Customizing Your Own BBQ Rub

What is a Rub?

A Rub is a spice and/or herb blend that’s used to coat meats prior to cooking. Rubs can be completely dry or can incorporate some liquids. This is called a wet rub or paste. Rubs are typically used in barbecue and grilling because they stick to the meat whether it’s on a gas grill or in a smoker. A common rub base is paprika and/or chili powder to add color and mild flavor.

Personally, I like to combine a generous amount of dry rub on the outside of the meat, with an injectable marinade to add flavor to the interior, especially with large cuts like pork shoulders.

Mixing Your Own Rub

Homemade dry rubs are cheap, simple to make, and usually taste better than store-bought varieties, plus they can be easily tailored to your personal tastes or dietary restrictions. Once you nail down the basics, you can create an endless variety of dry rubs.

A good dry rub should include five elements: A base, a salty element, a sweet element, a spicy element, and a signature element.

Base: I like smoked paprika for a solid rub base, but many folks use a hot or sweet paprika as well. You can customize your paprika base by adding chili powder or cumin.

Salty: This would be salt. Avoid iodized table salt in your rub (in fact, avoid that stuff in anything you plan to eat…) common options are Kosher or sea salt (coarse or medium), seasoned salt, Hickory or smoked salt, or for pastes and wet rubs, you can try soy sauce or Thai fish sauce for your salt element.

Sweet: Again, an almost endless list of options: white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup (wet), ginger, cinnamon, etc.

Spicy: Black, white, and red ground peppers, red pepper flake, or for serious spice, try a little (a little!) ghost pepper powder.

Signature: Finally, make it your own with a dash or two of something you like, spices like coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, mustard, rosemary, and thyme. Even garam masala or curry power, anything goes!

Make it a cup at a time, and tweak your recipe until it’s perfect!

Here’s my rub recipe (from our cookbook, “MEAT FIRE GOOD”):

BBQ Pork Shoulder Rub
“Burnin’ Love BBQ” is the name of the BBQ Team that my fellow pit-masters, Chris Renner, Terry Ramsey, and I operate. (Really, it’s just an excuse to stand around in smoke and cook a lot of pigs and briskets… just don’t tell our wives, okay?)
This is our secret pork shoulder rub.
  • ¼ C smoked paprika
  • ¼ C coarse sea salt
  • ¼ C light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs garlic powder
  • 2 Tbs onion powder
  • 2 Tbs Italian seasonings (spicy, if you can find them)
  • 2 Tbs coarse black pepper
  • 1 Tbs hickory salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder
  1. Apply the rub generously to the inside of a butterflied pork shoulder, roll it, tie it, and apply more rub to the outside. You MUST allow the rubbed shoulder to rest in the fridge at least overnight so that the rub will help form that wonderful “bark” while roasting.
  2. Finally, after it’s done cooking and you’ve pulled, chopped, or shredded the meat, give it one last sprinkle for an intense, spicy flavor.

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Smoked BBQ in La Caja China with the A-Maze-N Smoker

Using the A-Maze-N smoker with your La Caja China roasting box to create real, southern-style, smoked BBQ.

The Am-Maze-N Smoker and La Caja China

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Favorite Holiday Veggies on the Grill

Let’s face it, there’s no “wrong” time to fire up your gas or charcoal grill, and the holidays are certainly no exception.

Sure, the weather might be a little cooler, the days a little shorter, and some of you may have to shovel a path through the snow to your grill, but that’s a small price to pay for some smoky, seared treats to go with all of that turkey and pumpkin pie, right?


Okay, I’ll meet you halfway… here are two of my favorite holiday side dishes that require minimum time outdoors, while still bringing tons of great grill flavor to the party!

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Caramel Adobo Sauce

  • 2 lbs. medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for oiling the grill


  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. butter, softened
  • 1 c. light packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. (to taste) chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 2 tbsp. water

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Caramel Adobo SauceBring the sweet potatoes to a boil in a large pot of heavily salted water. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until a toothpick can easily be inserted into each potato, about 25 minutes.

