BBQ Sauces, Rubs and Marinade Differences

Let's say you've mastered the art of the grill, either throughout years of practice or during this summer. As your skill has grown and the meat is cooked correctly, you've noticed that there is a savoriness and flavor unique to each type and each cut of meat. You've got a fantastic foundation for solid, excellent meals with your grill but are you wondering if there is more out there?

Have you ever wanted to compliment the flavors of the meat or elevate the natural flavors? What about marinating it to infuse it with a hint of smokiness, zest and make the meat even more tender? What about BBQ sauces? What are rubs, and when should you use them?

We hope we can help answer all of these questions about different types of barbeque sauces, rubs, marinades, and more to bring your grilling to a whole new level of flavor richness.

The Difference Between Sauces, Rubs, and When To Use Them

BBQ sauce or a rub? When should you use one over the other? When you talk to BBQ enthusiasts or experts alike, you'll find that every grill gourmet has a different opinion—but the wet versus dry debate may be the biggest. In this case, 'wet' indicates BBQ sauce or sauces in general, and 'dry' represents dry rubs or rubs.

When to use a sauce or a rub will come down to your personal preference of which ones you like to use more. But in general, there are a few general guidelines that seem most common. Keep in mind, too, and you don't have to choose one over the other. Some BBQ experts insist on using a rub and a sauce at different stages of cooking for an excellent boost in flavor.

In most cases, if you're going to be cooking or smoking meat for a very long period, wet sauces are the better choice, whereas if you are going to cook something slow and low, a dry rub may improve the flavor and cooking.

When it comes to BBQ sauces, there are a wide variety of different flavors to choose from, from savory sirloin steak sauces, cherry balsamic grilling sauces, citrus rosemary, horseradish, apple cinnamon, or traditional BBQ sauce.

Marinades, what are they, and why bother?

Let's face it; sometimes we don't have the time or patience for marinating. We're either hungry that moment, we perhaps didn't have enough energy the night before, or we want to cook some meat on the grill and enjoy it. And yet, you may be doing a disservice to yourself, your tastebuds, and that of your guests by not considering to marinate before grilling. Using a marinade may be one of the easiest methods of switching up your meats' taste, texture, and outcome with some stellar results.

If you are marinating your BBQ meats before cooking, it is easier to have the right tools at hand. Luckily, these are not expensive. Keep some reliable, resealable bags or airtight containers, stock up on salt, oil, vinegar, and general staple spices like:

  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Garlic powder (though fresh is better)
  • Brown sugar
  • Worchestershire sauce

Want to marinate but don't have time? Consider purchasing a pre-made marinade, either a general all-purpose or a marinade specified for the type of meat you're about to grill to make it quicker and easier. There is a wide choice of flavorful marinades to choose from, such as Honey Dijon, sun-dried tomato, spicy Asian honey, and robust rib eye marinade, to name a few.

Marinades are some of the best means to take a tough cut of meat and make it tender, or an already tender cut of meat even more so. Additionally, if you're considering cooking pork chops, chicken, or turkey on your BBQ, a marinade becomes a must for perfectly moist meat to ensure it's never dry.

Marinate times at the shortest are roughly 30 minutes, but we recommend marinating for as long as possible. Up to 2 hours or, ideally, overnight.

All About the Rub

If one of your favorite BBQ flavors is Central Texas, or you're a barbeque brisket fan, they'll tell you all you need for a rub is salt and pepper. For a more flavorful option that mirrors the Memphis-style barbeque, you'll want a few more ingredients for that type of flavor.

Surprisingly, the spices you'll find in a primary, all-purpose BBQ rub mirror the same list of dry herbs for basic marinades. Chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne for a bit of heat, brown sugar, and additional spices such as dried garlic and onion powder are all great for a basic rub.

The general rules of thumb when applying a rub:

  • Apply the rub no later than 30 minutes before cooking to help you get a great, flavorful crust. Keep in mind that most rubs are salt-based or have salt in them, and if you let your meat sit to look with salt-based rubs, it may draw out the moisture from your meat and cause it to dry out when cooking.
  • Use both hands to rub spices into the meat. Sprinkling a rub mix on the surface won't help the rub adhere to the meat and, thus, less flavor. You'll want to—well, rub—the spices in with both hands very well to ensure that the seasonings stick. Don't rub too hard, though, as you'll want to protect the delicate surface of your proteins.
  • If your rub mix contains sugar, be extra aware when cooking. Sugar starts to burn at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, and burnt carbon doesn't add a delicious flavor.

As you can see, you'll always have a wide variety of options when it comes to adding extra flavor to any choice cut of meat when cooking outside. When it comes to being a pitmaster, your preferences in what to use for certain meats will be the best choice, and don't be afraid to experiment as you discover your favorites!

If you're looking for quality, pre-made marinades, hot sauces, rubs, and spices, keep an eye on us here at Wholey's! We're working on a massive collection of some of the most popular and unusual flavor combinations to make grilling an even better, tastier experience.