Dry Rubs for Ribs: How Long Is Too Long?

Dry rub on ribs

Dry rubs are a popular way to make great-tasting ribs, but if you’ve never used a rub before or are new to smoking meat, you may not know how to best implement it into your smoking routine.

Keeping a dry rub on for the right amount of time can make your ribs tastier than ever, but leaving it on for too long can dry the meat and ruin it.  So, how long is too long?

You can leave dry rubs on ribs for up to twelve hours; However, any longer than twelve hours, and you risk pulling too much moisture out of your ribs causing them to turn out dry. Some people prefer to leave the rub on overnight, while many choose to prepare the ribs while the smoker is heating up.

In the rest of this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about using a dry rub on your ribs, including how long to keep it on before smoking. I’ll also discuss how much to use, if you should put it on both sides, if you can leave the rub on overnight, and more. 

Do You Put Rub On Ribs Before Smoking? 

Applying dry rub to ribs

You put rub on ribs before smoking because this enhances the meat’s natural flavor and infuses the ribs with intense flavor. The salts in the rub draw moisture out of the meat, which allows the rub spices to be absorbed. The rub also reacts with the smoke to create that tasty, carnalized bark.

I highly recommend using a dry rub on ribs before smoking because it’s an easy way to enhance flavor and create the best-tasting ribs possible. Dry rubs are also a great way to experiment with different flavors for your ribs because you can combine different ingredients to achieve different tastes. 

Do you like your ribs spicy? Do you like them sweet? Rib rubs allow you to customize the flavor profile of your ribs to how you like them!

rub on ribs

Most dry rubs contain the following: 

  • Brown sugar 
  • Paprika 
  • Chili powder 
  • Cayenne pepper 
  • Garlic powder 
  • Cumin
  • Salt 
  • Pepper

You can experiment with how much of each of these ingredients to include to change the flavor. For example, if you’re ready to bring the heat, you can try a dry rub with extra cayenne pepper. You can also try incorporating other ingredients, including: 

  • Ground mustard 
  • Cinnamon 
  • Grated orange peel 
  • Raw sugar

I highly recommend making your own dry rub, but you can also try purchasing one, such as this Honey Chipotle Killer Bee Rub from Kosmos on Amazon.com. This rub is a is one of my favorites as it combines the sweetness of honey with a slight kick chipotle. This rub is also great on pork butt, chicken and beef!

Putting the dry rub on before smoking allows the flavor to infuse into the meat as it smokes. The salt in the rubs also retain moisture making it an easy way to prevent your ribs from drying out! I have some easy rib rub recipes as well as some of my favorite pre made rubs you can try at the end of this article. Make sure to check them out!   

Kosmos dry rubs

How Long Should I Let Dry Rub Sit On Ribs? 

You should let dry rub sit on ribs for a minimum of 15 minutes to an hour; however, many people prefer to leave their dry rub on ribs overnight. This gives the salt in the rub enough time to draw moisture from the meat to absorb the other spices into the meat.

If you don’t have time to do longer, don’t panic! Even having the dry rub on for fifteen minutes (or even less if you’re in a hurry) contributes to an enhanced flavor. This blunder likely won’t be noticeable if you’re serving the ribs with sauce.

How Long Do You Dry Rub Your Ribs Poll.

How long do you dry rub ribs poll

I decided to run a poll to see what the smoking meat community thought. As you can tell from the poll above, most people prefer to leave their rib rub on overnight. That is followed up closely by 0-1 hours. A lot of people, like myself, prep the ribs as the smoker is heating up. I find that that is plenty of time for the rub to sit on your ribs.

It is very much split. The best advice I can give you, is to try them both out and see what you prefer. At the end of the day, they both work, it just comes down to personal preference.

Can You Leave Dry Rub On Too Long? 

Dry rubs should not be left on ribs for more than 12 hours. Dry rubs contain salt, which pulls moisture from the meat to the surface. Dry rub left on ribs for more than 12 hours can pull too much moisture from the ribs leaving them dry and possibly salty.  

Most dry rubs contain salt because salt helps infuse the meat with other flavors. The salt draws moisture out of the meat to the surface. That moisture then absorbs the other ingredients in the rub that will later be infused back into the meat.

ribs in smoker

While salt is great for infusing flavor into our meat, we need to be careful how long we leave our rub on. After approximately twelve hours, the salt will have taken so much moisture from the ribs that they will become tough, and essentially cured. 