Drain the sweet potatoes and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and arrange in a single layer. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients (only use the sauce from the chipotles, not the peppers themselves) in a small pot and bring to a slow simmer, stirring constantly.

Cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

Once the sweet potatoes are cool, pre-heat your grill to medium high (375°F) and oil the grates.

Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise. Cut the halves lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick wedges and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Place the sweet potato wedges on the grill in a single layer, cover, and cook until grill marks appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the wedges to the other cut side, and repeat.

Transfer grilled sweet potato wedges to a platter, and drizzle with Caramel Adobo Sauce.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

Grilled Cranberry Balsamic Brussel Sprouts

Balsamic Cranberry Brussels Sprouts

I tested this recipes on some friends recently, one of whom informed me that while she despised Brussels sprouts, she would “try one” for me. She made a point of telling me, after dinner, that she had gone back for seconds. If you know folks who’ve never met a Brussels spout they loved… this is a good one to introduce them to!

  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts*
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper
  • 15 oz. jellied cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 4 skewers, soaked
* For even cooking, try to pick Brussels sprouts of a uniform in size and shape

Grilled Balsamic Brussel Sprouts

Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to simmer in a stock pot. Cut off the stem end of the Brussels sprouts and remove any off-color outer leaves.

Add the Brussels sprouts to the chicken stock, return to a simmer (if necessary, add water until sprouts are just covered), and cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are still firm, but you can poke a skewer through them.

Drain and allow the sprouts to cool until you can handle them. Skewer 6 to 8 sprouts onto each skewer, and brush with reduction sauce.

Place the skewers onto the grill over medium heat. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the skewers over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Serve as is or for an extra punch of flavor, remove the sprouts from the skewers, plate, and drizzle with remaining reduction sauce.

Serves 4

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Tips for Buying a Grill as a Gift


Christmas is coming… and nothing looks better under the tree than a shiny new grill (or so I keep telling my wife!)

If you’re planning on being the Grill Santa for some lucky guy or gal on your list, good for you… but put the breaks on that sleigh until you’ve asked yourself a few very important questions, and become a pro on how to buy a grill for your giftee.

Much like buying someone a puppy, the most important thing you can do is to make sure they WANT a new grill. Some folks become very attached to their grills and, beauty being in the eye of the beer-holder, aren’t interested in trading up.

However, even if your gift is going to be their first grill, or they’ve been dropping heavy hints in the “outdoor living” department, you still want to make sure Santa gets them the gift that keeps on giving.

What you need to know:

1. How much room do they have, and where?

Make sure there’s enough space to safely position a new small or large grill where they want it, and know how much square footage you have to work with (take a tape measure to the store with you).

Remember to figure in a couple of feet of “safety zone” all the way around the grill. Burnt siding takes all the fun out of the holiday season.

2. Are there any restrictions to grilling on their property?

Many apartments and condos don’t allow charcoal or even gas, and some parts of the country have “no fire” rules in effect for the better part of every summer. That will definitely rule out charcoal, and sometimes gas grills, as well.

3. How many are they cooking for?

Ever try to grill chicken for a family of six on a travel Hibachi? It’s not fun (trust me). A good rule of thumb is to allow 72 square inches of total grill area per person, or about the size of a dinner plate.

An average family of four in going to need at least 288 square inches, typically 3-4 burners, or a larger 2-burner.

4. What do they like to grill?

Different foods require different grill features. If they’re cooking steaks, they’ll need more BTU’s than if it’s pretty much a burgers and dogs menu. Briskets and pork shoulders require a lot more room than chicken breasts. This is a question that a knowledgeable salesperson should ask you, and it’s important, so do a little research. There are lots of options on modern grills, from off-set burners, to rotisseries, to the materials of the grill racks.

