Easy All-Purpose Barbecue Rub and Barbecue Sauce Recipe

This versatile rub-sauce combo is perfect on a wide variety of barbecued and grilled foods, like ribs, chicken, or burgers.

Brushing barbecue sauce on top of ribs on the grill

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why It Works

  • A balanced spice blend in the rub provides a good contrast between sweet and savory.
  • Adding spice rub to the sauce yields a more complex flavor.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that you've already sworn off store-bought salad dressing for good. Wise move. Here's your next one: Ditch the store-bought spice rubs and barbecue sauce. The rubs come at a huge markup for what is essentially a container full of salt and sugar, with a touch of spice. Sauces might be a better value, but almost inevitably, they're achingly sweet, with built-in cruddy smoke flavor.

Here's the good news: If you barbecue or grill with any frequency, it's easy (and cheap!) to make big batches of homemade spice rub and sauce that will keep in your pantry and your fridge (respectively) for several months, saving you money while simultaneously delivering flavor that's superior to anything you can get premade. I set out to make a balanced rub and sauce that would work well with a wide range of grilled meats and vegetables, whether you're slow-cooking ribs or pulled pork, or grilling chicken or even tofu.

A bowl of barbecue rub.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

For the rub, I use equal parts paprika and brown sugar, along with kosher salt, ground mustard seeds, black pepper, ground coriander seeds, dried oregano, granulated garlic, and granulated onion. This produces a blend that's equal parts savory and sweet (but not overly sweet), with just a minor hint of heat. Of course, you should feel free to adjust the seasonings as you see fit—a small pinch of cayenne wouldn't be out of place. This is the spice rub I keep in a deli container in my pantry at all times.

For the sauce, I start with a classic Kansas City–style base of molasses, to which I add some ketchup, mustard, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and hot sauce. I originally started by sautéing an onion in butter before adding the liquid, but found that for a short simmer, an onion grated on the large holes of a box grater provided the right pungency and was much faster, too. To really add depth to the sauce, I add a couple of tablespoons of my spice rub and simmer it all together. If you plan on using this for foods cooked indoors (like this oven-cooked pulled pork), a touch of high-quality liquid smoke, like Wright's, works great.

With the rub and sauce on hand at all times, you'll be ready for anything that your grill might throw at you.


How to Make an Easy All-Purpose Barbecue Sauce and Rub

September 2016

Recipe Facts



Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Active: 5 mins
Total: 25 mins
Serves: 16 servings
Makes: 2 cups of barbecue sauce

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For the Rub:

  • 1/3 cup paprika (2 ounces; 60g)

  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (2.5 ounces; 70g)

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (1.5 ounces; 45g)

  • 4 teaspoons (12g) ground mustard

  • 2 teaspoons (6g) freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons (6g) ground coriander seeds

  • 1 tablespoon (5g) dried oregano

  • 1 tablespoon (10g) granulated garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon (10g) granulated onion powder

For the Sauce:

  • 1 cup (240mlchicken broth

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) ketchup

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dark molasses, plus more to taste

  • 1 small onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 4 ounces; 115g)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) brown mustard

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) cider vinegar, plus more to taste

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) hot sauce, plus more to taste

  • 2 tablespoons (25g) spice rub

  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) liquid smoke, such as Wright's (optional)


  1. For the Rub: Whisk all rub ingredients together to combine. Use your fingertips to break up any large clumps of brown sugar. For better flavor, before combining, toast ground mustard, black pepper, and coriander in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Store rub in a sealed container at room temperature for several months. (It will lose flavor over time, but it will not go bad.)

  2. For the Sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk together and simmer until reduced to a glaze consistency, about 15 minutes (sauce should reduce by about one-third). Adjust flavor with more molasses, vinegar, or hot sauce to taste. Cooled barbecue sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several months.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
35 Calories
0g Fat
8g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 35
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 288mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 7g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 21mg 2%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 153mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)