Barbecue spices are usually powdered and applied in the form of a dry rub. Rubs are a matter of personal taste, so there is no one formula; however, the better ones typically have the spices below.
Paprika adds color along with sweetness and fruitiness to a dry rub for barbecue. The color can be anything from an orange-red to a deeper crimson. You can also get a smokier flavor by using Spanish pimenton instead of the standard paprika made and sold in the United States. Most commercial dry rubs include paprika to enhance the color of the meat and because of the spice’s versatility.
Paprika goes well with all other seasonings and most of the proteins that are likely to wind up on a barbecue grill. Use it on poultry, pork, and even seafood. Also important is the fact that the spice is easy to find and is usually affordable.
Best known for its role in Mexican and Indian cuisines, cumin brings an earthy warmth to a barbecue spice rub. It has a mild bitterness that helps to enhance savory qualities, and that goes well with the smoke flavor. Ground cumin will be easy to find in the spice or Latin section of your local grocery store, but it is a better idea to buy whole cumin seeds and grind them yourself.
Cumin is also one of those spices that benefit from being toasted before you grind it. Toasting brings out its aroma and makes it stand out in a blend.
The key flavor in Jamaican jerk cooking, allspice works well in any type of low and slow open-flame cooking. It gets its name from the fact that it tastes like many spices combined. The most commonly detected flavors include cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Some people claim that it tastes like nutmeg and ginger as well.
You can use allspice with any protein, but it works exceptionally well with pork. Allspice complements most of the other spices in barbecue rubs, including those on this list.
The flavor of onion is globally loved and is an essential part of traditional barbecue. Onion powder is a lot less pungent than fresh onions but still strong enough to enhance the savory properties of smoked and grilled proteins.
Onion powder has a nutty, herbaceous quality that allows it to pair well with all of the other spices that typically show up in barbecue dry rubs. Also, it goes well with most of the proteins and vegetables that are likely to be cooked on your smoker or grill.
A relative of the onion, garlic is even more pungent with a strong sulfur aroma and taste. The drying process for garlic powder tames much of the pungency but retains a lot of the sulfurous umami profile. The distinctive flavor of garlic allows it to enhance savory ingredients. Use it on all the meats and savory vegetables that you plan to grill.
While many believe that other spices help accentuate the flavors of smoke, it is certain that salt is essential for good barbecue and should always be included in dry rub mixes. Some barbecue purists insist that it is the only spice you need—just salt and smoke. Salt is essential for bringing out umami flavors and accentuating savory flavor notes.