BBQ Flavor Secrets: Rubs And Marinades For Success

by Matt

minute/s reading time

I love the simple joy of smoking meats on the grill, especially with good BBQ rubs or BBQ marinades to spice things up. It's been a hobby of mine for a good chunk of my 40 years. To me, there's nothing like the sound of meat sizzling and the smell of smoke in the air.

It's all about getting that perfect flavor, and the BBQ rubs and BBQ marinades are the secret to making a BBQ stand out. Over the years, I've had my share of time around the smoke and flames, and each time it's about creating amazing food whilst also adding a little bit of experimentation. And that is where BBQ rubs and BBQ marinades come into the picture.

We're diving into BBQ rubs and BBQ marinades today, and it’s more than just mixing spices or making sauces; it’s about enjoying a good old BBQ tradition. We're on a quest to find what makes a chunk of meat into a smoky delight. Whether it's a spicy rub or a sweet marinade, these are the game changers in the world of BBQ.

Every griller has their go-to rubs and marinades, the special stuff that makes their BBQ unique. Today, I’m here to share a bit of that, to talk about the heart of BBQ rubs and marinades, and how they take smoked meats from just dinner to something you'll remember. So, grab your apron, a cold one, and let’s dive into this tasty topic together, seeing how the right rubs and marinades can make your BBQ the talk of the neighborhood.

Whether you've been smoking meats for years or just getting started, diving into rubs and marinades is sure to step up your BBQ game. Let's get those coals burning and get ready to explore the world of rubs and marinades, aiming for that smoky perfection!

The Essence of BBQ Rubs

Ah, the humble BBQ rub, a blend of spices that holds the power to transform any meat into a smoky delicacy. It's not just about adding a dash of salt here or a sprinkle of pepper there; crafting a good rub is an art, an exploration into the heart of flavors.

The Foundation of Flavor

A good rub lays the foundation of flavor for any smoked meat. It's the first thing that hits your taste buds, setting the stage for the smoky goodness to follow. The key players in the rub game are sweet, heat, and salty, a trio that when balanced right, can elevate your BBQ to legendary status.

The Key Components

Sweet: Sweet elements like brown sugar or maple syrup, create a beautiful caramelization on the meat, adding a layer of flavor that’s hard to beat.

Heat: A touch of heat from spices like cayenne or paprika, awakens the senses, adding a fiery contrast to the sweetness.

Salty: And then there’s the salty aspect, the flavor enhancer that makes everything pop. A good dose of salt in your rub not only enhances flavor but also aids in forming that coveted crust, known in BBQ circles as the bark.

Common Ingredients

The roster of ingredients in a BBQ rub is as diverse as the BBQ tradition itself. Spices like paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and of course, a good amount of salt are common comrades in many rub concoctions.

a Variety of Spices to Make Bbq Rubs

Crafting Your Signature BBQ Rub

Now, there's no one-size-fits-all recipe when it comes to BBQ rubs. It’s all about finding that unique blend that sings to your palate. Experimenting with different spices, tweaking the ratios, and even throwing in a wildcard ingredient like coffee or cocoa powder can lead to discovering your signature rub. It's about balance, boldness, and sometimes, a bit of sweetness.

Wrap Up

Your choice of rub sets the tone for your smoked meats, creating a flavor profile that can either wow the crowd or leave them wanting. So, as we venture into the realm of rubs, remember, it's not just about following a recipe to the tee; it's about embracing the spirit of BBQ, experimenting, and finding what tickles your taste buds. So, go ahead, mix up that rub, and let’s get ready to create some smoky magic!

Crafting the Perfect BBQ Marinade

Now, if rubs are like a friendly nod in the BBQ world, marinades are the hearty pat on the back. They get right into the meat, tenderizing it and packing it full of flavors that really sing alongside that smoky grill taste.

The Deal with Marinades

Marinades have a simple job – they tenderize and they flavor. The acid or enzyme in the mix breaks down the meat fibers, making them tender, while the herbs, spices, and liquids add that tasty character to the meat.

Key Players

Oil: Adds fat and flavor to the meat, and helps in carrying fat-soluble flavors into the meat.

Acid: Ingredients like vinegar, citrus juice or even yogurt, help in breaking down proteins making the meat tender.

Salt: Helps in magnifying other flavors added to the marinade and often used as a tenderizing agent.

Flavor Enhancers

Spices and Herbs: Common spices include black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, etc., and herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. These add aroma and flavor to the meat.

Sugars: Adds a sweet flavor and helps in caramelization during grilling.

