This All-Star Pork Rub has the perfect balance between sweetness and heat that brings out the deep smokey barbeque flavor that makes pork taste delicious.
This pork rub recipe is made from a combination of brown sugar, smoked paprika, ancho chili powder, and ground cumin, along with mustard, garlic, and onion powders to create unforgettable tasting pork from the smoker, grill, oven, or stove-top.
Whether you’re smoking baby back ribs, grilling chops, or serving juicy pulled pork, this dry rub is a simple way to season pork. In this piece, we dive into what herbs and spices work with pork, how to use a dry rub, so every bite tastes delicious, and highlight some of our favorite pork recipes.
In this piece
Seasonings for Pork Rub
Over the years, this recipe has become our go-to rub for pork, especially when we want those wonderful savory flavors found in world-class barbeque.
The ingredients for this dry rub are relatively simple and are likely to already be in well-stocked kitchens.
One thing we try to avoid in our dry rub recipes and seasoning mixes are obscure ingredients that are only used for one thing and then sit on a shelf.
This recipe will make enough pork rub for 2 racks of ribs, 4 pork chops, or a shoulder being smoked or pulled. We recommend making double or triple batches and storing the balance in an airtight container that can be used like any other spice mix. The rub will easily last 6 months when stored properly.
Use fresh spices when making a dry rub to ensure the flavors come through and are balanced.
Here is a list of ingredients and some background on our favorite seasoning for pork.
Brown Sugar – The first thing that brown sugar brings to this dry rub is some sweetness that helps offset the other ingredients. The molasses in the brown sugar adds an enormous amount of flavor on its own but shines when it is caramelized by the heat from the grill.
The sweet, smokey caramelization is the foundation for those distinct barbecue flavors that we all chase when we smoke things like pork ribs or chicken legs. This rub uses light brown sugar because that is the version we keep on hand. Dark brown sugar will work if that’s what’s in your kitchen.
Smoked Paprika – Smoked paprika is essential for making dry rubs with a smokey barbecue flavor. What makes smoked paprika so good for barbecue is that the peppers are dried and smoked over oak before being ground, deepening its flavors and helping to deliver a smokiness to dishes.
Ancho Chili Powder – Ancho chilies are poblano peppers that have been dried and ground up. With a deep smokey flavor and moderate heat, ancho chilies are one of the essential flavors in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine.
The reason we use ancho chili powder in this dry rub instead of a standard chili powder is it’s easier to ensure a consistent flavor profile using a chili powder ground from a single ingredient than from a standard chili powder, which has a variety of seasonings in it that varies significantly by manufacture and source.
Mustard Powder – Mustard powder is one of our favorite spices to use with pork dishes because it helps round out the flavors in the pork. The simplest way to understand what mustard powder adds to the rub is to think about how much better a ham sandwich gets when a little high-quality mustard is spread on top, giving the ham an entirely new dimension.
Garlic Powder – Dry rubs are among the few places we recommend using garlic powder instead of the real thing. The challenge with using garlic cloves that have been minced in a dry rub is that the garlic tends to burn while the meat is smoking, giving it an unpleasant bitter taste.
Onion Powder – Similar to garlic powder, onion powder is a way to bring the base flavor of onions to the meat being smoked without trying to incorporate real onions into the mix. The onion powder here does the same work as onions in savory dishes by providing a base level of flavor to the rub.
Cumin – Adding a bit of ground cumin to a dry rub or sauce is an excellent way to add some bite and deepen the flavor in a dish by using cumin’s distinct earthiness.
Kosher Salt – We always use Kosher salt in our recipes unless otherwise noted. Kosher salt works significantly better as a flavor enhancer than iodized salt and is more consistent than flavored salts.
Black Pepper – As long as you’re using a high-quality black pepper at home, it should be fine to use in this rub. Choosing the black pepper you use at home means it already matches your preferences and doesn’t require buying an additional grind. Generally, a medium grind works well in rubs because it matches the grind used in other seasonings.
Variations in Seasoning
Here are a few simple ways to make this seasoning mix your own.
