Getting rub to stick to chicken can be tricky, but with a few simple tips and techniques, you can ensure your flavorful rub adheres properly and infuses the chicken with maximum flavor. Here are some of the top methods for getting rub to stick to chicken.
Use a Binding Agent
One of the best ways to get rub to stick to chicken is to use a binding agent in the rub. The binding agent acts as a “glue” to help the rub adhere properly. Some good binding agent options include:
- Oil – Adding a small amount of oil, such as olive oil, vegetable oil, or coconut oil helps the rub stick. The oil slightly moistens the rub and allows it to bind to the chicken.
- Egg – Using egg whites or whole eggs as a binder is a common technique. Just lightly beat an egg and brush it on the chicken before applying the rub.
- Yogurt – Plain yogurt makes an effective binding agent. The yogurt helps the rub stick and also keeps the chicken moist.
- Mayonnaise – Similarly to yogurt, mayonnaise can help a rub adhere thanks to its moisture and fat content.
- Honey – Honey is sticky so it grabs onto dry rub components and binds them to the chicken.
- Maple syrup – Maple syrup contains natural sugars that make it slightly sticky, helping rub cling to chicken.
When using a binding agent, avoid adding too much or the rub can become gummy. A light coating is all you need. Also pat off any excess marinade or the rub won’t stick as well.
Moisten the Chicken Slightly
Another way to help rub adhere to chicken is to lightly moisten the surface first. You can mist the chicken with water or brush over a little olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, wine, or other wet ingredient. Moistening the surface slightly allows the rub to grab on and stick properly.
Be careful not to over-wet the chicken or the rub will slide right off. Just a light misting or brushing is plenty to help the rub cling.
Use Meat Tenderizer
Meat tenderizer can help rub stick to chicken thanks to an enzyme it contains called papain. Papain gently breaks down the proteins on the surface of the chicken, creating a slightly tacky texture that helps the rub bind.
To use meat tenderizer, dissolve 1 teaspoon of powdered meat tenderizer in 2 tablespoons of water. Lightly brush this mixture over the chicken before applying your rub.
Let Sit Before Cooking
After applying a dry rub to chicken, letting it sit for 10-20 minutes before cooking allows time for the rub to fully adhere. As the chicken rests, the rub will begin to cling to the moist surface and you’ll get better coverage.
You can let the rubbed chicken sit in the fridge up to a few hours before cooking. Just don’t leave it too long or the salt and acidic components in the rub can start to break down the chicken.
Pat in the Rub
Rather than just sprinkling on your rub, firmly patting it onto the chicken helps press it into the nooks and crannies. Really work the rub into the skin and meat for maximum adherence.
You can use your fingers to pat on the rub. Or place the rub into a sealable plastic bag, seal the bag while removing excess air, and use the bag to press the rub into the chicken.
Use a Sticky Base Rub
Some dry rub ingredients are stickier than others. Using rubs with a sticky base will naturally help the rub adhere better to the chicken. Some good sticky rub base options include:
- Brown sugar
- Maple syrup
- Soy sauce
Mixing one of these sticky ingredients into your rub will help everything cling to the chicken. Aim for about 1-2 tablespoons of sticky ingredient per 1 cup of rub.
Cook Immediately After Rubbing
To prevent a rub from falling off chicken, it’s best to cook the chicken soon after applying the rub. If the rubbed chicken sits too long in the fridge, the rub can lose its adhesion. The moisture and oils will soak into the chicken, leaving the rub dried out.
For best results, rub your chicken and then immediately start cooking. Put it on the grill, smoker, or baking sheet right after rubbing to ensure the flavors stay put.
Apply a “Base Layer” First
Try this clever trick for perfectly adhered rub – first coat the chicken with a sticky, oily base layer before applying the dry rub.
Good base layer options include olive oil, melted butter, honey, or maple syrup. Lightly brush the chicken with one of these ingredients, then pat on your dry rub. The rub will adhere much better to the tacky base layer.
Use Texture to Your Advantage
Rubs stick particularly well to chicken skin because of the skin’s texture. Make sure to really work dry rub into the skin, pressing it firmly into all the nooks and crannies for maximum adherence.
The meatier parts of chicken also provide texture for rubs to cling to. Pat rub generously over the thighs, drumsticks, breasts, and wings for full coverage.
Try a Wet Rub
If a dry rub just isn’t sticking to your chicken, you can make a wet rub instead. A wet rub has a paste-like texture that naturally adheres to chicken.
To make a wet rub, simply combine your favorite dry rub ingredients with a sticky binding agent like olive oil, honey, yogurt, etc. Apply the wet rub generously over the chicken just like you would a dry rub.
Use Crispy Chicken Skin as “Glue”
Here’s an advanced technique that uses the chicken skin itself to help the rub adhere – crisp up the chicken skin before applying the rub.
Bake or air fry the chicken skin until it’s super crispy and the fat has rendered out. Allow to cool slightly, then apply your rub over the crispy skin. The rub will cling tightly to the crispy nooks and crannies.
