Sweet Memphis BBQ Rub

photo by Angie Mosier

When I started in the competitive BBQ world, I thought everyone made their own BBQ seasonings and sauces.  This recipe is the basic recipe that I used and honed over the years.  For competitions, I add a bit more “oomph” to it, but for cooking at the house this is still my go-to rub for pork or chicken.

This is a well rounded seasoning, with sweetness as the most primary note on the palate.  Rub flavoring like this is pretty standard for Memphis-style BBQ, as 1) we like things sweet around here, namely Tea and BBQ,  and 2) we also like a little kick in the back of the palate.  This rub will fit the bill and make you a Memphis Pitmaster!

Multi Use

Think BBQ Rub is just for BBQ and grilling?  Think again, as you can use this as a season-all for many different dishes.  Sprinkle some on sausage and cheese plates, deviled eggs, well, just about anything you can think of, it will make better.  Literally, I once had someone tell me he put it on his corn flakes in the morning. Not kidding.

This rub is eminently changeable.   I use this rub and make modifications to it almost weekly.  Want a bit more spice?  Simple increase the chili powder, use chipotle chili powder instead of plain, add more cayenne, etc.  Want a smoother texture?  Grind half the turbinado sugar, or leave some out if you want a more robust seasoning.  Making a sauce?  Use this as the main seasoning in your sauce in order to keep the “flavor in the family.”

This seasoning is not going to overwhelm your meat.  There are a lot of great, pre-made BBQ seasoning blends available on the market, and I use some of them as well.  However, when you are cooking at the house and you want the satisfaction of doing everything yourself, you can’t go wrong with this blend.

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Sweet Memphis BBQ Rub


makes about 3 1/2 cups


  • 1 cup turbinado (sugar)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 TBS onion powder
  • 2 TBS granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper (finely ground)
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/3 cup paprika


  1. In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients and stir until well incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

64 Responses

  1. this is a great base (for me, as I don’t follow recipes well 😉 ) I can say one thing do not use chipotle chili powder if you have kids eating it makes it super spicy! I had no white sugar so used light brown and the turbinado .. FANTASTIC rub! thank you for liking one of my instagram pics as I did 2 of your post today and both were great this and the Beans with Maple WOW! hope to someday get out in the comp world and say thanks!

  2. I see the ingredients for your rub doesn’t have cinnamon and haven’t been able to find the ingredients for you Bar BQ sauce. Can you tell me if it contains cinnamon, my wife is deathly allergic to cinnamon. What I saw on the bottle the last time I ate at Memphis Bar BQ the ingredients on the label said other spices. In the past we she has encountered this and cinnamon was in fact one of the “other spices”. So I was just checking before I have to rush her to the hospital. Thank you

  3. I am still very new at BBQ. I live in Southern Arizona, and enjoy trying new things. I recently received a Traeger Pellet Grill and your book from my son for Mothers day. I have made a couple of your rubs……outstanding, and now consider myself a real Smoker…. For my pork and chicken,I use a brine overnight, mustard and your rub…..OMG, it is the best…..Also made the Mother BBQ sauce, and folks cannot believe I made it….( not telling them its yours, yet) . Just want to say thank you, that I am really enjoying this new avenue, and hope I can come and meet you sometime….to try your stuff!!! Thanks again…

  4. I am watching you as we speak on Kingsford Pitmaster competition,with Big Moe,Just saying Hi from Texas.

  5. Melissa I love watching you I just got done watching you in BBQ pitmaster I want to try your rub it looks so good.wished you could make a trip to the ms gulf Coast I would love to try your ribs and pork butt.

    1. Thank you! I’m not on the gulf coast though, We’re right below Memphis in North Mississippi (Horn Lake and Southaven MS) and I also have restaurants in Georgia and North Carolina.


  7. Great Rub recipe! It works well on anything I cook. My friends think I have BBQ from your restaurant when I use it, even though they know its my cooking. My wife and I are big fans of yours and your rub is my favorite for anything & everything I smoke. Keep Smoking up some of the best BBQ in the greater Memphis area. if your ever in Memphis take a drive to North Mississippi to Memphis Barbecue Company. You will not be disappointed and your taste buds will thank you.

