Memphis Style Barbecue Dry-Rubbed Chicken

This Memphis-Style Barbecue Dry Rub keeps the chicken extremely moist, tender and delicious. We added a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little zest.

A close-up photo of a plate of Memphis-style dry-rubbed chicken

I love the smoky scent of a backyard BBQ. This weekend was the unofficial start of summer and for us, that meant just one thing – grilling! During the summer months, we spend a lot of time in our backyard grilling and spending time with our family. When we found this dry rub recipe from Cook’s Country Magazine (February/March 2010: Issue #31, page 22), that claims to keep the chicken extremely moist, tender and delicious we knew we had to give it a try — with a few modifications.

a plate of Memphis-style dry-rubbed chicken with ears of yellow corn.

What is Memphis Dry Rub?

In Memphis-style barbecue, the barbecue dry rub is the star of the show! Typically a wet sauce does not accompany the barbecue. The base of the dry rub starts with paprika and builds into a slightly spicy flavor profile. In this recipe, even with the addition of the cayenne pepper, it wasn’t very spicy which was perfect for the kids, however, if you want a spicier rub, increase the amount of cayenne to more closely fit your personal tastes.

What does Memphis Dry Rub taste like?

Since Memphis barbecue is generally served without sauce, the rub is the best source of flavor aside from the meat itself.

What seasonings are in Memphis Dry Rub?

The base starts with a generous amount of sweet paprika for color, brown sugar for caramelization, and other ingredients for flavor boosters such as chili powder, smoked paprika, ground pepper, dry mustard, onion powder, salt, and cayenne pepper for some heat. If you like more heat in your barbecue, consider increasing the amount of cayenne in the recipe.

How do I make Memphis Dry Rub?

Mix all the ingredients together until combined. Store mixture in an airtight container for up to 6 months. To use, apply rub evenly over meat. The general rule is whatever amount of rub sticks is the perfect amount.

A close-up photo of Memphis-style dry-rubbed chicken.

Serving Suggestions

Pair this meal with a side of baked beans and Incredibly Moist Cornbread or other picnic side dishes like potato salad, Mexican Macaroni Salad, or coleslaw and you will fall in love with BBQ grilled chicken all over again.
Memphis Style Barbecued Dry-Rubbed Chicken is extremely moist, tender and delicious.

Memphis Style Barbecue Dry-Rubbed Chicken

Ronda Eagle | Kitchen Dreaming
This Memphis-Style Barbecue Dry Rub keeps the chicken extremely moist, tender and delicious. We added a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little zest.
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 40 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings
Calories 345 kcal


For the Dry Rub:

  • 6 Tbsp sweet paprika
  • 3 Tbs dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper [See Note 1]

For the Basting Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

For the Chicken:

  • 3 lbs bone-in , skin on chicken pieces - any combination


  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, chili powder, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, ground black pepper, dry mustard, onion powder, salt and cayenne (to taste) in small bowl. Transfer half of dry rub to shallow dish & reserve.
  • Pat chicken dry with paper towels and coat over and under skin with remaining rub. Transfer to plate and place in refrigerator, covered, for one hour.
  • Heat grill to medium-low heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  • Place the chicken on the grill bone-side down and grill, covered, turning occasionally, until cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes (removing the wings sooner).
  • Brush the chicken with the vinegar mixture and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup spice mixture. Serve with cornbread and baked beans, if desired.


  1. Adjust the amount of cayenne pepper to suit your level of heat.


Calories: 345kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 37gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 117mgSodium: 560mgPotassium: 791mgFiber: 3gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 4053IUVitamin D: 1µgVitamin E: 3mgVitamin K: 7µgCalcium: 59mgFolate: 3µgIron: 3mgZinc: 3mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

12 thoughts on “Memphis Style Barbecue Dry-Rubbed Chicken”

  1. I was wondering what the vinegar and mustard does for the chicken? We aren’t fans of either, so I didn’t know if there would be any suggested substitutes?

  2. Hello! I’m just wondering what the oven baking instructions for this would be? It’s minus everything cold with a wicked north wind today in Alberta and the BBQ is outside…


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