How to Make the Best Barbecue Ribs Ever
Make amazing St. Louis cut or baby back barbecue ribs that are competition-worthy. This recipe for the best barbecue ribs ever creates a mélange of flavors from a spice rub, hardwood smoke, and tangy sauce — all underpinned by the distinct flavor of pork.
St. Louis cut ribs are meatier and more flavorful, while baby backs are smaller and cook faster. Either way, you'll enjoy juicy, tender barbecue ribs with meat that tugs cleanly off the bone.
Meathead's Amazing Ribs
Preparation time: 20 minutes to clean and trim ribs. Optional overnight "marinating" with dry rub.
Cooking time: 5 hours for St. Louis cut ribs, 3 hours for baby back ribs
Yield: 2 servings
Cooker (gas grill, charcoal grill, or smoker) with tight-fitting cover
18 pounds charcoal (hardwood lump or plain charcoal briquets) for charcoal grills or smokers OR 1 tank propane for gas cookers
8 ounces (by weight) hardwood chunks, chips, pellets, or sawdust — of apple, oak, or hickory. (This amount works for any number of slabs.)
1 pair long-handled tongs
1 sauce brush
2 6-foot pieces heavy-duty aluminum foil
1 instant read thermometer
1 piece fresh ginger
1 slab fresh St. Louis cut pork ribs OR 2 slabs fresh baby back ribs
3 tablespoons cooking oil
4 tablespoons of your favorite dry rub
1 cup apple juice
1 cup barbecue sauce, any type
Rinse ribs well under cool running water. Pat dry.
Remove membrane from ribs, if still attached. Trim excess fat from both sides.
To remove membrane, start by inserting a butter knife under membrane. With fingers, work a section loose. Grip membrane with paper towel and peel off.
Coat ribs thinly with cooking oil and sprinkle dry rub on both sides. Rub in on all surfaces.
Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons per side, depending on size of slab. Don't use so much that the meat doesn't show through. Wash your hands.
Wrap ribs in one piece of foil. Place on rimmed platter or pan. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.
No time to marinate? Skip this step and start cooking.
Set up cooker for indirect cooking with two zones.
This means you build the fire on one side of the cooker so that one side is hot and the other isn't.
Gas grill: Light only one burner. Put a disposable aluminum pan with water on top of the hot burner. If grill has only one burner, place water pan between meat and burner.
Charcoal grill: Push coals to one side. Water pan is optional.
Offset firebox smoker or a bullet smoker: Follow manufacturer's directions.
Remove ribs from refrigerator and set aside.
Preheat cooker to about 225° F, and maintain this temperature throughout cooking period.
Don't go under 200° F, or over 250° F.
On a charcoal grill, keep temperature constant by adjusting air intake dampers at bottom of cooker — not the exhaust dampers at the top.
For charcoal or gas cookers, add 4 ounces of wood to start the smoke.
No need to soak wood in water first. Put wood right on top of the flame of a gas grill or on hot coals.
Resist adding more wood to prevent oversmoked, unpalatable ribs.
Place ribs in cooker on cooler side of grill, meaty side up. Close lid.
When smoke disappears after 20-30 minutes, add 2 ounces of wood. Repeat. After the first hour, stop adding wood.
Move ribs around if cooking more than one slab.
Halfway through cooking, move the ribs closest to the fire away from the heat, and the slabs far from the flame in closer. Leave meaty side up — no need to flip over. Otherwise, keep lid on to maintain moisture and consistent heat.
Finish cooking ribs with steam.
After 3 hours of cooking St. Louis cut ribs (2 hours for baby backs), take 6 feet of heavy duty foil and fold it into a 3-foot length. Lay slab on foil, meaty side up. Fold up sides of foil, making a boat; pour in 1 cup apple juice.
Don't pour juice on the meat or you'll wash off the rub. Carefully fold foil around ribs, sealing it tight. Avoid puncturing foil. Place packet on grill for 30-60 minutes.
Remove ribs, brush on barbecue sauce. Blast with heat to create crispy crust.
Remove ribs from foil, being careful to avoid the burst of steam when you open the packet. Return ribs to cooker at 225° F for 30 minutes. Paint both sides with barbecue sauce. Crisp the sauce on both sides, leaving lid open to avoid further roasting.
For best crisping, move slabs directly over hottest part of grill:
Charcoal grill: Place slab over coals.
Gas grill: Crank up all burners.
Water smoker: Remove water pan. Move meat close to coals.
Offset smoker: Put a grate over coals in firebox. Place meat on grate.
Remove from cooker and serve.