Smoked ribs are much better when they’re tender and falling off the bone, so you don’t want to make the mistake of leaving the dry rub on for longer than twelve hours. If you are experiencing dry and tough ribs and don’t know why, you can check out my article for possible answers here.  

Another reason you don’t want to leave the dry rub on ribs for longer than twelve hours is that, past that point, you’ll be tasting more of the spices than you will of the meat. The best dry rubs enhance the flavor; they don’t become the flavor. Ideally, your ribs will still taste like ribs after they’re cooked.

Can I Put Dry Rub On Ribs Overnight? 

You can put dry rub on ribs overnight to give the mixture enough time to draw out moisture and form a tangy, delicious glaze. Leaving the rub on overnight also helps save time on the day of cooking, as it eliminates one of the preparation steps. 

As long as you don’t leave the dry rub on for longer than twelve hours, you can rub your ribs whenever you like, including overnight. This method can help save you time and stress on the day of cooking, as you won’t have to worry about applying the dry rub or keep track of how long it has been on as you prepare the smoker. Many professional pitmasters apply the dry rub the night before for this reason. 

Membrane on ribs

To season your ribs overnight, follow these steps: 

  1. Remove the membrane from the ribs. 
  2. Dry the ribs with paper towels. 
  3. Apply an even coating of rub to the surface of both side of the rib.
  4. Put the ribs in your refrigerator uncovered. 
  5. Remove the ribs when you’re ready to smoke. 

What Do You Put On Ribs Before Dry Rub? 

Mustard is typically rubbed on the ribs prior to applying your dry rub. The mustard acts as a binder that helps the dry rub adhere to the ribs. Other common binders include olive oil, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. While not necessary, adding mustard will help retain more rub.

Don’t worry, the mustard or whatever binder you use will have little to or effect on the flavor of the meat. If you apply mustard to ribs, they will not come out tasting like mustard. It is simply there to hold the rub in place.

You can find out more about meat binders in my recent article here. But again, you do not need to add a binder to your ribs. Once the salt starts to pull moisture from the ribs, it will help the rub stick to the meat.

How Much Rub To Put On Ribs? 

You should use one tablespoon (15 ml) of dry rub for every pound (453 grams) of meat. Therefore, if you have three pounds of ribs, you should use three tablespoons of the dry rub. 

One tablespoon per pound of meat is the general rule for smoking meat, whether ribs, steak, or poultry. However, depending on your taste preference, you can increase this to two tablespoons per pound. Remember that the more dry rub you use, the more your ribs will taste like the spices in the rub instead of pork. 

Rib spritz

I don’t recommend using less than one tablespoon per pound of meat because you won’t benefit from the extra flavor, and your ribs will likely taste bland and dry.

If you’re anything like me and don’t like to use measuring cups, simply make sure you have a nice even coating of rub on your ribs. I like to make sure my layer of rub is complete, meaning there is no meat showing, but not thick where rub is falling off.

Do You Rub Both Sides Of Ribs?

When applying rub to your ribs, you should rub both sides of the ribs. Covering both sides of the ribs helps to create the best flavor and ensures that every meat part is flavorful and tender.  

For the best results, you should rub the dry rub all over every part of your ribs, so the entire rack is coated. While there may not be meat on the back side of the ribs, applying rub to it will still help add flavor to the meat.

To do this, use your hands and massage the spices into the meat. Don’t just sprinkle the dry rub on top of one side of your ribs; this doesn’t allow the rub to truly work its magic. You want every bite to taste delicious, so make sure every part of the meat gets coated.  

Smoked ribs done

Easy Rib Rub Recipes To Try:

Sweet and Smoky Rib Rub

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons flaked sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)

This recipe can be found here:

Memphis Style Rib Rub

  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

Sweet Fire Rib Rub

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt

This rib rub recipe can be found here:

My Favorite Pre-Made Rubs

While it is fun to make your own ribs, sometimes it is just easier to buy a premade rib rub. There are so many great options on the market but here are some of my favorite rib rubs! You can find all of these on Amazon.



Rubbing your ribs with a dry rub two to eight hours before cooking is a great way to draw out the meat’s natural flavors and enhance them with the flavor of various spices. However, be careful not to apply the rub too far in advance, as this can dry out and toughen your ribs. 

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

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