- Sweeter – Add a 1/2 tsp of brown sugar
- Hotter – Add a 1/2 tsp of ground chipotle or cayenne pepper
- Smokier – Add a 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
- Smokier and Hotter – Add a 1/2 tsp of ground chipotle
If you’re looking to experiment, here are some other herbs and spices commonly found in barbecue rubs for pork:
Heat & Smokiness: ground chipotle, cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes.
Herbaciousness: dried thyme, sage, or oregano
Sweetness: sweet paprika or cinnamon
Miscellaneous: ground coriander or coffee
Tips for using a Dry Rub for Pork
Here are some tips for getting the best flavor from this dry rub.
For items that will be cooked quickly, the rub should be allowed to sit for at least 10 or 15 minutes before the item is cooked. For ribs, roasts, or shoulders that will be smoked or roasted for a long time, there’s no reason to wait to start the cooking process. If you’re working ahead, the rub can be applied up to a day in advance.
This rub was created to deliver the sweet, smokey flavors of the best barbecue, which make it ideal for smoked ribs, pulled pork, slow-roasted shoulders, grilled chops, tenderloin, and belly.
To help the dry rub adhere, we recommend patting the pork dry with a paper towel before applying the rub or using a little apple cider vinegar which will help the seasoning adhere. Combining a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar and a good hot sauce is a great way to start building depth of flavor while helping the rub stick.
Many cooks and pitmasters recommend using yellow mustard, olive oil, or other neutral oil to help the rub adhere and claim that they don’t impact the final flavor of the dish when smoking ribs or other large cuts. We’re skeptical of these claims and prefer using apple cider vinegar which enhances the dish’s flavor.
When the rub is used for cuts of pork that are going to be sliced or pulled, we recommend sprinkling a little of the rub over the meat once it’s been pulled or after it’s been sliced to ensure that every bite benefits from the flavors in the rub. This makes an enormous difference in flavor on a pork butt or other large cut where the seasoning can’t penetrate very far into the meat.
When the rub is used to smoke ribs, chops, or roasts, we encourage cooks to use the Flip, Fire, and Paint Technique to finish the pork on a hot grill with some good barbecue sauce. This method is one of the best ways to caramelize the meat’s outside and give it those deep, savory barbecue flavors.
A tip for this dry rub and spices, in general, is to keep them in sealed containers that are stored in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
If you love good barbecue chicken, try our Smoked Chicken Rub; it’s packed full of spices that bring out the chicken’s natural flavors. We also have A Complete Guide to Smoking Food for cooks interested in learning more about smoking meat.
Favorite Pork Recipes
One of the best things about a good dry rub is that it acts as a base that can easily be modified to fit the main ingredient, cooking technique, or individual taste without much work. Here are some of our favorite pork recipes that use this rub or a slight variation.
Smoked Pork Ribs – Smoked pork ribs are the pinnacle of great barbecue. The best barbecue ribs are tender and juicy with a deep smoky flavor on the inside and a nice crisp bark on the outside with a touch of barbecue sauce that highlights the meat’s natural flavors.
Pulled Pork – To make great pulled pork, all you have to do is use the right spices and take the time to slow roast the pork. One secret that makes this recipe so delicious is setting aside some of the dry rub until after shredding the meat.
Smoked Pork Loin – There’s a lot to love about smoked pork loin. It’s a versatile cut that can be seasoned hundreds of different ways, smokes relatively quickly, and looks amazing on the plate.
Apple Cider Smoked Pork Shoulder – This smoked pork shoulder uses apple cider vinegar as a brine, along with smoking, to deepen the flavor to create an amazingly tender and juicy pork roast.
Homemade Bacon – Making homemade bacon is a lot easier than it sounds. All you need is this recipe, some pork belly, and a little time to create thick, smokey, delicious bacon at home.
This rub also pairs well with Ancho Chili and Honey Barbecue Sauce, which has this wonderful depth that comes from using a variety of dried chilies, and Old No. 44 Barbecue Sauce, which is our go-to; put it on everything BBQ sauce.
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp Ancho chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin, ground
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- Mix the brown sugar, kosher salt, smoked paprika, Ancho chili, and cumin with the mustard and garlic powder with the black pepper.2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp Kosher salt, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp Ancho chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- Spread the rub on the meat, taking the time to get it into all the nooks and crannies.
- Cook the meat per the recipe’s directions.
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