Rubs: The 4-S model

This model is based on Chris Lilly’s book, “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book” (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York) and his take on how to develop a rub for barbecue.  Lilly has four categories for ingredients for a rub:  Salts and Sugars, Pepper, Transition Spices, and Signature Flavors.  As you experiment and want to branch out to more sophisticated rubs, get his book and read more about this philosophy.  I have simplified his approach to make it the “4-S” model and limited the number of ingredients in each category to make it easier to use for the beginning barbecuer. 


  • Salt – fine grained with iodine (regular table salt) and without iodine (canning salt).
  • Kosher salt – course grained and very pure.
  • Sea salt – from evaporated seawater.  May be either fine or coarse grained.
  • Seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt) – regular salt combined with flavoring ingredients such as garlic salt, onion salt, and celery salt.


  • White sugar – highly refined cane or beet sugar (granulated) and will scorch at high temperatures.
  • Brown sugar – white sugar combined with molasses.  Comes in either light or dark brown sugar.


  • Black pepper – universal spice that may be finely or coarsely ground or cracked.
  • Ground chile powder – This is not “chili” powder but is made from dried chiles such as chipotle.
  • Cayenne pepper – also called ground red pepper made from a variety of dried chiles.  Can be very hot.
  • White pepper – lighter in color and milder in flavor.
  • Chili powder – this is a seasoning mixture of dried chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and gloves.
  • Paprika – flavor ranges from mild to pungent and hot.  Hungarian has a deeper, heartier flavor and Spanish paprika has a milder flavor.


  • Onion powder – versatile but pungent flavor and odor.
  • Garlic powder – staple flavor.
  • Cumin – aromatic with nutty flavor
  • Mustard powder – strong pungent flavor.
  • Oregano – strong pungent flavor and odor
  • Rosemary – lemon/pine flavor and highly aromatic
  • Sage – slightly bitter with a musty mint flavor.
  • Thyme – slightly pungent with a mint/lemon flavor and aroma.
  • Basil – pungent, licorice/clove flavor.

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