Also, don’t fall for the “you can’t smoke on a gas grill” nonsense, that’s old (and outdated) news. Attachable smokers and pellet boxes abound, so the smoke or no smoke issue doesn’t need to be a deciding factor anymore. These ones, the A-MAZE-N line of products, happens to be my favorites…

5. What’s your budget?

Let’s face it… you can spend BIG bucks on a new grill (and that’s okay… if it’s what meets your needs), but having a max number in mind when you start shopping can help narrow the options quickly and save you a lot of wasted time and effort. Also, unless you’re picking it up yourself, figure shipping and delivery cost into your budget. If money really is no object, and you just like to buy your friends and family the very best, please leave a message below so we can get to know each other better…

In a nutshell, unless you’re sharing a sock-drawer with the giftee, you’re either going to have to ask them these questions straight-up, or, if it really has to be a surprise, enlist the help of an insider to really get a feel for what grill is best for them. Buying from a knowledgeable retailer is equally important.

In the end, it’s not about the most (or least) expensive grill, or most (or least) bells and whistles. In the end, it’s about giving someone the gift of grilling, because grilling… is love. :)

…and at least you didn’t buy them a puppy.

Chef Perry

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Thank you, Veterans!


To all who have served, and their families…we thank you!

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Are you a subscriber?

New Burnin' Love BBQ Site

Hey all, just a heads up…we’re comin’ up on 8 years of the Burnin’ Love BBQ blog, and we’ve had a wonderful time q’ing and grilling with ya’all!

This week we migrated the blog to a self-hosted platform and, unfortunately, the techs managed to permanently delete our entire subscriber list (that horrible sound you heard around midnight was me shrieking at my monitor…)

SO…as I know that a LOT of  you were subscribers, I’m posting to ask you to please go to the “Get some Burnin’ Love via Email!” subscription box in the right-hand column, and enter your current email to subscribe again.

If you’re already subscribed, nothing will happen…so don’t worry about getting double posts. :)

We have some great grilling videos and recipes in the works, don’t miss ’em!

Chef Perry

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IFBCgiveawayHey peeps…

12 of my favorite awesome bloggers (and I) have all teamed up to share some of our sweet swag from The International Food Blogger’s Conference that we all attended in Seattle a couple of week’s back.

Today I’ll be giving away my LAST box of Krusteaz Italian flatbread mix (plus a few more cool foodie toys and items I’ll throw in with it…yes, that’s a salmon-shaped dark chocolate bar…)

Go visit our other page, SimplySmartDinnerPlans for the details and to enter!

IFBC Flash Givaway

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La Caja China = Lots of smiles!

Whole roast pig

La Caja China rocked it at last month’s Sparks of Hope camps!

Sparks of Hope Boys CampAs part of our MY KITCHEN Program, we taught cooking classes during the days, and then did a pig roast feast each Saturday night. “Knights of the Round Table” for the boys (no utensils, lol), and “Island Luau” for the girls.

For these young survivors of horrific abuse, anything that brings a smile to their faces is a major victory, and there were LOTS of smiles at the feast!

Thank you Roberto and La Caja China for being a faithful supporter of our work with these kids, and for helping us bring a smile to their faces.

And, of course, the pigs were awesome!

Chef Perry
Burnin’ Love BBQ

Carving a whole roast pig


Filed under In The Box

Cooking small amounts in a big La Caja China

barbecue (308x400)Our SimplySmartDinnerPlans friend (and La Caja China brutha), Clem, asks…

“Chef Perry. I am going to try a pork butt on my #2 la caja china this weekend for my fantasy football group. Can you advise me on the amount of charcoal to initially use for a single roast in this unit?

The la caja china recommended 18#’s seems like a lot. The tip you offered on your whole pig la caja china made sense to primarily cover the ham and shoulder areas with coals, so I thought the same for a pork butt.

BTW I am going to roast a whole pig for the first time soon and your terrific video has given me a big confidence boost. Thanks so much! – Clem”


Clem, you’re certainly welcome!

