Homemade BBQ Spice Rub: Kick up your grilling game with this homemade sweet and smoky spice mix that’s incredible on chicken, shrimp, ribs, beef, burgers, and veggies!
I’ve noticed a big food movement this year in empowering women towards learning to grill. And I’m over here like, “What? You don’t grill??”
And it’s definitely not a judgy tone I’m taking on – because, really, no judgements here right? It’s more a matter of true surprise to me.
I guess I’ve taken for granted all these years that I’ve been the “griller” in the house and I assumed that this was kind of the norm in other homes too. Especially in homes of women food bloggers.
When Kyle and I moved in together in 2003, I assumed the grilling responsibilities because Kyle had absolutely no interest in grilling. I figured that if I wanted a burger, somebody would have to cook it for me! Why could it not be me?
My Early Grilling Experiences
I didn’t have much experience AT ALL cooking on a grill, save the time I tried to cook a chicken burger on my portable Weber out on my fire escape. This was during the summer I was living in my first apartment and boy oh boy! THAT didn’t go well!
I must have done something wrong because I ran out of propane before my burger was cooked. It was so strange!!
Anyway, we bought a grill the summer we moved in together and I slowly taught myself how to grill. My first success was the pressed Cuban burgers we’re still loving all these years later. But there were lots of failures along the way too. Lots of overcooked burgers, charred steaks, vegetables that fell through the grates, and dreadfully dry chicken. It was a pretty awful learning curve.
Creating a BBQ Spice Rub
Way back then, I didn’t think there would be a day where I would be creating my own BBQ spice rub recipe but it has officially arrived. And I can’t even begin to tell you how freaking excited I am about this recipe!
I mean, I’m SERIOUSLY excited!!
You’ve seen this recipe before in the form of my BBQ Chex mix last winter. That was a sweet and smoky update to the original Chex snack mix recipe and it was one of my best ideas ever.
That Chex mix was an utterly addictive snack mix and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve made it since I first created it. I don’t know – 8? 10?
And before I had used this BBQ spice mix for that snack mix, I had been testing it as a spice rub on grilled chicken and shrimp last summer. So needless to say, this is an incredibly versatile recipe!
How to Make BBQ Spice Rub
Let’s get down to how to make a BBQ spice rub, shall we?
The basis of a really good sweet and smoky spice rub comes from 3 factors:
- A good amount of smoky heat,
- Enough sweetness to balance the heat, and
- The blend of all of the flavors together so that no one flavor overpowers the other flavors. This is the biggest key to making a great spice rub!
I’ve tweaked this recipe a number of times over the past year, finally landing on the perfect balance between sweet, spicy, and smoky. The work I did to create the Chex mix was what really helped with creating this balance so I knew the rub would hold up well with grilling.
Here are the 5 ingredients you need to make BBQ spice rub (see the full recipe below for the amounts you’ll need!):
- ground ancho chile powder
- hot smoked paprika
- garlic powder (granulated garlic)
- ground chipotle powder
- brown sugar (light and dark both work!)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I don’t technically count these as ingredients since they are staples in every kitchen)
Is BBQ Spice Rub Good for Chicken or Shrimp?
The ingredients in this spice rub recipe liken to the spice mixes that I used for those smoky oven ribs and my absolute favorite oven brisket recipe. So I automatically knew it would be a great rub for pork and beef.
And I can definitively say that this BBQ spice rub is EXCELLENT on chicken and shrimp! I’ve rubbed chicken breasts with olive oil and this spice mix a number of times before grilling it and the chicken always turns out with a smoky heat and a nice amount of browning from the brown sugar in the mix.
To make shrimp with this BBQ spice rub, I tossed some fresh shrimp with olive oil and the rub and then threaded the shrimp onto skewers with zucchini and tiny potatoes. The shrimp picked up an incredible amount of flavor from the rub and the heat from the grill, leaving us with a delicious and satisfying unintentionally gluten-free meal.
I’ve also mixed this rub into softened butter to make a BBQ compound butter for steak, grilled bread, and veggies. Holy moly delicious!!
Can You Double a Spice Rub or Mix Recipe?
Let me just put this right out there: You simply can’t go wrong with having extra BBQ spice rub in the house.
This recipe is dead simple to double and a doubled recipe makes a little shy of 2 cups of the mix!
However, if you want to just test the waters with this recipe – I get it! – make the recipe as written below or you can even halve it. I started testing it with a halved version and bumped it up to the proportions you see here (exactly double for every ingredient of my original tests) when I realized I needed this stuff in the house all the time.
You’ll be so thankful when you can quickly reach into your cabinet to pull out your own homemade BBQ spice rub to sprinkle on your chicken, shrimp, burgers, pork, beef, or vegetables any time you want to give your food a big-time flavor boost. Talk about an easy dinner right there!
Most spice rub and mix recipes work just this same way. Take my taco seasoning recipe, for example. Since a store-bought taco mix contains about 2 tablespoons of mix, you might as well make enough of your own mix to cover you for multiple Taco Tuesdays, right?
Why make a small amount when you know you’ll need extra in the future?
OK friends, let’s get back to my original thoughts here: women CAN be the grillers of the house! You’ll probably need some practice (just like anything new you try to do) and some great, reliable, well-tested recipes.
You’ll be responsible for the first part but I can definitely help you with the second. (see: my 50ish grilling recipes!) This BBQ spice rub recipe will be a favorite piece of your grilling arsenal.
- 1 tbsp ancho chile powder
- 1 tbsp hot smoked paprika
- 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
- ⅛ tsp ground chipotle powder
- ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 1 ½ tsp black ground pepper
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Use immediately or store in an airtight container.
Storage: Spice mix will keep for up to 6 months in an airtight container at room temperature.