Secret Weapon Brown Sugar Spice Rub

Brown sugar spice rub

Grilling has been a staple form of cooking in my house all my life, and a lot of different sauces, rubs, and marinades have been tried. This is a time-tested recipe that has impressed friends and family for years, but I never knew how good it was until this Mother’s Day weekend. The secret is brown sugar.

The whole family piled into my parents’ new house for Mother’s Day last weekend. Aimee and I took over the kitchen (its a good kitchen) and let the creativity flow. I was handed two giant packages of chicken wings and a big pile of corn on the cob to prepare. My mother demanded my spice rub, so I made it for one package of chicken wings. I used a smoked porter that my uncle brought to braise the other package of wings. I’d never tried braising something on a grill before. The beer chicken went first, and came out beautifully tender and smoky. Then I put the spice-rubbed chicken wings on the grill and closed the lid. I walked away- for too long.

When I came back, every piece of chicken was on fire!! I ran through the house screaming “the chicken’s on fire!” and hardly got a response. Finally, I dragged some family members out to save the day, and they did. But the chicken wasn’t lookin’ so good. Everyone kept euphemistically calling it “blackened chicken” and it got placed in the warmer drawer (told ya- good kitchen) to deal with after dinner. Maybe the skin could be removed and some of the meat could be saved for sandwiches tomorrow.

Dinner was great, and plenty filling without that other pile of chicken wings. The corn had been “blackened” at the same time as the wings, but the husks did an amazing job protecting it. The beer-braised chicken fulfilled us and we were all fat and happy by the end of it.

After dinner, the mom’s went back to the kitchen to deal with the black chicken. My mom decided to try one. There was an immediate look of surprise, and she started scarfing down that wing. Then my aunt tried one. Same thing. Though they were full and it was almost 11:00pm, they were happily chowing down on burnt chicken wings, announcing that these were much better than the other ones.

Almost everyone ate the burnt chicken for breakfast the next morning, agreeing that these were definitely better than the juicy tender smoky beer-braised ones from the night before. I was shocked, but I realized then that this spice rub was my secret weapon.

Rub anything you like with this. Its good on any kind of protein (burgers, steaks, fish, tofu), and most vegetables that I can think of as well (I wish I’d used it on the corn that night). Its portable and dry, and made for the grill or campfire, which means its made for camping. Just remember that sugar burns, so watch your meal carefully.

**If you have some leftover, you can definitely save it. Treat it like you treat your brown sugar (I heard putting a marshmallow in the container will keep it moist)

Brown sugar spice rub

Brown Sugar Spice Rub


~1/2 cup

Prep Time / Cook Time


Activity Guide

Backpacking, Bike Touring, Car Camping


  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 clove fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Measuring spoons
  • Airtight container (if saving any)


  1. Mix all spices together
  2. Use your hands to rub the mixture onto your meat, corn, or whatever you are eating it on.
  3. Cook on medium-high heat, watching carefully if grilling over a flame.

11 thoughts on “Secret Weapon Brown Sugar Spice Rub

  1. Sounds great. Luckily there is long weekend ahead so I hope I have time to try this one out. It surely sounds rub-a-licious.

  2. Just wanted to share that I used this to make a tofu chicken and basil stir fry while I was camping in Idyllwild last Friday and it was really delicious! I added a bit of red chili flakes to kick it up a notch and it really hit the spot 😀

  3. This is fantastic on a slow grilled beef brisket. The juices from the meat in combonation with the flavors of this rub, CRAZY GOOD!

  4. Last summer I bought an amazing steak rub at a little shop along the Oregon Coast. Now we’re out of it and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It definitely had a brown sugar/chili powder base and this recipe sounds like it might be very similar. Looking forward to trying it out. Thanks for posting it. 🙂

    1. Its always fun to find spice mixes that represent local flavors like that. Hopefully ours comes at least a little close to bringing back memories of your trip!

  5. Hello there just wondering. My in-laws have rental houses, one tenant got kicked out and decided to throw hot sauce all over the carpets in the entire house. Is this a total loss?? Help!.

  6. Do you think this rub would be good on my thanksgiving day turkey? Thinking of using the rub and a basket weave bacon to cover the breast as well.

    1. Yes, that sounds fabulous. Just be careful with the brown sugar in the rub, as it can burn or at least caramelize easily. Good luck! Let us know how it goes, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *