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Sara Hansen

Tips For How & When To Use Barbecue Sauce & Rubs

When meat is cooked properly, you can often turn out a great-tasting flavor that speaks for itself. But sometimes you might want to add a little bit extra flavor to kick it up a notch. 

With so many different options available to impart that flavor, from rubs to barbecue sauces to rib glazes, it’s easy to become a little overwhelmed with exactly how and when to use them. The key to flavor-infused meat is the careful application of rubs and sauces at the right time so that it doesn’t overpower the smoke and natural meat flavor.

In this article, we’ll break down some tips straight from champion pitmasters to help get the best results from using rubs, barbecue sauce, and glazes.


The Right Way To Rub

Sometimes, depending on what type of meat you are cooking, as well as your preferred tastes, a barbecue rub is a great way to impart additional flavor. Especially, for example, if you are a Memphis-style barbecue purist and like your ribs with a great dry rub. Or those Central Texas barbecue brisket fans will tell you all you need is a rub of salt and pepper and let the meat speak for itself.


barbecue rub | how to use barbecue rubs | how to use rubs | bbq rubsSource: IHeartRecipes


Whether you are going with a pre-made rub, like, for example, the “What’s Your Beef” BBQ rub from our pitmaster Sterling Smith’s own Loot N' Booty BBQ or making your own rub, there are some dos and don’ts to follow to ensure you are enhancing the flavor.

Here are some rub specific tips:

  • When making your own rub, the usual three core ingredients are salt, pepper, and garlic (SPG). But don’t be afraid to get creative in adding additional elements for heat and flavor. Other great ingredients can include things like coffee grounds, smoked red pepper, or ground dried apples. Make note of what you are creating. If you find that you love the combination you made, make extra next time and store it in an airtight container. Rubs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for months.
  • If you are making a homemade rub, you can really amplify the flavors by buying the spices whole and toasting them in the oven or dry skillet. Then grind the toasted spices right before using them with a heavy pot or spice grinder.
  • Rubs should be applied 30 minutes or more before cooking. At 30 minutes before cooking, you can get a good, flavorful crust. Some pitmasters and grillmasters let their meat sit longer with the rub before cooking to get a more intense flavor. Just keep in mind, if the rub is salt-based, there is a chance of it drying the meat out if you let the meat sit refrigerated overnight.
  • It is important to show restraint when it comes to how much rub to use. Of course, every cut of meat will require a different amount. But a good rule of thumb is to start applying it slowly and stop when it looks evenly covered. You want to avoid pouring on too much to where it is falling off.
  • Even though it is called a rub, you want to gently apply the rub by sprinkling it onto the meat and not actually rubbing it on. You don’t want to damage the delicate surface of the protein.
  • One way to help the rub stick to the meat is to add a moist base for it to stick to first. This would then technically make your rub a wet rub. This can be done by slathering a light coat of olive oil, Worcestershire, or even yellow mustard (don’t worry, this won’t make the meat taste like mustard) onto the meat first. Then apply your rub.
  • Keep an eye on your meat if your rub contains sugar. Sugars start to burn at 275 degrees Fahrenheit so be careful to make sure your rub doesn’t start to burn and impart a not so great tasting carbon flavor.


Using Barbecue Sauce For Added Flavor

Many people love a good barbecue sauce on the meat. But, to cook the meat properly with a sauce that flavors, and more importantly, compliments it beautifully takes some strategy and restraint. Whether you are smoking or grilling, to do it right, there’s a lot more to it than just slathering on the sauce and cooking. 


barbecue sauce | how to use barbecue sauce | how to use BBQ sauce


Here are some tips specific to barbecue sauce:

