When I was a novice rib cooker, I thought you cooked ribs just like a steak or a hamburger—you simply put the uncooked ribs in the oven or on the grill, then slathered them with bbq sauce to cook until they were just cooked through. What resulted from that bonehead technique was ribs that were flavorlesss, tough, and in the end were scorched to a burnt crisp thanks to the sugars in the barbecue sauce.
What I didn’t know is ribs need time…low and slow cooking time in the oven or in the smoker to break down those tough fibers and tenderize. I also learned (and as any award winning rib pit master knows) the key to great ribs is a generous rub of seasonings that soak into and permeate the meat, drawing out the moisture to tenderize and add flavor over several hours—or even days—of refrigerated marinating time.
Dry rub recipes created by those pit masters are more closely guarded than their social security numbers. My husband came up with this dry rub combination years ago and dubbed it his “magic dust”. While he’s no pit master, it is his secret to the best barbecue baby back ribs and seasoning chicken, pork chops, steaks or other cuts of beef.
He’s never been good at keeping secrets, so now his magic dust recipe is about to become your secret ingredient, too.
How Do You Make a Dry Rub?
Dry rubs are incredibly easy to make in your own kitchen with a simple combination of herbs, spices, salts, and sugars you likely already have in your spice cabinet and can easily be adapted with a little more of this and a little less of that to suit your tastes.
There are four components that make up a rub that will not only flavor your meat but also tenderize it too.
The best seasonings to put on ribs:
Salt: We always use kosher salt instead of table salt because it simply tastes better. Kosher salt is iodine-free so it doesn’t have that chemical-like taste and while may or may not be blessed by a rabbi, the larger crystals are ideal for drawing out moisture in meat.
Sugar: Brown sugar adds a caramelized, molasses flavor to the meat and doesn’t burn as quickly as processed white sugar for longer cooking times.
Herbs and Spices: Varying your combination of herbs is something to play with and while the seasonings may taste intense on their own, once they’ve melded into the meat add just the right amount of flavor.
Herbs and spices to use in your dry rub:
- Sweet paprika
- Dark brown sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Chile powder
- Garlic powder
- Dry mustard
- Celery salt
- Kosher salt
- Cayenne pepper
This rub can easily be made ahead and doubled or even tripled then stored in an air-tight container to stay good for months.
To season your ribs, rub the seasoning generously on both sides of the rib racks and wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then refrigerated for at least 4 hours but optimally 24 hours and up to 48 hours.