Soy Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce: These sauces can add a depth of flavor and savory notes to the marinade.

Chili Peppers: Adds a spicy kick to the marinade, enhancing the flavor profile.

These ingredients can be mixed and matched, and their proportions altered to create a wide variety of BBQ sauces and marinades to suit individual taste preferences and the specific requirements of the meat being prepared.

a Table Full of Various Ingredients Used to Make Marinades and Sauces.
Common BBQ Marinade Ingredients

Your kitchen is a goldmine when it comes to making marinades. Ingredients like garlic, onions, mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, honey, and various fresh herbs and spices are the usual crew in a good marinade mix.

Time’s Role

Marinating isn’t a rush job; it’s all about giving the flavors time to get to know the meat. Whether it’s a quick 30-minute dip or an overnight soak, time makes a big difference in getting the flavor and tenderness just right.

BBQ Marinades from Around the Globe

The marinade game is a global one, with different spots around the world bringing their own flavor to the BBQ. Whether it's the spicy kick of Jamaican jerk marinades, the savory goodness of Japanese teriyaki marinades, or the herb-packed punch of Argentine chimichurri marinades, there’s a whole world of tastes to try out.

Wrap Up

Marinades are like a little trip around the world, each one bringing a unique flavor and tradition to the BBQ. As we get the hang of marinating, we're one step closer to nailing that BBQ perfection, where every smoked meat is a journey of flavors. So, grab your favorite marinade, let’s tenderize some meats, and get ready for a flavor-packed BBQ adventure!

Exploring Flavor Combinations

Diving into BBQ rubs and marinades is like hitting the flavor jackpot. Every ingredient, whether it's a simple herb or a kickin' spice, has a shot at taking your smoked meats to a whole new taste level. The cool thing about BBQ is that it’s a blank slate, ready to soak up flavors from all over the place.

The Spice Road

Spices are the heart and soul of any BBQ rub or BBQ marinade. They bring the fire, the zing, and those exotic touches that make each BBQ a one-of-a-kind flavor party. Trying out spices like smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and turmeric can lead you to some tasty surprises.

The Sweet and Savory Shuffle

Mixing sweet stuff with savory spices is like having a flavor party on your taste buds. Ingredients like honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar mingling with garlic, onion, and mustard create a combo that’s homey yet zesty.

Herbs: The Scented Boosters

Herbs are the quiet game changers in the BBQ tune. Fresh picks like rosemary, thyme, and cilantro bring a fresh breeze and aroma that just lifts the whole BBQ game up a notch.

The Liquid Tune

Liquids in marinades are like the flavor carriers, taking the taste deep into the meat. Trying different liquids like apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, or a little bourbon can add a new flavor twist to your BBQ.

Global Grillin’

BBQ is loved worldwide, and each place has its own flavor signature. Diving into different BBQ rubs and  BBQ marinades like Mexican adobo, Italian herb marinade, or Asian teriyaki can take your taste buds on a little global tour with each bite.

Wrap Up

The world of BBQ rubs and marinades is as big as you make it. I love the fact that it's all about playing around, mixing and matching, and finding what tickles your taste buds. So, don’t hold back on trying new flavor mixes, who knows, your next BBQ could create the next best marinade or BBQ Rub!

Preparation Techniques

Getting the hang of BBQ is more than just being buddy-buddy with meats and flavors; it’s also about getting down the tricks that make your BBQ rubs and marinades sing. Let’s dig into some prep techniques that can shoot your smoked meats straight to smoky heaven.

Dry BBQ Rubs: The Spice Shield

Think of dry rubs as the knight’s shiny armor for your meats, building a protective layer that locks in the moisture while slapping on a tasty crust. Here’s how to nail it:

Application: Lay that rub on thick on all sides of the meat, giving it a good press to stick.

Resting: Let the meat chill out for at least 30 minutes, letting the spices get cozy with the meat fibers.

Timing: For a flavor that goes deep, let the rubbed meat crash overnight in the fridge, covered up.

BBQ Marinades: The Flavor Jacuzzi

Marinades are like a spa day for your meats, tenderizing and flavoring them from the inside out.

Preparation: Mix all the marinade goodies together well, making sure it’s all one happy family.

Marinating Time: Let the meat soak in the marinade for at least a few hours, or overnight for a flavor that’s got depth.

Tenderizing: Grab a fork or a meat tenderizer to poke tiny pathways in the meat, letting the marinade dive in deeper.

