Baby Back Ribs

If I had to pick a cut of meat that benefits the most from the art of barbecue, it would be the lowly rib. It’s amazing what the proper application of smoke, spice, and a low flame does to this otherwise tough and fatty piece of pig.

I’m partial to baby backs, the ribs that come from closest to the backbone, underneath the loin muscle. They are generally leaner, more tender, very tasty, and a quicker cook than their spare rib cousins. While there are a lot of good rib recipes out there, this is my sure-fire, simple, no-frills recipe that consistently produces good results with a minimum of fuss.

Preparation

The night before the cook, prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back side of the ribs and trimming any large amounts of fat or stray flaps of meat. Slather both sides of the ribs with a thin coating of yellow ballpark-style mustard. This acts as a marinade. The vinegar in the mustard helps make the ribs moist and tender, and it gives the rub something to hold on to.

Apply a generous coating of your favorite rib rub. This basic rub works great. The rub adds not only a whole medley of flavors, but helps to form a nice bark – a dark brown crust on the meat. Start on the back side and apply a medium-heavy coating, actually working it into the ribs with your fingers. Turn the ribs over and put a heavier coating on the top side, also working it in.

Wrap the slabs in plastic wrap and store them overnight in the fridge. By morning the mustard will have almost disappeared, melting into the rub and forming a glaze on the ribs.

The Cook

Set up your grill for an indirect cook that will burn for at least 6 hours at between 225 to 250°F. Use a drip pan under the ribs to catch the fat.

Once the grill is up to temperature, add your smoking wood. If using a gas grill, place 2-4 cups of soaked wood chunks in the smoker box. If using a charcoal grill, toss a fist-sized lump right into the coals.

Take the ribs straight from the fridge, unwrap, and arrange bone side down on the grate. Use a rib rack if you need more room. Close the lid and for the first 2 hour of the cook, do nothing – no peaking, no looking, no touching, no nothing. The more often the lid gets opened the less actual cooking is going on and the greater the chance that they’ll dry out.

After the ribs have been on for 2 hours, flip the slabs. Cook for another hour and flip one more time. Again, no peeking. Continue cooking bone side down until the ribs have been on about 4 hours total, then start checking for doneness.

When they are done, a full slab will “break” or almost fold in half and start to crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs. At this point the meat should also have pulled back from the bone at least half and inch from the end of the bones and a gentle tug on a couple of adjacent bones shows that they will come apart easily. Expect around 5 to 6 hours of total cooking time to get to this point.

Once the ribs are done it’s time to sauce. Purists will skip this step, but I like a little sweetness added at to the ribs at the end of the cook. I think it helps to balance the flavors and keeps the bark a little chewy. For a commercial sauce, I like Bone Suckin’ BBQ sauce. If you want to make your own, my Thick & Tangy BBQ Sauce – v2.0 is particularly good on ribs. Sauce both sides with a light coating, put the ribs back on for 15 minutes, then sauce them again just on top.

Remove the ribs from the grill and let them stand for 10 minutes before serving.