To steal a line from Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder: Rubbin’, son, is barbecuin’. But not just any seasoning mix will do. There’s an art to a good meat rub. (Hur hur, don’t be so sophomoric.)
“Sugar and salt should be on balance when it comes to rubs,” says chef Paul Kirk. Known as the “Kansas City Baron of Barbecue,” Kirk is a seven-time winner of the Barbecue World Championships, and will be inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame this October.
Kirk says balancing sugars and salts—the two primary ingredients in any rub—ensures your mixture is neither too sweet nor too salty. “That balance also brings out all the other flavors and helps them work together,” he says.
Here are some of Kirk’s favorite commercial seasonings, along with more rubs worth patting onto your meat or seafood this summer:
There’s no shortage of puns in the world of barbecue rubs. Butt Rub will, of course, work well with pork butt. It’ll also complement beef, chicken, eggs, or anything else that needs a flavor kick. Kirk calls it “a good one”—high praise from him.
Its spare green-and-white packaging is an anomaly in the colorful world of spice rubs. But this all-purpose seasoning saves its pizazz for your taste buds. This created-in-Florida rub is good on everything from shrimp to pork and beef.
WILLINGHAM’S “ORIGINAL W’HAM” SEASONING
Kirk says now-deceased BBQ legend John Willingham knew what he was doing when it came to rubs. You can still buy his award-winning seasoning, which Kirk calls a “[BBQ-]circuit favorite.”
BONE SUCKIN’ SAUCE
Arguably the best rib rub you can buy in stores, this tangy medley combines just the right amounts of heat, sweetness, and salt.
THREE LITTLE PIGS BBQ RUB
Like most rubs, this award winner from Kansas City is good on almost any type of meat, seafood or egg dish.
PRIDE OF SZEGED CHICKEN RUB
Kirk says the best chicken rubs contain some of the more aromatic herbs, like basil and oregano. You’ll get plenty of those—and real Hungarian paprika—in this knockout chicken seasoning.
A little spicy, a little smoky, a lot delicious. The whole variety of rubs from Washington-based chef Pete Taylor are excellent.
HARRY SOO’S “SLAP YO DADDY” RUB
You’ve got to appreciate a BBQ guru who puts the recipe for his award-winning rub right on his website. If you’re too lazy to make it yourself—or you just want to send a few bucks to such an altruistic dude—you can also buy the rub online.
A three-time “best rub on the planet” winner, Texas-based Obie-Cue makes a variety of seasonings and rubs. While this favorite is called “steakmaker”, it’ll go well with anything that needs a hit of flavor.
CIMARRON DOC’S SWEET RIB RUB
Best on pork, but still excellent on chicken and other meats, this rub was created by an Oklahoma couple originally known for their award-winning chili. They’d go on to win a lot more recognition with this seasoning.