When poet William Cowper wrote "Variety's the very spice of life," he wasn't talking about barbecue. But he might have appreciated barbecue rubs: varied combination of spices and other seasonings applied to the surface of meats before cooking. Rubs add flavor, color, texture -- and adventure. Seasonings that might be in your spice cabinet this very moment can turn middle-grade meat into Thai-style shish kebabs.
Dry rubs are patted onto meat as powders. Wet rubs have moister ingredients that make them smearable. Most contain no fat, so they're best on meats that come supplied with their own, like ribs and pork loin.
These recipes also have no salt. Although salt is generally good in rubs -- it draws water, which carries flavorful compounds that bloom when they hit the grill -- some people try to avoid it. If you're not one of them, salt the meat before coating with the rub. Apply rubs a few hours or a day before cooking to let them work their magic.
Don't feel bound by amounts or proportions, either. You might start with the recipe as written, and then adjust as your taste buds demand. As for how much rub to use, that's your call, too.
Whatever ingredients you choose, store dry rubs tightly sealed in a cool, dry place. Wet rubs should be refrigerated. Use dry rubs within a few months, and use wet rubs the day they're made.