Rib Rub

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Get ready to elevate your BBQ game with this rib rub’s perfect mix of sweet and savory flavors. With just a few simple ingredients, your ribs will impress even the most discerning BBQ experts.

The best dry rub for ribs.

This homemade rib rub recipe will instantly elevate the taste of pork or beef ribs. Sure, you can use just salt and pepper, but this mix will make for the best finger-licking bites. Quickly measure and mix up a batch to generously coat your next rack of ribs.

The spice rub is made with dried pantry items that are concentrated in flavor. Brown sugar is the base for a sweeter Kansas City-style rib. If you prefer a more savory taste, try my Memphis-style rib rub. Paired with dried alliums, mustard, paprika, cayenne, and a secret spice, makes the ribs undeniably delicious. The dry ribs are so good that you might not need any BBQ sauce!

Key ingredients

Ingredients needed to make this rib rub recipe.
  • Brown Sugar: The sweetener balances the savory ingredients, tenderizes the meat, and helps create a more caramelized crust. I use golden brown sugar, but dark brown works well if you prefer a stronger molasses note.
  • Paprika: Smoked paprika adds a charred flavor, even if you plan to make the ribs in the oven. It also adds a stunning red hue to the meat.
  • Salt: Use coarse kosher salt. It sticks to the meat better when seasoning. It enhances the savory flavor and brines the ribs as they slow cook.
  • Black Pepper: Adds a hint of heat and peppery taste to stand up to the rich rib taste.
  • Mustard: Dried ground mustard powder adds tanginess to enhance the taste of the seasoning.
  • Alliums: Ground onion and garlic powder add a roasted depth of flavor. They don’t burn like fresh ingredients, which works well when grilling ribs.
  • Hot Pepper: Dried cayenne pepper delivers a kick of heat. The amount added is mild and not too spicy. Chipotle powder or chili powder are good substitutes.
  • Nutmeg: This may come as a surprise, but a little bit of nutmeg enhances the meaty taste of the ribs. The warm spice boosts the aroma of the brown sugar. If you don’t have nutmeg, try cinnamon instead.

Make the seasoning mix

Making the rib rub is quick and easy. Add the brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. It may be a little clumpy, depending on how long you have been storing your brown sugar.

If needed, soften the brown sugar first. Use a spoon to help break up any lumps while mixing. Now you can add it to baby back ribs, St. Louis-style ribs, or meatier beef ribs.

Prepare the ribs

Person peeling of the silverskin on a rack of ribs.

Before adding the seasoning to the ribs, remove the chewy, thin membrane called silverskin. Although edible, removing it makes it easier to chew the meat on the underside of the rib. Start at one end of the rib, and run a paring knife between the membrane and the meat to help loosen it.

Then use your fingers to pull the silverskin away from the rib and discard it. Dry the surface with a paper towel to wick up any excess moisture. This helps the seasoning adhere and creates a better crust on the surface.

How to season the ribs

Rack of ribs seasoned with a dry rub and placed on a baking sheet.

For a 2 to 3-pound rack, you’ll need about ½ cup of rib rub. You may not use it all, but it’s better to have enough. Starting with the underside of the rib, evenly apply the seasoning, and give it a good rub. It should cover the entire surface, but once it starts to fall off, you’ve added enough.

Flip the rib over and season the top using the same application method. Now you can slow cook the ribs on the grill, in the oven, in a slow cooker, or pressure cooker like an Instant Pot.

Storing the seasoning

Make a big batch of this rib dry rub to grab and use for quicker preparation. Store in an airtight container, a glass jar is my top choice, plastic container or spice jar for easy sprinkling. Due to the mixture containing brown sugar, store the rub in an airtight container in a cool, dark, and dry place for up to 6 months to keep it from clumping.

Cooked ribs on a wooden cutting board.

Flavor variations

It’s easy to switch up the flavor of this dry rib rub recipe! Try these tasty suggestions when you make your next batch:

  • Sweetness: Other types of sugar can be used instead of brown sugar. Granulated sugar adds a clean sweetness. Coconut sugar, demerara, muscovado, or turbinado is less refined and has more flavor than granulated. The sugar can be omitted or reduced by half for a less sweet rub.
  • Spices: Add cumin or coriander for an earthy taste. Try white pepper instead of black pepper. Cinnamon or cardamom can be used instead of nutmeg.
  • Herbs: Add dried herbs like oregano, thyme, parsley, or celery seed.
  • Spicy: Add smoky chipotle, hot paprika, chili powder, or crushed chili flakes for a lingering heat to the seasoning mix.
  • Sauces: Brush some homemade barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, or your favorite sauce on the ribs after cooking to enhance the taste.

Serving suggestions

Frequently asked questions

Do you have to wash the ribs before seasoning?

No! Pork or beef ribs are cleaned during processing. Therefore washing once removed from the package is not required. It increases the chance of contaminating the sink and kitchen if not adequately cleaned and sanitized afterward.

Do you oil ribs before adding a dry rub?

Some olive oil can be brushed onto the surface of the ribs after drying them with a paper towel. The extra fat will help the seasoning stick, and it acts as a lipid barrier to keep the ribs moist during prolonged cooking. However, fat will also be rendered from the meat, so you can skip the oil, and it will still taste delicious.

How long do you leave the dry rub on the ribs?

At least 15 minutes help the salt and sugar season the meat. Apply the rub while the grill or oven is heating up. That will be sufficient time. Since the ribs cook for several hours, there will be plenty of opportunity for the seasonings to flavor the ribs further. The ribs can be coated with the rub, covered, and refrigerated for up to 12 hours before cooking. Letting it sit too long can dry out the meat.

Rack of ribs sliced into pieces on a cutting board.

Why is brown sugar used in rubs?

Brown sugar is included in the recipe because the sweetness balances and enhances the taste of the savory ingredients. The molasses in the brown sugar deepens the caramelized flavor as the crust forms during cooking. Brown sugar is also a humectant, attracting moisture so the ribs stay juicy. When combined with salt, they help to brine the meat as they slowly cook for more tender and moist pieces.

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Homemade Rib Rub

Here's an irresistible dry rub that will elevate your barbecue game. My homemade rib rub recipe combines a perfect balance of smoky, sweet, and savory flavors that will leave your guests begging for more.
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American


  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, or sweet
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg


  • Make the Seasoning – In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and nutmeg. Break up any sugar clumps with a spoon.
  • Season the Ribs – Remove the silverskin from the ribs if still attached. Dry the ribs with a paper towel. Evenly apply the rub to the underside and then to the top, rubbing to adhere. Add just enough so that it sticks to the ribs, and stop once it begins to fall off.
    A single rack needs about ½ cup of rib rub; adjust to your desired level. Let sit for 15 minutes before cooking and up to 12 hours covered in the refrigerator.
  • Storing – If not using immediately, store the rib rub seasoning in an airtight container or jar.

Recipe Video


  • Recipe Yield: About ½ cup
  • Use: A 2 to 3-pound single rack requires about ½ cup of rib rub, depending on size and type. 
  • Less Spicy: Reduce the cayenne pepper to ¼ teaspoon, or omit. 
  • Storing: Store in an airtight container or glass jar for up to 6 months.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 37kcal (2%)Carbohydrates 8g (3%)Protein 0.4g (1%)Fat 0.4g (1%)Saturated Fat 0.1g (1%)Polyunsaturated Fat 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat 0.1gSodium 875mg (36%)Potassium 52mg (1%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 7g (8%)Vitamin A 538IU (11%)Vitamin C 0.3mgCalcium 14mg (1%)Iron 0.4mg (2%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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