How to Make the Best Spice Rubs for Grilling

Last Updated on July 16, 2020

Blend for ample flavor on the grill—plus recipes to follow.

Spices amplify beef, pork, poultry, fish, and vegetables when thoughtfully applied. Getting the combinations just right can make or break anything you cook on the grill.

Here are a few tips worth considering when deciding which spices to pair with some of our favorite proteins:

How flavorful is your meat on its own?

Any cut that tends to have particularly strong beef or pork flavors will overpower spices that are more subtle—sumac, cacao, and turmeric, for instance. Cuts with less robust flavors like pork chops, pork loin, chicken, and various white fish can take on a wider range of spices without overwhelming their delicate, enhancing flavor.

How are you grilling your proteins?

Dried herbs are prone to burning if exposed to high heat for too long. If you’re cooking a steak to medium-rare, for example, then dried herbs will hold up fine. Using dried herbs on grilled chicken thighs that need to cook longer over high heat may not be the best choice.

If you’re grilling a cut of meat low and slow, then dried herbs are a good option.

How balanced is the combination of spices you’re working with?

Spice blends that only consist of chilis or herbs or warm spices tend to wash over your taste buds as one solid flavor. In order to experience the nuances of each spice in the rub, there needs to be a clear balance of flavors. Intense smokiness pairs well with bright, citrus-y herbs that can hold their own. Briny, fermented spices loosen up the richness of chocolatey, raisin-flavored spices.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite, out-of-the-box spice blends I’ve developed for grilling (as well as pan-searing or roasting!) beef, pork, poultry, and fish.

Spice Shopping Tip: Look for spices that display their origin clearly on the label (these are also known as “single-origin spices”). Spices coming from a single place are guaranteed to be fresher and more intensely flavored. You can’t go wrong buying from Burlap & Barrel, Curio Spice, Penzey’s, and Diaspora Co.

Chili-Cacao Rub for Chicken

chili cacao dry rub
Chili-Cacao Dry Rub – Perfect for Chicken Breasts, Drumsticks, or Thighs.

¼ tsp Urfa chili

¼ tsp salt

⅛ tsp sumac

⅛ tsp cacao powder

¼ tsp black pepper

Chili-Herb Rubs for Steak

Smoked Paprika + Coriander

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp coriander

¼ tsp salt

Silk Chili + Turkish Oregano

½ tsp silk chili

½ tsp turkish oregano

¼ tsp salt

Garlic, Coriander, Kelp Rub for Fish

coriander garlic kelp rub for fish
Perfect for Fish: A Coriander, Garlic, and Kelp Dry Rub

¼ tsp coriander

½ tsp kelp

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp salt

Black Lime Ginger Rub for Pork

black lime ginger dry rub
Balanced for Pork Grilling: Black Lime and Ginger Dry Rub

½ tsp ground black lime

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp salt

Go-To Classic Rub for Beef, Pork, and Poultry

A Take on Za’atar

A Za’atar Dry Rub for Almost Any Grilling Occasion

½ tsp sumac

½ tsp thyme

½ tsp cumin (ground from whole seeds is best!)

¼ tsp salt


Kristina DeMichele is the Digital Content Strategist at Harvard Magazine. She is also a freelance copyeditor who has worked for America's Test Kitchen as the Senior Content Editor of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.