Should I Dry Rub Ribs Overnight?


Food is where I find solace when I’m down. So, on nights when I am alone, I make sure not to feel lonely by making myself happy with great BBQ and grilled ribs. I take these sticky, yummy delights to bed and devour them while I Netflix. I love cooking pork ribs in different styles, and I’ve always wondered: should I dry rub ribs overnight? I’ve done a fair share of experiments, and here’s everything I learned.


What Is Dry Rub?

Let’s start with the basics. A dry rub is a mix of spices and herbs with seasonings. You need to rub it on your meat before cooking to add delicious flavors, along with a lovely texture. Food Network show host and best-selling food writer Sunny Anderson said in an interview that she has a simple 1-2-3 formula for her mix wherein she puts chili powder, paprika, and cumin in the 1:2:3 ratio, with salt and pepper.

I’m sure that’s what makes her BBQ ribs finger-lickin’ good. Now, I don’t follow such a simple formula. I have a recipe that I’ll share with you today. I store it in my pantry in small batches to cook some juicy ribs later. But, on days I run out of my spice mix, I just wing it. As long as there’s sugar in the mix, and it’s properly seasoned, you’ll always end up with a beautifully balanced, caramelized rack.    

How Do You Season Ribs?

Barbequing is a slow cooking process on low, indirect heat. So, a wet rub can do wonders for your thicker meats. Grilling, on the other hand, needs direct, high heat. When it comes to ribs, I always prefer dry rub. It can work like magic, creating a unique bark with a delicious texture. Plus, it’s full of flavors. Here’s a tip for you: always add salt to your dry rub. It dries the top of the meat and locks the moisture within!

To follow Sunny Anderson’s advice, you can prepare a luscious BBQ sauce that you can add to the ribs at the end. That is if you don’t put sugar in your spice mix. But I always like to add sugar in the dry rub itself. The way it caramelizes and becomes sticky during the process of grilling and barbecuing will give you ribs that can only be described as ‘heavenly’. Just imagine eating those in bed like me. ‘Food-gasmic’!

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How Long To Let Rub Sit On Ribs?

You can leave your dry rub on pork for any duration between 15 minutes and 12 hours and get varying results. I’ve seen many people add the rub right before they smoke the ribs, while others swear by the process of leaving the ribs with the dry rub on for the entire night.

a) Adding Dry Rub Before Cooking

When you add the dry rub before cooking, you won’t be giving the spices much time to stick to the meat, nor will the salt get the time to lock the moisture. In this case, the bark will be drier, and the flavors in the bark will be subtle, while the rib will taste more robust and natural.

This method of cooking ribs will work best with a spicy rub, and if you have a sauce to add to it. You can rub the spice mix and leave it for 15 minutes to 2 hours. The less time you leave the rub on the ribs, the less sticky the outer coating will be. The sauce, however, will stick better.

b) Leaving Dry Rubs Overnight on Pork Ribs

Suppose you’re not planning on using the dry rubs on your ribs in conjunction with a sweet sauce. What do you do then? I can also imagine why you wouldn’t like to spend too much time prepping and cooking the ribs from scratch on the morning of the BBQ when you have friends over.

So, how far in advance should you put rub on ribs? If you are not going to cook with sauce and want to spend less time prepping the ribs before barbecuing, then it’s best to put the rub on the ribs and leave them overnight. But remember not to leave it on for more than 8-12 hours, to prevent drying. 

Now, how do you store ribs overnight with the dry rub on? One mistake that many people make is to wrap the meat with cling film. But it only creates moisture and defeats the purpose of a dry rub. You can keep it uncovered in the refrigerator. I like to put it on a rack and stick it in a cool and dry place.

BBQ Ribs Dry Rub Overnight Recipe

Now that you know how long to let rub sit on ribs, it’s time for the next big question: what do you season ribs with? As promised earlier, I have a recipe for an overnight rub for ribs. It will give you a perfect balance of sweet, salty, spicy, and aromatic. It will also give the ribs a distinct texture and stickiness on the outside – with moreish juiciness inside! Check it out.

Dry Rub Ingredients:

  • Brown sugar: 2 tbsp
  • Chili powder: 1 ½ tbsp
  • Paprika: 1 tbsp
  • Salt: ½ tbsp
  • Pepper: ½ tbsp
  • Garlic powder: ½ tbsp
  • Onion powder: ½ tbsp
  • Mustard (dry ground): ½ tsp
  • Cumin: ½ tsp
  • Cayenne pepper: ¼ tsp

Instructions: Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them together with a fork. Your dry rub is ready to be used on pork ribs for BBQ.

Simple, right? You can either put it in an air-tight container and store it in the dry part of the pantry. Or, you can use it immediately. The amount of dry rub you will make by following this recipe will be enough for a 3 ½-pound rack of ribs. All you have to do is cover the slab of meat in the spices and leave it overnight before cooking it for about an hour or so in the oven or on the grill.

In Conclusion

So, should I dry rub ribs overnight before I cook ribs or put the spice mix on, right before sticking it in the smoker? You can go either way, and the results will be different but good. After trying both, I would like to recommend that you dry rub ribs overnight. I love how the juicy meat soaks up the flavors, and the ribs get a sticky crust on the outside.

I’m yet to dry rub pork ribs multiple times before cooking. Have you done it? Let me know how it went!


Tyler Lachance is a cookout professional. His expertise on cooking grilled food, creating marinades, formulating sauces and matching his food with the perfect drink is unrivaled.

Born and raised in a family that has a long history of cookout, he has treated this activity as a part of his culture and who he is.