Wrap Up

Whether you’re a dry rub dude or marinade master, getting the prep techniques down is key to hitting that sweet spot of flavor, tenderness, and smoky awesomeness. So, gear up with these techniques, light up that grill, and let the BBQ good times roll!

a Delicious, Marinated Beef Roast

Pairing BBQ Rubs and BBQ Marinades with Meats

The trio of rubs, marinades, and meats is like the holy grail of BBQ. The right mix can skyrocket your smoked meats from alright to out-of-this-world. Let’s dive into how to pair these flavors with different meats for a top-notch BBQ bash.

Beef: The Sturdy Pick

Beef's got that rich, hearty taste that goes hand in hand with bold rubs and marinades.

Rubs: A spicy or smoky rub with buddies like black pepper, paprika, and garlic can hold its own against beef’s bold taste.

Marinades: A marinade with a solid acid base, like red wine or balsamic vinegar, can tenderize the beef while tossing in a nice tang.

Pork: The All-Rounder

Pork’s got a chill flavor, making it a go-to for a bunch of rubs and marinades.

Rubs: Sweet and savory rubs with pals like brown sugar, mustard powder, and sage do wonders for pork.

Marinades: Citrus-based marinades with stuff like orange juice or apple cider vinegar can add a zesty spin to pork.

Chicken: The Open Book

Chicken is ready to mingle with a whole bunch of flavor profiles from your rubs and marinades.

Rubs: Herbal rubs with a mix of rosemary, thyme, and garlic can put a fragrant and tasty crust on chicken.

Marinades: A marinade with a nice balance of acid, oil, and spices can pack chicken with a variety of flavors.

Seafood: The Gentle Touch

seafood’s soft flavor needs a light touch when it comes to rubs and marinades.

Rubs: A gentle rub with mild spices like dill, lemon zest, and black pepper can spruce up seafood without taking over.

Marinades: A simple, citrus-based marinade can sprinkle a fresh, zesty taste on seafood.

Wrap Up

Nailing a BBQ is all about knowing your meat's taste profile and picking rubs and marinades that boost it, instead of bulldozing over it. So, step out, mix and match, and find the dream flavor pals for your meats. The BBQ realm is yours to explore, and a little playing around can lead to some seriously smokin’ good eats!

BBQ Rub and BBQ Marinade Recipes

Unveiling the magic of BBQ rubs and BBQ marinades isn’t just about understanding the theory but about diving hands-on into the practice. In this section, we’ll explore some tried-and-true recipes along with personalized recommendations to kickstart your smoky journey.


Classic Smoky Rub:
Ingredients: Paprika, black pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and a hint of cayenne for that fiery kick.
Recommendation: Perfect for a hearty beef brisket or a juicy steak, this rub will wrap your beef in a smoky cloak of flavor.

Smoked Coffee Rub:
Ingredients: Ground coffee, smoked paprika, black pepper, brown sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder.
Recommendation: Ideal for a smoky brisket or ribs, the coffee adds a rich, deep base to the rub.

Savory Herb Rub:
Ingredients: Dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper.
Recommendation: Great for steaks, this rub packs a punch of herby flavors, perfect for the grill.

Spicy Cocoa Rub:
Ingredients: Unsweetened cocoa powder, chili powder, paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Recommendation: The cocoa adds a unique depth of flavor, while the spices bring the heat, making this rub perfect for grilling beef ribs.

Tangy Beer Marinade:
Ingredients: Beer, soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and brown sugar.
Recommendation: The beer tenderizes the beef, while the soy and lemon add a zesty tang, perfect for a BBQ.

Smoky Worcestershire Marinade:
Ingredients: Olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, granulated garlic, smoked paprika, black pepper, dried onion flakes, basil, dry mustard, salt and red pepper flakes.
Recommendation: The Worcestershire and smoked paprika bring a smoky flavor making this marinade excellent for grilling steaks.

Red Wine Rosemary Marinade:
Ingredients: Red wine, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and rosemary.
Recommendation: The red wine and rosemary introduce a classy flavor profile for a BBQ steak or brisket.

Tangy Marinade:
Ingredients: Olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and minced garlic.
Recommendation: The acidic nature of lemon juice tenderizes the beef while the soy and Worcestershire sauce add a savory depth of flavor.


Sweet and Savory Rub:
Ingredients: Brown sugar, paprika, mustard powder, and thyme.
Recommendation: Ideal for pork ribs and shoulder, imparting a sweet caramelized crust with a hint of herbal undertones.

