Grilled poussin with lemon-garlic-chilli dipper

21 of the best barbecue rubs and marinades

by Great British Chefs 13 July 2018

If you want to take your barbecue to the next level, you’re going to need some top quality dry rubs and marinades. Read on for our favourite recipes and get ready to maximise your meats.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

If you feel like you’ve got the basics of barbecue down, and you’re looking to take your grill game to the next level, rubs and marinades are a great way to bring even more flavour to the table. Don’t get us wrong, sometimes all you need to get the best out of your meat is salt, pepper, glowing hot coals and a bit of smoke – but if you’re ready for something a little more experimental, you’ve come to the right place.

First though, a bit of science. Though rubs and marinades both add flavour to your meat, they do so in rather different ways. Marinades are generally designed to tenderize meat as well as adding flavour – they often contain some kind of acid that helps to break down the tougher proteins, and the longer you leave the meat marinating, the more tender it’ll become. Rubs meanwhile don’t tenderize in the same way, but they will add direct flavour to the outside of your meat, and they’ll create a delicious crust as you cook, adding texture and flavour to your final dish. That crust also hardens and helps to protect the meat inside, keeping it moist and juicy.

So, whether to rub or marinade? That’s up to you. Consider the meat you’re dealing with, what flavours you want to use and what you want the final product to look like. We’ve rounded up twenty-one of our favourite barbecue rubs and marinades for guidance – both in terms of flavour and method – to help you up your game before your guests arrive. Scroll down and take a look!

1. Beef onglet taco with spring onion crema, morita salsa and coriander

Nud Dudhia’s incredible steak marinade has a whole shopping list of ingredients, but the extra effort at the shops is more than worth it. He blends together a mix of salt, sugar, citrus, garlic, chillies, beer, onions and coriander, and leaves his steak to marinate for two days before searing it with butter or bone marrow on a raging hot barbecue. Served with a dollop of cool spring onion crema on the side, this is a real show-stopping recipe to impress your guests.

2. Chipotle and coffee barbecued short ribs

Helen Graves’ chipotle and coffee dry rub does magical things to a piece of beef. Over the course of twenty-four hours, the salt in the rub will draw out moisture from the beef, forming a sort of brine on the outside that the meat reabsorbs later on, allowing the deep, smoky flavours of the chilli, coffee and cumin to penetrate past the surface. Once you’ve marinated your beef, most of the work is done – finish the ribs in a barbecue or smoker at 105ºC for five to eight hours, and enjoy with your choice of sides.

3. Barbecued piri piri chicken

We’ve all been introduced by now to the spicy joys of piri piri, but Helen Graves’ recipe shows how easy it is to make your own piri piri chicken at home, and it beats shop-bought versions hands-down. Helen crushes salt with bay leaves, before blending with red and bird’s eye chillies, dried oregano, garlic, sweet smoked paprika and brown sugar. She then adds oil and red wine vinegar to make a wet rub, and marinades her chicken for a few hours before barbecuing.

4. Korean-style barbecued skirt steak with gochujang mayo

Korean hot pepper paste – known as gochujang – is an essential part of Korean cooking. Made from ‘gochugaru’ red pepper flakes, glutinous rice, fermented soy bean, barley malt and chilli, it adds incredible depth and sweetness to dishes, as well as a touch of peppery heat. Niamh Shields employs it in a simple Korean barbecue marinade, combining equal parts gochujang and soy sauce with anchovy sauce, rice vinegar and honey to make a punchy marinade for a piece of skirt steak.

5. Tahini-marinated chicken with tabbouleh and flatbreads

Louise Robinson takes inspiration from the Middle East for her creamy tahini marinade. She makes a paste out of garlic, paprika, tahini, cumin, lemon and olive oil, and slathers it over tender pieces of chicken breast for a minimum of an hour, before skewering and charring over a hot barbecue. Tahini is often very bitter on its own, so the lemon is important to bring balance and flavour to the marinade – the two combined are much more than the sum of their parts.

6. Espetinhos de frango – chilli and lime chicken skewers

Brazilian chef Marcello Tully shows how quick and easy a good barbecue recipe can be with his Espetinhos de Frango – literally translating as ‘small chicken skewers’. His Brazilian-style marinade of red chilli, lime, sugar, garlic and white wine vinegar only takes twenty minutes to penetrate the delicate chicken breast – any longer and the vinegar will start to overly break down the already-tender proteins – and after that he barbecues them on skewers. Simple and delicious.

7. Lime-marinated flank steak

Martin Wishart’s cooking is based on a foundation of classical technique, but he shows a more modern side here with an Asian-inspired marinade for his flank steak. Flank is a cut that typically would be braised, but it’s also fantastic if cooked fairly rare on a barbecue, with a similar texture to skirt or hanger. Martin marinates his flank in fish sauce, soy sauce, lime, garlic and chilli for twenty-four hours before patting it dry and flashing it over a hot barbecue until medium-rare.

8. Barbecue marinated chicken thighs

Selina Periampillai’s barbecue chicken recipe packs loads of extra flavour into the meat using a host of store cupboard ingredients that most of us will already have in our homes. Selina marinates her chicken in a base of onion, garlic and chilli and adds umami-rich ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup and balsamic vinegar, before baking in the oven and searing on a hot barbecue for a crunchy, charred finish. You can even brine your chicken beforehand for even more flavour and a firmer texture.

9. Jamestown grilled prawns

Zoe Adjonyoh’s recipe is a perfect example of enhancing a quality product with a simple marinade. When you have a kilogram of beautiful fresh prawns, the last thing you want to do is overpower them – Zoe’s Ghana-inspired marinade uses ginger, garlic, cayenne, thyme, lemon and coconut oil to subtly enhance the sweet prawns, and she marinades for just thirty minutes before grilling on a hot barbecue.