Finish cooking the chicken after the rub is applied to set the flavors and aroma.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best oil to help rub stick to chicken?
Olive oil and vegetable oil both work well. Avoid heavy, creamy oils like coconut oil or shortening – a light oil is best for a thin, binding layer.
How long should I let chicken sit after applying rub?
Let sit for at least 10-20 minutes, up to a few hours. Any longer in the fridge can cause the rub to dissolve or fall off.
What’s the best way to moisten chicken before adding rub?
Misting with water or brushing with a light coating of oil or vinegar works well. Avoid over-wetting the chicken.
What ingredients help make a rub sticky?
Brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, soy sauce, and ketchup can all help a rub adhere. Aim for 1-2 tablespoons per cup of rub.
Is it better to bake or grill chicken after adding rub?
Either cooking method is fine. Grilling adds a nice char while baking cooks the rub evenly into the meat. Use your preferred cooking method.
How do I get rub into slits in the chicken?
Use a small spoon or your fingers to press the rub into any openings or pockets for fullest flavor in every bite.
Should I pat off excess marinade before adding rub?
Yes, blot off excess moisture or the rub won’t stick as well. A damp surface is fine, but not dripping wet.
Tips for Applying Rub to Chicken
- Use a binding agent like oil, honey, or yogurt
- Mist or lightly brush chicken with water, vinegar, or oil first
- Let chicken rest 10-20 minutes after rubbing before cooking
- Pat rub firmly into the skin and meat
- Make a sticky base rub with honey, molasses, ketchup, etc.
- Cook chicken immediately after rubbing for best results
- Apply a flavorful base layer like olive oil before the rub
- Use chicken skin’s natural texture to rub’s advantage
- Make a wet rub if a dry rub won’t adhere
- Crisp up skin before rubbing for ultra adhesion
Common Rub Adherence Mistakes
Avoid these mistakes when applying rub to chicken:
- Using too much binding agent – A light coating is all you need
- Over-wetting the chicken – Mist lightly or the rub will slide off
- Letting rubbed chicken sit too long – Cook within a few hours for best results
- Using the wrong oils – Stick to light oils, avoid thick creamy oils
- Skipping the resting period – Letting the rub settle helps it adhere
- Neglecting the skin – Rub needs to stick to the skin for full flavor
- Being afraid of using your fingers – Hands help press rub into meat and skin
- Not pressing firmly enough – Really work the rub into the nooks and crannies
- Failing to re-apply – If some rub falls off, recoat those spots for even coverage
Cooking Rubbed Chicken
Here are some of the best cooking methods for chicken that’s already been coated with a dry rub:
Grilling is a popular cooking method for rubbed chicken. The dry heat helps set the rub, forming a flavorful crust on the outside of the meat. Just be sure to regulate the temperature – too hot and the rub can burn.
Baking chicken after applying rub allows the rub to cook evenly into the meat. Arrange rubbed chicken on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F until cooked through and browned.
For fast cooking and color, broil rubbed chicken 4-6 inches from the heating element for about 15 minutes per side. Keep an eye to avoid burning.
Air frying is a great way to cook smaller rubbed chicken pieces like wings, tenders, thighs and drumsticks. Air frying crisps the outside rub beautifully.
For super moist and tender chicken, rub it and then slow roast in a 250°F oven for a few hours until fully cooked. The low temp gently cooks the meat.
Smoking infuses chicken with delicious wood-fired flavor. Maintain a temperature under 300°F and smoke for 1-2 hours until done.
For chicken with rub cooked evenly all the way through, try sous vide. Cook 1-2 hours in vacuum-sealed bags immersed in 150°F water.
Here are some serving suggestions for chicken cooked with a dry rub:
- Slice or chop chicken and serve over a fresh salad
- Place chicken pieces in sandwiches or wraps
- Cube chicken for kabobs or skewers
- Shred chicken into grains bowls or tacos
- Pair with classic barbecue sides like coleslaw, beans, potatoes
- Serve drizzled with barbecue sauce, ranch or blue cheese dressing
- Top chicken with extra rub, salsa, guacamole or cheese before serving
Storing Leftover Rubbed Chicken
Here are some tips for storing leftover dry rub chicken:
- Allow chicken to cool completely before storing
- Place chicken in airtight containers or resealable plastic bags
- Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days
- You can also freeze rubbed chicken for 2-3 months
- Avoid moisture, which can dissolve remaining rub
- Use leftovers in composed meals like salads, sandwiches, wraps, etc.
With the right techniques, getting delicious dry rub to properly stick to chicken doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating. Binding agents, moistening the surface, letting the chicken rest, and firmly pressing the rub create the perfect adhesion and flavor. Just avoid common mistakes like over-wetting and letting rubbed chicken sit too long. If you follow these tips for applying rub to chicken and how to best cook and store the rubbed poultry afterwards, you’ll achieve finger lickin’ results every time.