Spicy Herb Rub:
Ingredients: Paprika, brown sugar, dried thyme, dried oregano, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder.
Recommendation: This rub brings a balanced blend of sweetness, heat, and herby aromas that can jazz up a pork shoulder or ribs.

Cajun Spice Rub:
Ingredients: Paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper.
Recommendation: This rub packs a punch with its spicy and aromatic profile, making it a great choice for pork ribs or a tenderloin.

Classic BBQ Rub:
Ingredients: Brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper.
Recommendation: A sweet and smoky rub that forms a delightful crust on the pork, perfect for any cut of pork destined for the BBQ grill.

Zesty Pork Chop Marinade:
Ingredients: Olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic.
Recommendation: This acidic marinade tenderizes the pork chops while adding a savory depth of flavor, making them ready for a quick sear on the grill.

Herbaceous Marinade:
Ingredients: Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, oregano, thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes (optional).
Recommendation: Infuse your pork cuts with herby and tangy flavors, perfect for grilling or slow smoking.

Sweet and Spicy Marinade:
Ingredients: Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chili sauce, honey, hot sauce.
Recommendation: Add a bit of zest to your pork roast with this sweet and spicy marinade, and let it slow-cook to perfection on the grill.

Citrus Marinade:
Ingredients: Orange juice, lemon zest, olive oil, minced garlic, and rosemary.
Recommendation: A zesty embrace for your pork chops or tenderloin, ensuring a tender and flavorful result.


Herbal Rub:
Ingredients: Rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and black pepper.
Recommendation: A fragrant choice for chicken breasts or thighs, this rub will infuse your poultry with a garden-fresh aroma.

Easy BBQ Chicken Rub:
Ingredients: Brown sugar, salt, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground oregano.
Recommendation: This rub is simple to prepare and brings out a smoky and flavorful taste in chicken, making it suitable for both grilling and smoking.

Joyful BBQ Chicken Rub:
Ingredients: Paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and chipotle powder.
Recommendation: A good choice for those who enjoy a bit of heat. This rub will provide a spicy, sweet, and smoky flavor to your chicken.

Sweet & Smoky BBQ Chicken Marinade:
Ingredients: Pure maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar (or substitute), and Worcestershire sauce.
Recommendation: This marinade provides a balance of sweet and tangy flavors, perfect for grilling chicken.

Easy Family BBQ Chicken Marinade:
Ingredients: BBQ sauce, Italian dressing, apple cider vinegar, and pressed garlic.
Recommendation: A simple and versatile marinade that infuses chicken with a balanced and flavorful taste.

Barbecued Chicken Marinade:
Ingredients: Large onion (chopped), butter (melted), cider vinegar, sugar, chili powder, salt, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and ground mustard.
Recommendation: A hearty marinade that infuses chicken with a classic BBQ flavor, great for grilling or smoking.

Spicy Marinade:
Ingredients: Olive oil, hot sauce, honey, and minced garlic.
Recommendation: Turn up the heat with this spicy marinade, perfect for chicken wings or drumsticks.


Light Spice Rub:
Ingredients: Dill, lemon zest, and black pepper.
Recommendation: A gentle rub that enhances the delicate flavors of fish and seafood.

Cajun-Inspired Rub:
Ingredients: Ancho powder, cinnamon, cumin, salt, brown sugar, black pepper.
Recommendation: Great for a variety of fish, this rub adds a little spicy kick to your BBQ.

Lemon-Pepper Rub:
Ingredients: Lemon zest, black pepper, salt, garlic powder.
Recommendation: This simple yet zesty rub is ideal for lighter fish like tilapia or cod.

Herb Delight Rub:
Ingredients: Dill, parsley, lemon zest, garlic powder, salt, black pepper.
Recommendation: Ideal for grilling or smoking delicate seafood like shrimp or scallops.

Classic Seafood Marinade:
Ingredients: Garlic, olive oil, fresh parsley, Worcestershire sauce, honey, salt, and pepper.
Recommendation: This marinade is versatile and works well with a variety of seafood, adding a touch of sweetness which caramelizes nicely on the grill.

Spicy BBQ Shrimp Marinade:
Ingredients: Vegetable oil, reduced sodium soy sauce, Sriracha, garlic powder, ground ginger.
Recommendation: A spicy kick perfect for BBQ shrimp, this marinade brings a touch of Asian flavors to your grill.

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Marinade:
Ingredients: Extra virgin olive oil, juice from one lemon, zest from one lemon, 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced.
Recommendation: This zesty and garlicky marinade is ideal for shrimp, lending a fresh Mediterranean flavor to your BBQ.

