The New Smoke

The Rubs, Marinades, and Secret Ingredients Grilling Pros Swear By

We asked some of our favorite chefs and pitmasters about their go-to store-bought rubs, marinades, and sauces.

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Grilling season is around the corner! Time to bust out the charcoal, all the meat you can find, and get to cooking. Before you fire it up, though, you’ll want to carefully consider your seasonings, marinades, and barbecue sauces. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you spend hours making your own rub or hover over a stove prepping a sauce before you even get to the grill. Instead, we talked to some of our favorite chefs and pitmasters about their favorite rubs, marinades, and sauces that you can easily buy ahead of time. Because even champion pitmasters sometimes cheat a little (we won’t tell). 

These are chef-tested mixtures that will elevate your barbecue with no fuss. So read on to learn the secret shortcut rubs and marinades from pitmasters and chefs like Melissa Cookston, Jess Pryles, and David Jensen rely on.

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Lillie’s Q

“There are some great barbecue sauces available on the grocery store shelves, and my favorites are bottled right here in Illinois. Lillie’s Q, out of Chicago, has a whole line of sauces that are very good—their Gold mustard sauce is my favorite.” Amy Mills, Owner, 17th Street BBQ, Murphysboro, Illinois

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Meat Church BBQ

“For rubs and seasonings, I really like Meat Church BBQ. They have a great variety of options, so you’re sure to find something that fits what you’re cooking, or your personal taste. My favorite is their Holy Voodoo blend. They also have several variety packs.” - David Jensen, Executive Chef, Husk Barbeque, Greenville, South Carolina

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ABC Kecap Manis Sweet Soy Sauce and Huy Fong Sambal Oelek

“There is a combo of two store-bought condiments that, when mixed together, are a crazy delicious sauce or marinade for grilling. Growing up, my dad would always make chicken satay (he’s Indonesian) and he would marinate the chicken in ABC Sweet Soy Kecap Manis Sauce (soy cooked with palm sugar) and Huy Fong Sambal Oelek. The combo of the two has it all—sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and savory. When used as a marinade, the sweet soy helps whatever you are grilling get nicely browned and charred. As a sauce, I like it with grilled lamb or beef, it’s better with strong flavored meats.” -Rafiq Salim, Partner and Chef, Rolo’s, Queens, New York

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Red Clay Spicy Red Mash

“The depth of flavor in the Spicy Red Mash is amazing. It reminds me of a grilled fish I had in the countryside of Beijing. I really like it on trout, grilled and served with some fresh lime.” -Shuai Wang, Owner and Chef, Jackrabbit Filly, Charleston, South Carolina

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Maazah Chutney

“When it comes to grilling meats, there must be a perfect complement to the final product as it comes off the grill. Maazah Chutney is that complement. I grilled a NY strip steak to medium rare and sliced it thinly, then dipped it into the chutney, and wow, what a flavor bomb! The acidity from the chutney and the herbaceousness cuts through the fatty intense beef flavor to make this a perfect bit!” -Chef Yia Vang, Owner and Chef of Union Hmong Kitchen and Vinai, St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Hardcore Carnivore Black Seasoning

“I love using Hardcore Carnivore Black to create epic crusts on steaks and barbecue items. It is made with activated charcoal so it gives an incredible contrast where the meat is jet black on the outside and perfectly medium rare within. It’s also a great way to create killer bark on briskets.” -Jess Pryles, Chef, Television Host, and Author of Hardcore Carnivore

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Rib Candy Apple Cherry Habanero

“The Rib Candy Apple Cherry Habanero glaze is my secret weapon for pork ribs. It’s not too spicy (despite the name) and I slather it over racks of ribs for a mirror-like candy sweet finish at the end.” -Jess Pryles, Chef, Television Host, and Author of Hardcore Carnivore

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Lawry’s Honey Bourbon Marinade

“I enjoy marinating with Lawry’s Honey Bourbon. It’s a 15-minute marinade that will boost the right amount of flavor into your meat before grilling. I always think of bourbon and barbecue as a perfect combination, so why not grill with it and the honey is just the icing on the cake.” -Ebony Austin, Chef and Owner, Nouveau Bar & Grill, College Park, Georgia

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Melissa Cookston Sauces and Rubs

“The Classic Rub has a bit of sweet, some umami for the middle of your palate, and just a tickle of heat at the end to make this a great all-around seasoning blend. The Bold Rub blend has no sugar and is not spicy, but does have robust flavor. It works well as an accent rub to any of the other seasoning blends. The Sassy sauce is my take on a vinegar sauce. It’s so good, it won Best Sauce in the World at the Memphis in May World Barbecue Cooking Championship!” -Melissa Cookston, 7-time World Barbecue Champion, Owner and Pitmaster of Memphis Barbecue Co., Horn Lake, Mississippi

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Spiceology Black & Bleu

“If I'm in the mood for barbecuing (which is almost always), but don’t have the time or ingredients to put my own rub together, my go-to is Spiceology blends. They have a whole line of rubs and spice mixes, and all of them are delicious. My personal favorite is the Black & Bleu. It’s a combination of classic Cajun blackening spices spiked with bleu cheese powder. It is terrific on beef, chicken, and even fish. I also put it on my popcorn all the time!” -Brandon Cunningham, Executive Chef, The Green O, Greenough, Montana

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Mr. Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce

“I’ve been using and loving Mr. Yoshida Gourmet Sauce for years. It’s a very flavorful sauce I use as a marinade for steaks, chicken, pork chops, and even fish in the oven or on the grill. Sometimes I marinate the item for a few hours or it works nicely as a glaze during the last part of grilling.” -Chef Glenn Rolnick, Director of Culinary Operations, Virgil’s Real Barbecue, New York City

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Loisa Sazón and Adobo Seasoning

“Loisa has a special place in my heart, the Sazón and Adobo have quickly become my go-to rubs for grilling meat and fish. I love cutting thin slices of pork shoulder, slathering them in dijon and smashed garlic and giving them a generous coating of Sazón and Adobo (because they’re even better mixed). Or, roasting a beer can chicken on the grill crusted completely with Adobo. Or tossing big juicy shrimp with Sazón and finishing them with fish sauce and lime.” -Jake Lieber, Chef, Chez Ma Tante and Le Crocodile, Brooklyn, New York

Devorah Lev-Tov is a contributor for Thrillist.
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