How Long To Leave Dry Rub On Ribs Before Cooking Them?

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bbq ribs cooking on a hot grill

There are as many ways to make smoked pork ribs as there are grilling enthusiasts. Everyone, it seems, has their own method for this delicacy—which is one of the qualities that makes the dish so compelling.

Do you use a seasoning rub on your ribs? If so, when do you apply it? There are many different takes on this technique as well. Here, we’ll discuss how long to leave dry rub on ribs before cooking them—and why.

How Long To Leave Dry Rub on Ribs Before Cooking?

The dry rub should sit on the ribs for at least 15 minutes to 2 hours prior to cooking. As an alternative, you can leave the prepared ribs in the refrigerator overnight. The longer the spice rub is in place, the thicker and stickier the bark will be when the ribs are done cooking.

baby back port ribs

About Seasoning Rubs

There are two basic types of barbecue rub: wet and dry. Since we’re here to discuss the dry version, we’ll focus mainly on this one.

A dry rub is made up of various spices and herbs, combined to create a taste sensation that complements the smoky flavor of the grill. Kosher salt and brown sugar are two of the standard base ingredients. Popular additions include paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.

When the dry rub is exposed to heat, it begins to form a delicious crisp crust on the exterior of the ribs. This crust is called the “bark,” and it provides an excellent backbone to the tender meat.

The natural moisture of the ribs might be enough to allow the spices to adhere. However, we prefer to add a thin layer of mustard to the rack before applying the rub. This helps the seasoning mixture to stick while adding another layer of flavor.

Recipes for wet rubs will sometimes incorporate the mustard right into the mixture, giving it a texture that resembles coarse paste. Other “wet rub” ingredients might include minced garlic, olive oil, prepared horseradish, or plain yogurt.

How To Apply Spice Rub

As we pointed out, a thin coating of prepared mustard gives the spices something to cling to. If you apply the rub directly to the rib rack, there’s a chance that some of it will fall off before it can form a crust.

Seared Ribs
Credit: Corey Mreaton Eaton

If you opt to take this step, start by patting the rib rack dry with paper towels. Remove the membrane, if it’s still attached. While the membrane won’t affect the flavor of the ribs, it might affect the cooking process. It’s also tough and difficult to chew when cooked.

Once the ribs are coated in mustard, add the spice rub. 1/2 cup of rub should be sufficient for a 3-pound rack of ribs. Try to cover as much surface area as possible.

If the ribs are thoroughly covered and there’s some spice rub left over, don’t try to force it on. If the coating is too thick, the spices might overpower the pork flavor. Remember to discard any seasoning rub that’s come into contact with raw meat.

How Long To Leave Dry Rub On Ribs Before Cooking

It’s a good idea to let the ribs sit for a while after coating them in the dry rub. This gives the flavors a chance to fully combine and penetrate the outer surface of the meat.

We recommend waiting at least 15 minutes between adding the spice rub and putting the ribs on the grill. If time allows, you can let the seasoned ribs sit for several hours. Just make sure to refrigerate the ribs in the meantime.

Adding the dry rub with just 15 minutes to go will give the bark a drier texture. That’s because the salt hasn’t had enough time to seal in the moisture.

The flavoring of the bark will also be less pronounced. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want the natural pork flavor to shine through.

On the other hand, if you plan on adding a sauce to the ribs, it will adhere better if you add the spice rub shortly before cooking.

pork ribs with dry rub on them

Can You Leave Dry Rub On Ribs Overnight?

It’s fine to leave dry rub on ribs for up to 12 hours. In fact, it can help you save time on the day of the cookout. Because the bark will be so thick, we suggest using this technique only if you aren’t planning on finishing the ribs with barbecue sauce.

How far in advance can you add the seasoning? 8 to 12 hours is the recommended window. Any longer, and the ribs might turn out too dry.

Don’t be tempted to wrap the ribs in plastic when storing them in the refrigerator overnight. Once the dry rub is in place, you can leave the rib rack uncovered. Put the prepared ribs on a plate, and let them rest on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.

How Long To Leave Wet Rub On Ribs

Wet rubs need at least 2 to 8 hours to work their magic. This will tenderize the meat in addition to boosting its flavor.

Note that if the wet rub contains an acidic ingredient like vinegar, you should cook off the ribs sooner rather than later. Vinegar will give the meat a mushy texture if the marinating process goes on too long.

Also, prepared horseradish is often pickled in vinegar. If you’ve used horseradish in your wet rub, cook the ribs within 2 hours for best results.

Storing Dry Rub

Even if you prefer to apply the spice rub just 15-30 minutes before cooking, you can still prepare the mixture in advance. When the rub is made solely of dried herbs and spices, it should stay fresh for up to 6 months.

Store prepared seasoning rubs in tightly sealed containers. Keep them in a cool, dry place. The ideal storage area would be the cupboard where you keep your other dried herbs.

homemade bbq spice rub for meat

The Bottom Line

It’s up to you how long to leave the dry rub on your ribs before grilling. Putting it on right before grilling will impart a more subtle flavor that pairs well with sauces, while leaving it on overnight will give you a thick, well-seasoned bark.

Once you’ve discovered the ideal spice rub recipe, you’ll want to use it over and over again. That should give you plenty of opportunities to find the ideal time frame for adding the mixture to your ribs.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


2 thoughts on “How Long To Leave Dry Rub On Ribs Before Cooking Them?”

  1. Can I put yellow mustard on my rib then put my Rub Seasoning on & let them brine that way over night up to 8-12 hours our just use the Dry Rub only please let me know I’m to start cooking them in my Master-built gravity smoker bbq in the morning on August 26th I have 9-13 St Louis ribs

    • @Ralph Gwood48, try any method you are comfortable using. May turn out great, may not, but lesson learned. Stick with what you know if time crunched


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