I wish I had a better answer for you on roasting a pork butt in a model #2, unfortunately, I’ve never tried that.

Here’s the challenge: you’re going to have so much extra empty space that will have to maintain cooking temperature, that while you may need less coals to get it to temp at first, in the long run you’re going to need MORE coals to keep all that empty air hot. A whole pig, or several shoulders/butts, take up a lot of mass, and once they start to warm up, they help keep the ambient temperature up.

Without that mass, it’s going to be a constant fight.

Here’s my completely unauthorized, and untested, possible solution This is what “I” would try: I would go with your idea of a selective fire, ie: build your coals up at one end of the box, and then build some kind of barrier INSIDE the box….maybe fire-brick, or foil wrapped pans (to reflect the heat). THEN heat a big pot of water to a simmer, foil the top (to minimize steam escaping), and place it in the OTHER side of the box. This should minimize heat loss.

La Caja China #3

La Caja China Model #3

Now you’ve created a (somewhat less efficient) Model #3 “Cajita”. See instructions for roasting a shoulder in a Model #3, here.

Basically, you start with 5lbs of charcoal and add 4lbs every hour until you reach your desire temp. I would add 25% to each of those numbers to make up for our fix, and do everything you can to minimize heat loss. I have some tips in my free e-book, La Caja China Guidebook that should help. If you haven’t been to our BBQ page (at that link), we have TONS of La Caja China stuff there.

Again, this isn’t something that your model #2 is designed to do, so it comes with all of the standard “McGyvver” warnings and disclaimers, lol.

That said, if you DO try it, and it DOES work…please take lots of pictures so I can add them to this post! :)

Let us know how it goes!

-Chef Perry
Burnin’ Love BBQ

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Common Grilling Problems

Grilling tips

Our friend Joanne asks:

“I have trouble cooking anything on the grill. I either burn it or it’s not done enough. I’m guessing a thermometer would help me too. Can you recommend a good one?”

Joann – They’re all pretty much the same, the important thing is to keep them calibrated. Anything from Cash & Carry, BB&B, or any “kitchen store” should be fine.  Here’s the one I use… (FYI – everything in our Amazon store is an item that one of us (Terry, Chris, and I) have tested or use regularly).

With grilling it’s usually one, or a combination, of four problems…

1. Too high of heat for the food. A lot of time we crank it up and either the outside burns before the inside cooks, or the inside is raw when the outside looks perfect.

Always keep an “indirect heat” area on your grill, with one burner on med-low (or with just a few coals) and if the internal temp of the meat isn’t high enough and you’re concerned about burning, move the food to that area and tent loosely in foil until the temp comes up to your desired doneness.

2. Not enough “babying”. Unlike food cooked on the stove-top, which often needs to be “left alone”, food on grills are at the mercy of flare-ups and temp spikes. You have to be constantly monitoring your food. Is there too much flame under the food? (move it or use a spray bottle of hot water). Is one area of the grill cooking faster? (rotate the food between all areas of the grill). This is referred to in grilling lingo as “multi-zone cooking“.

3. Was the food prepped correctly? Food that is still chilled in the center (especially with bones) is going to cook unevenly, and this is especially true on the grill.

Some folks don’t like to hear this in our sterilized, bacteria-phobic society, but most meats need to be removed from the refrigerator and allowed to rest at room temp at least 30 minutes (and up to an hour, depending on thickness) if you want them to grill evenly. A chilled chicken leg is basically a hunk of meat wrapped around a ice-cold spike.

The outside layers WILL burn before the bone warms enough to allowed the meat touching it to even start cooking.

4. Saucing too soon. Most sauces are heavy in sugar, either natural or added. Sugar burns at high temps.

Food should basically be cooked through, the grill temp lowered, the food sauced (I like the dunking method over the brushing method) and then the food returned to the grill, turning often and redunking as needed, until the sauce had glazed. This is another good place to alternate between multiple zones.

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Filed under On The Grill, Technique