Scott Thomas considers himself an absolute barbecue rub junkie. “Get me within 100 miles of a grilling/barbecue store and I will find my way in and invariably spend $100,” says The Grillin’ Fools blogger. “I have an entire wall, floor to ceiling, in my pantry dedicated to rubs and sauces. It is packed so tightly that my wife will require that I throw some away if I bring home any more. Luckily she hasn’t found my secondary stash yet.”
We can relate. With barbecue season fully upon us, now is the perfect time to stock up on supplies for your next backyard cookout. To get you started, we checked in with three barbecue pros: St. Louis-based Thomas; Adrian Miller, a James Beard Award winner and author of “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue“; and Kita Roberts, who has a rub collaboration with Spiceology and runs the Girl Carnivore food blog, which focuses on all things meat.
It’s time to heat up the grill, get your favorite chicken, pork, steak, fish and veggies at the ready and prepare to get, well, fired up with these recommended barbecue rubs and sauces sure to take your meal to the next level. Who’s hungry?
Gates Bar-B-Q ‘Original Classic’ Sauce ($17.69, originally $19.35; amazon.com)
Miller calls this his all-time favorite commercial barbecue sauce. “Gates is one of the venerable African American-owned barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri,” he says. “They make a tomato-based sauce that’s not too thick, and it has a nice balance of tangy and sweet.”
Old Arthur’s Spicy BBQ Sauce, 3-Pack ($29.40; amazon.com)
When he wants something with more kick, Miller opts for hot and spicy sauce from Old Arthur’s. “‘Old Arthur Watts was born an enslaved African American in 1837,” he says. “Later in life, he became a renowned barbecuer, and his descendants are keeping his legacy alive. This slightly sweet, tomato-based sauce gives a slow, steady burn without overwhelming your palate.”
Head Country Barbecue Sauce Variety, 4-Pack ($26.44, originally $28.87; amazon.com)
“Found pretty much anywhere across the country, Head Country has a great arsenal of sauces, from chipotle — which is amazing on Instant Pot chicken for tacos — to apple habanero, which when tossed over smoked Brussels sprouts adds just the right amount of heat to the dish,” Roberts says. “It’s not too hot, not too watery and sticks to the food for a velvety rich coating. I keep an assortment of their entire line in my pantry all of the time and they are my go-to for hosting needs. They even have a keto-friendly barbecue sauce out recently that’s sugar-free — that on shrimp is exceptional.”
This set includes Apple Habanero, Original, Hickory Smoke and Hot & Spicy.
Cowboy Charcoal Prairie Fire Sauce, 3-Pack ($25.67; amazon.com)
“I love to toss wings in this or brush it over burgers when I really want to spice things up,” Roberts says. “It comes out of the bottle super thick and packs the perfect punch for those who can handle a bit of heat.”
Meat Mitch Whomp! BBQ Sauce ($14.99; amazon.com)
A first-place winner at the 2020 National Barbecue and Grilling Association Awards of Excellence, Thomas says Whomp! is a go-to in his pantry and fridge. “It is simply an all-around fantastic sauce,” he says.
Blues Hog BBQ Sauce Variety, 4-Pack ($14.99; amazon.com)
“The entire line of sauces is absolutely amazing and a mainstay on the competition circuit where the competitors are only guaranteed one bite from the judges,” according to Thomas. “When they use Blues Hog, they often get that second bite.”
Sample four flavors — Original BBQ, Tennessee Red, Champions Blend and Smokey Mountain — with this variety pack.
Andria’s Brush On Steak Sauce ($14.99; amazon.com)
“This is from just across the river from St. Louis in Illinois and is sometimes confused with steak sauces that are used to dip the cooked steak into in order to mask the flavor of subpar beef or add liquid to an overcooked or dry steak,” Thomas says. “But that’s not what Andria’s is all about. It’s a marinade and basting sauce that I have been using now for close to three decades. Brush it on as the steak is cooking and you will learn just how addictive it is. It is also beloved by presidents. For decades, the White House has ordered a case of Andria’s every year.”