  8. Just tried your recipe. I covered the shoulder and am about to throw it in the smoker. I’m looking forward to the results. I live in Pennsylvania and I run out of my Corkys rub.

  9. Hey Mellisa, if I want to make a lot of this rub, what do I do, just double the amounts ?

  10. Melissa – thank you very much for including this recipe in your first cookbook as well as on the website. It’s my go-to rub recipe for just about everything that goes into the pit. Made some extra and gave it to team members at work for Christmas presents; something tells me as appreciative as they were today … they’ll be ten-times as happy once they use it, themselves. Thanks, again!

  11. Melissa I found this recipe while i was searching Pitboss Smokers. Smoked 3 slabs of baby back ribs in my copper top 5 smoker that is my Christmas present this year , this past weekend . My sister n law said ” sorry honey but this are better then yours” lol. Thanks for such a great recipe my wife said she loved them too, even though they came from a smoker. May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

  12. Regarding the chili powder…regular such as spice island or ancho. And for the paprika, smoked aor sweet hungarian. Thanks.

    1. For chili powder, ancho is a better “regular” chili powder that you would get at the grocery. I use it all the time as my base. Regular paprika is what I write recipes with, as most people have that but don’t have Hungarian. For my own cooking at the house, I buy imported Hungarian paprika- so much flavor.

  13. Man thank you Ms Cookston. It has been an amazing journey the last few years trying to get better everyday with my bbq. These basic rubs have helped me hone the craft and have helped me branch out to tweak the recipes I’ve come across to make them my own. It’s awesome when you come across the greats like you who are willing to throw little nuggets out there like this recipe

  14. The rub is awesome on pork. I plan on using your base rub and trying it many different ways.

  15. My team from Cedar Creek HS just used your technique for ribs and took 5th place in the Texas High School State BBQ Championship. Thank you for making the trip and sharing your knowledge, stories and jokes.

  16. Hi mellissa is the Memphis rub a substitute for the liquid barbaque sauce. What I mean is do I just rub the seasoning all over my chicken and cook it that way or do I need to add other ingredients I no I can but do I have to? Thank I Susan

    1. Rub is an initial seasoning for the most part, and can be also used as a late flavoring. Barbecue sauce is optional, but you would only sauce very late in the cooking process or after cooking. You can rub your chicken with seasoning, and after cooking that may be flavor enough!

  17. Really enjoyed the rub. Well balanced and full of flavor. I told my daughter not to throw this can out. If she does, I can make it again. Thanks a bunch

  18. We always stopped in Horn Lake on our annual drives from NM to Atlanta. I super excited to see that there’s a store in metro Atlanta. One of things that I love are your pork rinds. Which of your rubs do you use to season the pork rinds?

  19. Hello Melissa,
    Can you share with me what type & brand of spice grinder you use? My husband uses a manual pepper mill to grind peppercorns for his rub and I like to make things a little easier on his hands by purchasing a good spice grinder. Any information would be helpful. Thank you. 😊

  20. I have actual dried ancho chilis. Is it possible to blend them up in the blender. If I don’t have them in powder form? Or maybe rehydrate them and make a wet run with the other spices?

    1. Yes, you can blend them. Remove the stems and seeds first, or you can grind with the seeds. I really prefer to rehydrate though and use as a paste component if you want to use them.

  21. Hello Melissa, do you still make Competition Rub or has it changed. When I have purchased your rub before I could get one that was called Competition Rub.

  22. Hi. Do you grind the turbinado sugar because of the granuale size? Also, ive read that turbinado is best when slow cooming meats because it doesnt burn like brown sugar does..

  23. 5 stars
    Everybody at home when I made smoked chicken with this rub I was the man. They said best chicken ever. Awesome flavor post oak and hickory wood. Flavor all the way to the bone. Melissa you are right on. You are the pitmaster. Thanks again.

  24. Hello Melissa, in your Sweet Memphis rub what type of chili pepper are you using or recommend? Thank you and enjoy your recipes.

  25. 5 stars
    Ive tried all sorts of different rub recipes, but this was by far one of my favorites

  26. Is this the same seasoning that used to be available at the for purchase at the restaurant? We were passing through a few years ago.and ate there. I absolutely loved the seasoning and bought some. I’d like to buy more but can’t find it. I’ll happily make my own if it’s the same!

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