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The Ultimate BBQ Chicken Rub

The Ultimate BBQ Chicken Rub

Chicken is the most frequently eaten meat in America. From a flavor perspective, it’s great news. Chicken is basically a blank canvas for seasoning, which means that it’s anything but boring (for more, check out our chicken seasoning experiment). With so many options, let’s narrow our focus to rubs for Grilling & BBQ chicken.

BBQ Chicken Dry Rubs

What’s a “dry rub,” how is it different than a seasoning, and why is it a good option? Glad you asked. First things first, the big difference between a dry rub and a seasoning really comes down to how they are used. Dry rubs are added before cooking and seasonings can be added after the fact (to season!) – so a seasoning can be used as a dry rub.

Yes, there is such thing as a “wet rub” too, which is why we’re not just calling it a rub. Wet rubs typically have vinegar, oil, mustard, mayonnaise, or even alcohol added to the seasonings – almost like a marinade that you don’t need additional time for. If you’re interested in going down the wet rub path, we suggest starting with ‘Cue Glue, which is a happy medium between wet and dry rubs.

Ok, so a dry rub is basically just a seasoning that you use before you cook your meat. Why is that so great? The biggest thing dry rubs have going for them is how easy they are. Unlike marinades or brines, they don’t require extra time so you can add flavor right before you pop your chicken on the grill. 

A quick note on marinades and brines: we recommend both of these as they impart flavor and help keep your meat juicy and tender. Some seasonings, like Jamaican Jerk, just taste better when they have a little more time to infuse their flavors. But marinades take time and if it’s a Thursday night and you have a package of chicken breasts or thighs in your fridge, a dry rub makes a delicious dinner quick and easy.

The other thing that a dry rub will deliver is the perfect crust that is a hallmark of good BBQ. Using a dry rub for grilling allows the sugars to caramelize, giving you that crisp exterior. Bon Appetit agrees that, "When it comes to seasoning meat and developing a exceptionally-textured exterior, nothing beats a dry rub."

Line drawing of whole chicken in red-orange seasoning

The Best BBQ Chicken Rub

What is the best seasoning for chicken? Honestly, it's whatever spice you love. Everyone has different tastes and there’s definitely not a right answer when it comes to flavor. Even seasonings that were created with a different protein in mind (like Pearl St. Plank Salmon Rub) can be fantastic rub options for chicken. That said, we do have a list of favorites. While these are our top recommendations, we put together a more expanded list of Spices & Seasonings for Chicken if you want to explore more. 

TSM BBQ Chicken Rub
Let’s start with a classic BBQ flavor. This seasoning blends classic BBQ seasoning ingredients: salt, garlic, sugar, onion, and paprika for a rub that shines on chicken. This sweet and salty rub is aromatic, bittersweet, and earthy with just a touch of heat from cayenne. This slightly spicy, flavorful rub has a touch of herbal savory, which complements poultry. It’s fantastic as a dry rub for chicken. But don’t stop there, add it to BBQ sauces too.

Gold Coast Tropical Poultry Rub
This is a bit of an unconventional approach to BBQ. The bright citrus flavors are perfect for summer grilling and pair well with chicken and duck (and pork as well as seafood!)

“I use this for all chicken dishes prepared on the grill, in the smoker or in the oven.” - James

If you want to turn this into a more traditional BBQ rub, add some Smoked Spanish Sweet Paprika in. That will give you the more classic reddish color and a bit of smoky flavor.

Woody Creek BBQ Seasoning
Most traditional barbecue seasonings for chicken are balanced with salt. It was important to us to create a traditional BBQ rub that was also salt-free. One way to add flavor is to add a little bit of heat and balance it with sweetness. We used two different mild chiles, one brighter and one fruiter, and added some sweet spices to round out the flavor and temper the strong chile notes. Traditionally thought of as baking spices, allspice, mace, and cinnamon add complexity to this BBQ seasoning.

BBQ Chicken Recipes

When it comes to these recipes, feel free to swap out the seasonings to match your flavor preference. You could also try replicating our chicken seasoning experiment and do your own seasoning taste test.

Beer Can BBQ Chicken
Beer can chicken is one of the easiest ways to grill a whole chicken. It just requires a can of beer (or cola!), your favorite BBQ rub, and a little patience.

Smoked Chicken
This recipe requires a smoker, so feel free to get creative with the woods you use as well as the seasonings. We suggest serving this smoked chicken Alabama barbecue style...drenched in tangy, white BBQ sauce. Try our Long’s Peak White BBQ Sauce or Stefan's Tangy White BBQ Sauce recipes.

Slow Cooker BBQ Picnic Chicken
No grill? No smoker? No problem! This crowd-pleasing recipe couldn't be easier or more delicious. It yields the flavors of summer BBQ without the grill. Plus, it's great warm or cold so you take it to your next picnic or potluck.


Leave us a comment with your favorite seasoning for BBQ chicken or shop more bold BBQ & Grilling spices.

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