Lemon-Herb Marinade:
Ingredients: Lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, and parsley.
Recommendation: A fresh and zesty choice for shrimp, salmon, or other seafood.

Each meat type has its own set of recommended rubs and marinades, offering a diverse range of flavors to explore. Whether you prefer the hearty taste of beef, the mild flavor of pork, the tender goodness of chicken, or the delicate taste of seafood, the right rub or marinade can transform your BBQ experience into a culinary adventure.

Check out Storables Website for some more great BBQ rubs.

When you feel you have tried every combination under the sun you are wrong. There are always many different combinations of flavors you haven't thought of.

Pit Boss make some fantastic rubs Honey Sriracha and Texas BBQ two of my all time favorites.

I must admit my pantry is full of as many premade rubs as it is herbs and spices used to create my own rubs. Click the Picture to go and have a look at their fantastic range.

BBQ Trends in 2023

Return to Roots: The year 2023 has seen a trend of returning to traditional barbecue roots, focusing on transforming inexpensive cuts of meat into delightful meals through careful seasoning, smoking, and patience. For instance, St. Louis-style spare ribs and pork loins are gaining popularity over costlier cuts like baby back ribs and beef cuts.

Popular Rubs: A variety of BBQ rubs have been highlighted as top picks for 2023, including 'Smoke Kitchen – Pitmaster's Pick', 'Killer Hogs 'The BBQ Rub'', 'Meat Church 'Holy Gospel' Seasoning', and 'Lillie's Q 'No16 Carolina Dirt' BBQ Rub', among others. Another source also showcased top BBQ rubs such as 'Traeger Winemaker's Napa Valley Rub' and 'Slap Yo Daddy BBQ 'Moola' Beef Rub' to elevate grilling flavors.

New Flavors: There is an influx of new flavors with rubs like 'Spiceology 'Sasquatch BBQ Dirt' Espresso Chile Beef Rub' as BBQ enthusiasts are keen on experimenting and taking their grilling skills to new heights.

Community Platforms: Reddit BBQ Community: The subreddit r/BBQ is a thriving community where BBQ lovers discuss various topics surrounding BBQ, share pictures of their smoked meats, and seek advice on techniques and recipes. It's a place where one can delve deep into the nuances of BBQ rubs and marinades among other topics5.'s Pitmaster Club: Touted as the world's largest BBQ and grilling forum, the Pitmaster Club on provides a platform for BBQ enthusiasts to engage in discussions, share recipes, and learn from experts in a flame-war-free environment.

Engaging Further: Exploring the mentioned forums and communities can provide a wealth of knowledge and insights into the latest trends and discussions surrounding BBQ rubs and marinades. Engaging with other BBQ enthusiasts, sharing experiences, and learning from experts are excellent ways to deepen understanding and enhance BBQ skills. By delving into the active discussions on these platforms, readers can stay updated with the latest BBQ rubs and marinade trends, and perhaps even discover some new favorites along the way.


As our BBQ journey wraps up, we've picked up some smoky knowledge along the way, urging us to try out the different flavors out there. It's clear BBQ isn’t just about throwing meat on the grill, Its about trial and error and evolving our knowledge on creating the ultimate feast.

Rubs and marinades, they're the silent partners in our BBQ adventures, each blend reflecting our own tastes and the ongoing BBQ culture. They keep the old BBQ traditions going while letting us put our own stamp on every smoky dish.

Jumping into BBQ community chats and forums, it’s clear there’s a shared passion among BBQ lovers worldwide. The hearty discussions, the shared tips, and the ongoing search for that perfect rub or marinade show a community united by the love of BBQ.

As you keep going with your BBQ adventures, with a bunch of rub and marinade recipes at your disposal, remember, every BBQ session is a chance to create, learn, and share. It’s about forming connections, not just with the fire and the meat, but with other BBQ lovers, each chat adding a new flavor to your BBQ journey.

Let’s keep the BBQ fun going, keeping the tradition alive, one rub, one marinade, and one smoked dish at a time. Here’s to many more tasty adventures by the grill, as we continue to explore, try out, and step up our BBQ game. If you would like to put these rubs and marinades to the test, check out my two articles - Pulled Pork and Smoked Brisket as well as Beef and Pork Ribs. Here’s to the smoky goodness that’s waiting for us all!

About the Author

Matt Barrell

Hi, Matt Barrell here. A BBQ and Smoked meat enthusiast. I love grilling and smoking meat, it is not just my hobby its my passion. My goal is to share my passion with as many other like-minded people as possible.