Savory Spice Shop Black Smoke Spice Set ($29.99; savoryspiceshop.com)
Miller teamed with Savory Spice Company to create the Black Smoke Spice Collection (the set contains five half-cup bags, including Black Smoke Seasoning, Beaumont BBQ Rub, Tsire West African Spice, Jamaican Jerk Seasoning and Red Rocks Hickory Smoke Seasoning).
“The signature Black Smoke Seasoning is based on the recipe of John Frank Garth, who went to my church and was a legendary barbecuer in my hometown of Denver, Colorado,” he says. “It’s a good all-purpose rub for any meat or vegetable. The collection also features a Beaumont BBQ Rub, which is a shout-out to the Creole-influenced barbecue in east Texas. It’s a nice combination of spicy and sweet.”
Christie Vanover for Spiceology Pork Rub ($25.49; amazon.com)
When it comes to rubs, Roberts says it’s hard to beat Christie Vanover’s “Girls Can Grill” line of award-winning chicken, brisket and pork rubs. “They are an excellent base for all of your summer barbecues when meat is dominating the grill,” she says. “Each is a perfect balance of heat, spice and blend that has been meticulously tested for success.”
She recommends combining Vanover’s brisket rub with her own Girl Carnivore Ooomami powder to add a rich component to everything from a classic steak to grilled mushrooms. “The combo of Girls Can Grill BK and Girl Carnivore Ooomami was featured on these grilled short ribs and works as a dynamic duo for any cut of beef. There’s pretty much nothing savory you can’t add Ooomami to as a base to really boost the satisfaction — it’s incredibly versatile from burgers to aiolis.”
Girl Carnivore for Spiceology Over Easy Egg and Everything Seasoning ($14.95; amazon.com)
Roberts says spice rubs are often overly heavy and too spicy, but her Over Easy, a collaboration with Spiceology, is a light combination of bright citrus, fresh herbs and a hint of chile. Besides eggs, she uses it on grilled potatoes and other veggies but suggests blending it with Garlic Junkie, from Adam McKenzie of “This Jew Can Que,” also in collaboration with Spiceology, to use on grilled salmon, artichokes or pork chops.
Thomas also sings the praises of Girl Carnivore’s spice rub for eggs. “As someone who absolutely revels in egg yolk in all it’s ooey, gooey, yellow glory, I was skeptical,” he says. “Now I can’t order eggs when I eat out for breakfast unless I bring a little of this rub with me.”
Derek Wolf for Spiceology South American Variety Pack ($24.99; spiceology.com)
“Derek Wolf of Over the Fire Cooking has a fun line of spices heavily influenced by the churrasco style of grilling from South America, which he features in his newly released cookbook ’Food by Fire,’” Roberts says. She adds that the blends are perfect for showstopping dishes like picanha, which, “when rubbed with the Gaucho seasoning and slow-roasted is a feast like you would get at the Brazilian-style steakhouses.”
Jack Daniel’s Steak Seasoning ($9, originally $10; amazon.com)
Roberts is a fan of this coarse-grind steakhouse-style blend made for coating red meat. “From lamb tenderloin to crusting a tomahawk steak, it’s a classic choice with a peppery bite reminiscent of restaurants where meat and potatoes reign king,” she says.
Dead Bird BBQ DB180 All-Purpose Seasoning Rub ($15.95, originally $17.95; amazon.com)
“Despite the DB in the name meaning Dead Bird, and no mention of beef in the title, this is my go-to steak rub,” Thomas says. “It’s not an overpowering rub that masks the flavor of steak; it merely enhances it.”
Meat Church BBQ Deez Nuts Honey Pecan Rub ($14.99; amazon.com)
Thomas calls this rub the perfect combo of brilliant marketing and outstanding flavor. “My adolescent sons love this rub,” he says. “Partly because they love to giggle when they say the name and also because it has amazing flavor.”
Heavy Smoke White Label BBQ Rub and Seasoning ($16.99; walmart.com)
“This rub was developed on the competition circuit and has taken many, many awards,” Thomas says. “It is outstanding on pork but can be used on just about any protein.”