MasterChef member Craft Guild of Chefs Judges International chocolate awards, Academy of chocolate awards & Great taste awards

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