How to Make Dry Rub for Chicken

Praiwun/iStock/Getty Images

A dry rub uses nothing more than herbs and spices to infuse chicken with big flavor. Whether you want something sweet, spicy or a combination of both, you can create your own signature rub. Dry rubs are used instead of a liquid marinade, but both result in bold, flavor-infused chicken. Dry rubs are usually used for grilled or barbecued chicken, but you can also add a rub when roasting.

Basic Rubs

The simplest dry rubs for chicken consist of just salt and pepper, but a combination of sweet and savory, or even a bit spicy, gives the meat a fuller flavor. For a basic rub, use onion or garlic powder, cumin or turmeric, with the possible addition of herbs such as sage, oregano or thyme. These aromatic herbs and spices boost the relatively mild chicken flavor without overpowering it or contrasting too heavily with the other rub ingredients. A basic rub contains 4 parts each of salt and brown or white sugar, 3 parts pepper, including black pepper and cayenne, and 1 part spices or herbs. Adjust the amounts of each ingredient to develop the flavor you desire.

Sweet and Spicy

Sweet flavors can give chicken a caramelized flavor, especially when you're cooking it in the oven, such as roasting. Use brown sugar for a dry rub because the molasses flavor works well with chicken, adding depth and richness to an otherwise mild meat. Ginger and cinnamon complement sweet flavors and provide a contrast to the mild flavor of chicken. For spicy, draw inspiration from Southwest or Mexican cuisine and use various dried chili or hot pepper powders and seeds, or add curry powder for an Indian-inspired dish. A combination of sweet and spicy also works well, especially when using Asian hot pepper blends. When looking for rub inspiration, look at the spices and herbs used to flavor some of your favorite dishes, such as fajitas or Cajun chicken, and use these as the basis of your own rub recipe.

The Right Mix

After deciding on your key ingredients, begin mixing it up. Add up to a tablespoon of each ingredient in a bowl and whisk it together. Use less of strongly flavored ingredients and more of those with mild flavors. A small taste can help guide the additions, but keep in mind that a plain spice rub tastes much stronger than it does when it coats the chicken. Adjust the amount of each item until you have a blend that you enjoy. You can store a dry rub in a closed jar until you are ready to use it if you make too much.

Rub It in

Whether you are preparing a whole chicken or just the wings, the preparation method remains the same. Pour the amount of rub you think you need into a bowl, and then wash your hands in soap and water before you start rubbing. Although messy, rubbing it in by hand ensures the spices cover the chicken evenly and are applied to every exposed bit of chicken. After applying the rub, wrap the chicken in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Rubs add the most flavor when they are allowed to mix with the flavors of the meat for at least 24 hours, but you can cook the chicken sooner if desired.