10. Barbecued miso poussin with lemon, garlic and chilli dip

The advantage of using sweet ingredients in marinades is that they develop incredible smoky caramel flavours when they hit the barbecue. Scott Hallsworth uses this den miso marinade for lots of his recipes, but it really comes into its own as a barbecue marinade for this poussin – the brown miso, sugar, mirin and sake all scorch and caramelise to create a punch of Japanese flavours. Plus, poussin shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes to cook, meaning you can really get them flying off the grill to happy guests once your barbecue is up and running.

11. Barbecued jerk lobster with coconut rice

Few of us would ever think to barbecue a lobster – crustaceans always seem destined for a stock pot full of boiling salted water – but Nathan Outlaw is, as ever, the man to open our eyes to new ways with fish and seafood. His jerk marinade isn’t authentic or simple, but it is delicious – he cuts his lobster in half and spoons the sauce in, leaving it to marinate whilst he lights the barbecue. From there, the lobster goes shell-down on the grill until cooked.

12. Ajwaini Macchi (Monkfish kebabs)

Monkfish is a delicious meaty fish that really suits barbecue cooking, but it’s easy to dry out if you’re not careful. Peter Joseph takes it on with not one, but two separate marinades, going in first with ginger, garlic, chilli, turmeric and lemon to give it colour and flavour, before hitting it with a second yogurt-based marinade that starts to tenderise the flesh, as well as adding another layer of spice. That yoghurt chars beautifully on the barbecue and protects the inside of the fish too, leaving you with a stunning smoky exterior and soft juicy innards.

13. Moo ping

Helen Graves' delicious moo ping recipe takes inspiration from the food markets of Bangkok, where thousands upon thousands of these pork skewers sit on small barbecues. The marinade is made up of typical Thai flavours like fish sauce, coconut milk, lemongrass and coriander stalks – try to leave your pork in the marinade as long as possible, as the coconut milk will tenderise the meat over time.

14. Chicken satay with peanut sauce

Sally Abé’s chicken satay marinade is simple but incredibly effective – she uses equal parts kecap manis and fish sauce to make the base for her marinade, and adds garlic into the mix too for extra punch, leaving the chicken to sit for thirty minutes before skewering and searing over hot embers. Meanwhile, half an hour is more than enough time to whip up her satay sauce, and still have a chat to your guests before you start cooking.

15. Barbecued lamb breast with malt vinegar sauce

Lamb isn’t nearly as popular on our barbecues as it could and should be, especially given how popular barbecued lamb is in other parts of the world. Lamb breast is a good place to start if you fancy giving it a try – it’s a cheap, delicious cut of lamb that requires a bit of care and attention, but gives fantastic results. Helen Graves uses a typical Deep South spice rub of salt, pepper, onion, garlic and mustard powder to give her lamb a deep smokiness, and then smokes it on a barbecue until tender.

16. Paneer tikka

Rubs and marinades aren’t all meat-related – Alfred Prasad’s paneer tikka is a delicious, vegetarian barbecue dish that anyone can enjoy. Alfred whisks a host of Indian flavours into yoghurt, and then uses that to marinate his paneer for thirty minutes. Ideally you would use a tandoor to cook this but a barbecue serves just as well, and the yoghurt forms a delicious crispy coating as it cooks, adding to the smoky flavour.

17. Pork souvlaki

It's almost impossible to visit Greece without delving into a delicious souvlaki, such is the prominence of this Greek fast food favourite. The simple marinade of cumin, paprika, oregano and garlic works wonders with the pork, and though that may seem like a lot of lemon juice, it's there for a reason – the acid helps to tenderise the meat before it hits the barbecue.

18. Suya

If you ever have the fortune to visit West Africa, you'll see suya everywhere. Largely speaking, suya refers to barbecued meats on skewers, but what makes it special is the use of yaji – a West African spice rub made up of paprika, black peppercorns, scotch bonnet powder, cumin, onion, ginger, cloves, peanuts and grains of Selim, also known as uda pods. Some of these ingredients might need a bit of searching out, but the results are completely unique and absolutely worth the effort.

19. Texas-style barbecued beef brisket

Barbecue is a way of life for many in the American Deep South, and in Texas, barbecue means one thing – brisket. Texans eat brisket like no one else, smoking huge packer cuts for hours until the meat is juicy and tender, with a strong waft of wood smoke and a beautiful scarlet smoke ring around the outside. In terms of a dry rub, simplicity is key here – a true Texas brisket is rubbed in just salt and black pepper, letting the flavour of the meat and smoke shine through.

20. Char siu pork

The sweet and savoury balance of char siu is incredibly moreish – it's no wonder that this is one of the world's most popular comfort foods. Helen Graves makes her own char siu marinade – far superior to anything you'll find in a jar – and uses it to slather a piece of pork shoulder as it slowly roasts in an oven or over a barbecue. Serve with a simple bowl of white rice and some steamed Chinese greens like pak choi or choi sum.

21. Barbecued Meantime Pilsner-marinated free-range pork belly with English asparagus salad

Beer can be a tricky one when you’re marinating – some hoppy varieties can add a lot of bitterness to your final dish, so take care when choosing. Adam Gray goes for a pilsner in his barbecued pork belly recipe and throws in peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic, leaving to marinate for eight to ten hours before roasting in a low oven. The pork goes back in the fridge afterwards to be pressed, so you can have this prepared well ahead of time and then finish individual slices on the barbecue later.