  • When to apply barbecue sauce comes down to science, time and temperatures you are cooking at, personal preference, and regional style. (For example, Kansas City ribs are cooked with a dry rub and sauce on the side, while St. Louis rib are slathered with a sauce towards the end of grilling) Usually, if you are going to use a barbecue sauce it should be applied towards the end of the cook. Often during the last 10-30 minutes depending on the meat, but no more than 30 minutes. Many barbecue sauces contain sugar, which we mentioned above starts to burn at high temperatures. You want to use it just long enough to heat it and bake it onto the meat, allowing it to caramelize, without burning it.
  • Show restraint when it comes to how much sauce you are using. You don’t want to overdo it and risk the sauce burning. Usually, no more than two even coats is sufficient. For example, for ribs, a good rule of thumb is 3/4 cup of sauce for both sides of a full slab of spareribs with the tips still on, a slab of St. Louis cut ribs will need 1/2 cup, and a slab of baby back ribs will need 1/3 cup.
  • Use a small sauce brush or sauce mop to apply the sauce evenly. Make sure not to use too much pressure when applying the sauce to not damage the delicate outer layer of the meat.
  • If you can, warm the barbecue sauce a little bit before applying it to your meat. One of the most important things in cooking great meat is maintaining steady temperatures. So you don’t want to put 40-degree sauce out of the refrigerator directly onto your 200-degree ribs.
  • Usually, you’ll want to serve a side of barbecue sauce with your meat when it is finished. So keep cross-contamination in mind. You don’t want to serve the remaining sauce from the bowl you used to baste your meat with while cooking. Even if the meat is cooked when you are basting, uncooked meat juices can end up on your mop or brush and back into the sauce. So it is always safest to serve a side of fresh barbecue sauce at the table.


Mops & Glazes Are Great Ways To Add Flavor Too

Mops and glazes are also great options when it comes to adding a little more flavor to your meat. If you’re fairly new to outdoor cooking, these are things you may not have even heard of.


mop sauce | how to use barbecue mop sauce | how to use BBQ mop sauceSource: Jess Pryles


A mop sauce is great for flavoring tougher cuts of meat that you are going to be cooking for long periods. These sauces are thinner than barbecue sauces and often made from vinegar, apple cider, or even beer. Mop sauces can be basted onto the meat every 20 minutes or so with a sauce mop or small brush to impart flavor throughout the cooking process. 

Barbecue glazes are another great option for adding a little extra flavor. Compared to barbecue sauce and rubs, glazes are a more recent addition to the outdoor cooking scene. Often found in varieties known as Pepper Jellies and Rib Candy, like the ones from Craig’s Texas Pepper Jelly company, these are great ways to add a mix of sweet and spicy flavors. 

Glazes, similar to mop sauces, work well being applied throughout the cooking process to impart additional flavor.


Wrapping It All Up

As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to adding a little extra flavor to your meat when cooking outdoors. Some pitmasters will argue their preferences in what to use for certain meats, but that’s what makes it fun. Don’t be afraid to experiment with using different things and discover your favorites.

Just make sure to use restraint and some of the strategies above and you’ll end up with great flavors that don’t overpower the meat.

Do you have a favorite type of barbecue sauce or rub for certain types of meat? Have you discovered some other helpful types when it comes to flavoring barbecue? Leave a comment below and let us know. We want to hear from you!

These insider tips like we covered above are the types of things you’ll learn from our Champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters in the online barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. You’ll learn how to consistently cook contest-worthy barbecue in high-definition video step by step and have fun doing it. Check out our All-Access pass to get the full inside look.

Sara Hansen

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3 comments on “Tips For How & When To Use Barbecue Sauce & Rubs”

  1. I really liked the part of your article that talked about mop sauces and what they're good for. Initially, I planned to cook our barbecued meat the old-fashioned way by grilling them after marinating them in the sauce, but this method seems a lot better for the kind of meat we want to eat. I'll try this method out!

  2. Hello....Im cooking country style ribs in my oven and Im trying to remember how my wife did it...(she passed away) ...if I remember correctly....and I might be totally wrong.....when she used a bbq sauce.....like Sweet Baby Ray's.... I dont think she used any seasoning! ...could I be right? i think she cooked the ribs.....for like 2 hours.....then took the foil off......slathered on the bbq sauce....then put them back in the oven (oven is off at this point) and let them sit for like 20 mins or so.....then she would put bbq sauce on the table if you wanted more..... Yes?...No? ..???

  3. Hi Sara love the way you explained all that thank you. I am a Type 1 Diabetic so I came up with my own Sugar-free Mustard bbq sauce & Sugar-free bbq sauce they are not on the market love to but on SSID... but I do give out samples .. just rambling sorry

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