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Understanding the Difference Between Seasonings & Rubs

Understanding the Difference Between Seasonings & Rubs

Whether you're a home chef, backyard griller or aspiring pitmaster, the world of seasonings and rubs is vast and varied. While both are designed to elevate dishes to new flavor heights, they do so in distinct ways, each bringing its own unique flair to the table. So what is the difference between a rub and a seasoning? The key differentiator between seasoning and rubs is lies in the base of ingredients: many seasonings are salt and herb based, while most bbq rubs have an equal ratio of salt to sugar. 


1. Composition and Purpose:

  • Seasonings are typically salt based and contain a blend of various herbs, spices, and sometimes even dried vegetables or fruits. They are designed to add layers of flavor to a dish, enhancing its overall taste profile.
  • Seasonings typically have a coarser texture and contain little to no sugar. This allows them to be used prior to searing on a grill, cast iron skillet or roasting on a sheet tray without burning. 

2. Application:

  • Seasonings can be applied before, during, or after cooking, depending on the desired effect. They can be added to soups, used for roasting vegetables, seasoning proteins before searing or grilling and more. 
  • Pre-seasoning allows flavors to penetrate meats or vegetables, infusing them with taste from the inside out.
  • Post-seasoning, such as a sprinkle of finishing salt or a dash of herbs, adds a burst of flavor just before serving.

3. Common Types:

  • Italian Seasoning: A classic blend of herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary, perfect for pasta dishes, salads, and roasted vegetables.
  • Cajun Seasoning: A spicy blend featuring paprika, garlic, onion powder, and cayenne, ideal for blackened meats, seafood, and gumbo.
  • Herbes de Provence: A fragrant mix of herbs such as lavender, thyme, marjoram, and savory, perfect for Mediterranean-inspired dishes, roasted chicken, or grilled fish.

    BBQ Rubs

    1. Composition and Purpose:

    • BBQ rubs are a blend of spices, herbs, sugars, salts, and flavor extracts. They are specifically formulated to create a flavorful crust or bark on grilled or smoked meats.
    • The primary purpose of a BBQ rub is to create a caramelized, savory exterior while sealing in moisture. Because rubs typically contain an equal ratio of salt and sugar, they are perfect for low-and-slow cooking and should not be used over high heat in most situations. 

    2. Application:

    • BBQ rubs are generously applied to meats, such as ribs, brisket, chicken, or pork shoulder, before cooking.
    • They are often used in low-and-slow cooking methods, like smoking or slow roasting, allowing the flavors to meld with the meat over hours of cooking time. Using a BBQ rub over high heat can cause your surface to burn so always use on indirect or low temperatures. 

    3. Common Types:

    • Kansas City Style: A sweet and savory rub featuring brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder, perfect for ribs, pork shoulder, or chicken.
    • SPG: The BBQ trinity of salt-pepper-garlic is a popular seasoning amongst pitmasters in Texas. This versaltile blend can be used on pretty much anything and everything.
    • Texas Style: A bold and peppery rub with ingredients like black pepper, chili powder, cumin, and garlic, perfect for beef brisket or steaks.

      The Verdict: Choosing the Right Application

      In the battle of seasonings vs. BBQ rubs, the choice ultimately depends on the dish you're preparing. Here's a quick guide to help you decide:

      • Choose Seasonings for:

        • High heat grilling or searing, roasting in the oven or adding at the end of the cooking process. 
        • Quick, on-the-fly seasoning adjustments for soups, salads, and sauces.
        • Adding layers of flavor without overpowering the natural taste of ingredients.
      • Opt for BBQ Rubs when:

        • Creating a flavorful crust or bark on smoked meats.
        • Engaging in low-and-slow cooking methods like smoking or roasting chicken wings over indirect heat.
        • Intensifying the savory, smoky, or sweet profile of meats with complementary flavors.


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