What is a Binding Agent?


Olive oil is another commonly used binding agent or slather.

Updated: 18/08/2023

You will come across the term binding agent when scanning recipes for smoking or barbequing. Sometimes it has little follow-up information about what you should use. I’m here can clarify all of that and help you boost your barbeque game so you can enjoy delicious smoked and barbequed meats all summer long.

What is a Binding Agent?

A binding agent is a term referring to a wet ingredient you apply to meat before adding dry rubs or other spices. It is there to keep the spice coating on the meat and helps form that delectable crust on meats.

So many times I’ve thrown some spices on meat and it just falls off, losing all the delicious flavour you want from a rub.

Think of the binder as the glue between the meat (or veggies) and the rubs/spices.

Not only does this help with creating the bark (or crust) on the meat, it also helps the spices penetrate into the meat and add intense flavour.

Must I Use a Binding Agent?

While binding agents give you a nice even crust and highlight the best flavours of your spice rub, you can smoke or barbeque without using a binder on the meat.

Trust me, once you use a binding agent and taste the increased flavour profile from the rub, you will never go back. Then you can start experimenting with different types of binding agents to add various different flavour profiles.

What Should I Use as a Binding Agent?

Luke applying olive oil as a binding agent to a wet rub

There is no single unsurpassed binding agent. However, several different ingredients will give you excellent results. When you begin pairing them with different rubs, you’ll realise there are endless combinations.

Below are the most common binding agents:

  • Yellow or dijon mustard – You will often see this listed as the binding agent, especially for smoked brisket, pulled pork, and pork ribs This is my preferred binding agent and I even use it on ribeyes and beef ribs. It’s a perfect combination with any of our spice and rub ranges.
  • Water – The most basic of binders, water can do the trick as a binding agent if you are concerned about mixing flavours or have an empty pantry. However, while I’m not saying I wouldn’t use it, I’m not saying I would make it my first choice.
  • Olive oil – This is another suitable binder if you are concerned about flavours mixing. Olive oil is great as a binder, particularly on vegetables, chips, chicken, and lamb.
  • Mayonnaise – Mayo is an easy way to add a little extra moisture to the meat, and it will keep the integrity of your spice rub. I’ve used mayo on briskets with outstanding results and am keen to test it out on other cuts to see how it goes.

Other popular binding agents include:

  • Apple cider vinegar (perfect on pulled pork)
  • Beef broth or stock
  • Canola oil
  • Hot sauce (think Kansas-style pork ribs or spicy chicken)
  • Tomato or barbeque sauce (can’t go wrong with a delicious BBQ sauce)
  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Beer (or even wine!)

This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to experiment with the products and flavours you enjoy. You might create a new classic pairing to share or to keep as a super-secret ingredient.

What NOT to Use as a Binding Agent

Wet rub with olive oil as a binding agent

While there are very few limits to where you can go with binding agents, there are just a few ingredients you should avoid if you want to get the best possible results. Feel free to try them but trust me, I’ve been there and I don’t recommend any of these.

  • Whole grain mustard – While yellow mustard is well-received as a binder, whole grain mustard will not offer you the same results. This is because the grains will prevent your spice rub from evenly coating the meat, causing an uneven crust.
  • Sugar – Keep the sugar content low in your binding agent. The reason is that sugar tends to charr and leave a bitter taste. And don’t forget that most rubs already have sugar in them so there really isn’t a need to add any.
  • High sodium products – Because your spice rub has salt, you should not add binders with considerable saltiness. Too much salt will take away from the naturally delicious flavours of the meat and spice rub.

No matter which binding agent you decide to use, you can count on any of the Big Dog Spices blends to kick up the flavour of your meat and take your food to the next level of barbeque nirvana.

Some of my favourite combinations include:

Learn to Cook with Spices


If you have questions or would like to place an order, feel free to contact us. Or if bland dinners are a problem, check out our range of easy, delicious recipes to rescue your tastebuds from boredom.

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