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Great Rib Recipe

Updated on May 27, 2012

How to do BBQ

Good Eats!
Good Eats!

Barbeque Ribs on the Grill

How to BBQ? BBQ Ribs recipes and cooking on a BBQ grill need not cause so much frustration. You can cook better ribs on your BBQ grill than what you get at the restaurants. I'm going to try and give you a simple way to get started with cooking your ribs and if you can do what I outline, you'll have a great base to build your own recipes upon. Although this is primarily for charcoal and wood cooking, you can cook ribs in the oven or cook ribs on a gas grill using these techniques as a base. I am from Memphis, and we do have a decidedly Memphis style rib, but you can tune this for your local flavors as well.

No matter what the recipe, it begins with the meat

First is meat selection. We're not talking about baby-back or country style ribs here, although you can use many of the same techniques, we want slabs or St. Louis cut. You don't want frozen meat if you want the best ribs possible. Try and find either a meat market that cuts their own meat or at least a grocery store that has fresh pork. Although if you are cooking for a lot of people, Sam's has the best deal. The meat should be trimmed for the cooker by cutting off the flap of meat on the back of the rib, (save this, I'll explain why in a minute) and by cutting the last few small bones off. (Save these as well) Trim excess fat off the front and ends and there is a membrane on the inside of the ribs that needs to come off. No, there's no easy way to get it off unless you've done it a thousand times. This is where a good meat market comes in handy, just tell them you want trimmed and membrane free St. Louis rack ribs and you'll be good to go. (But ask for the trimmings)

Personally, when I'm cooking for home or parties, I also leave the tips on, as in the picture above. The tips are the end pieces of the ribs, the part with a lot of meat and the cartilage "bones". For a contest I'll usually trim them off, cook separate, and feed them to tent guests. With the tips off, your cooking time is shorter and you have to pay more attention to the meat. With the tips on, cooking is easier as it's harder to dry the ribs out with all that extra fat. However care must be taken to see that the fat is rendered out so that you have well cooked meat. Put the tips towards the heat source and you can cook evenly.

When you get your ribs home, give them a good rinsing in cold water and set them aside. What we're going to do is a brine, so in a decent sized pot, pour in about half a gallon of water and set on medium heat. Add about 1/4 cup of Kosher salt to the water and stir until dissolved. Don't use table salt, you need the larger chunkier salt. Sea Salt also works as well or pickling salt. Then add about 1/4 cup light brown sugar and stir that until dissolved as much as it will. Add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of 100% natural apple juice, not any of that concentrate stuff, real apple juice with nothing added. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Now put your ribs and the trimmings in a large ziplock bag and pour your brine in. Squeeze the air out and set in the fridge for six or eight hours, turning a couple of times.

Let's make a simple rub while we have some time. You'll need brown sugar, fresh ground white and black pepper, cumin, paprika and ginger. Take about 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and add a couple to three tablespoons of fresh ground white and black pepper and maybe a 1/16-1/8 cup of paprika and 1 tablespoon of ginger and 1 of cumin. (Cut back on the paprika if you don't like spicy) Then throw a few pinches of salt in for good measure. Measurements are not critical, go a little heavy on the measures as after hours of cooking the flavors will mellow. What we want is to make this to where you get a sweet taste then a little heat as it moves back through your mouth. Layers of flavor is what's important. Anybody can coat a rib with something hot or slather on a bunch of bottled BBQ sauce a few minutes before pulling them off the grill. We want something better. Something your friends will be telling their friends about.

Put your rub in an air-tight container and let sit and mellow for five or six hours. No, this isn't a competition rub. I won't tell you what my rubs are really made of and neither will any other competition cooker, but this will get you started.

You could also buy pre-made rubs, if you're feeling lazy. Other neat things to add to a rub are rosemary, cocoa, cinnamon, dill, and many others. Play with it a bit, cooking on the grill is supposed to be fun, so experiment.

Let's Head To The Grill

About an hour before it's time to start cooking you need to heat up the grill. I speak here of a wood or charcoal cooker. Gas grills and oven cooking are similar but the cooking times may be shorter so monitor closely. It takes a decent sized cooker to cook ribs, you need to keep the heat away from the meat but still have good circulation. On a small cooker you could use a piece of metal to shield the direct heat from the meat, You want to get the temperature to 275 or so for about thirty minutes and then cool it down to 225 which is where you want to hold the temp. You're going to need to keep it there for 5-8 hours so be sure to have an ample supply of fuel.

Regarding the fuel. I use charcoal to get the cooker hot then hardwood to cook and smoke. I'll generally cook on hickory and fruitwood but I'm using a large cooker. That gives the advantage of using regular split wood. Every once in awhile I cook on a small grill and what I'll do is cut my split wood into 6" lengths so I can feed that into the grill. You'll need to decide what sort of trouble you want to go to. Cooking with charcoal and smoking with a fruitwood or hickory has the advantage of being very easy to control the heat. Cooking with straight wood has the advantage of being able to smoke constantly, as at 225 degrees, when you put a new chunk on, it's going to smoke for a while before it goes to coal. Using charcoal you'll need to come up with a way to smoke, like wrapping small chunks of wet hardwood in aluminum foil and setting that near the heat.

One little tip. If you do cook on split wood, do yourself a favor and peel the bark off. You'll find that the smoke is cleaner without the bark and your meat has a better flavor.

While the cooker is heating, take your ribs and trimmings out of the brine and give a good rinsing in cold running water. Then pat all the meat dry, let sit in front of a fan for a few minutes if you can, and spread your rub on heavily. Let this sit for 30 minutes or so at room temperature, Then put on the grill, meat side down and the thickest part towards the heat source. Now leave this alone for an hour or so but keep the cooking side at 225. You have a couple of options when cooking. If you have a large enough grill, you can keep a small pan of water in the cooker for hours 2-4. This will give you a little steam. A better method is to take a couple of spray bottles and put apple cider vinegar in one and something sweet in the other. Pure apple juice is a good one but there are all sorts of options. If you like a little extra pop, add some habanero to the vinegar bottle. Then give the ribs a little spritz from each bottle every 45 minutes. You don't want to drench them, just make them glisten. Some people will want you to wrap the ribs in aluminum foil to steam, but to me, this makes them mushy and you lose your rub.

There is no need to turn the ribs while cooking. Keep the meat side down and just let them stay that way. You want the fat that is on the inside of the rib to render and melt through the meat. So leave them be, until the very end, more on that below.

If you can hold the temp at 225 the entire time, then your ribs will be ready in about 5-6 hours. This is where your trimmings and small cut-off ribs come in handy. The trimmings will cook quickly, from an hour and a half to three hours and you can taste these to judge where your flavor is coming from and adjust it with the spray bottles. Keep in mind they will have more of a spicy taste than your finished ribs. The small ribs will be done in four hours or less and you can use these to determine if you want to glaze and what sort of flavor layer you want to add.

Finishing Touches

If you want to add a nice pop, then go ahead and glaze. A simple glaze can be made by mixing some honey, apple cider vinegar and your rub in a bowl. Heat up in the microwave or on the cooker, and get it to a smooth, easy to spread liquid. Then lightly brush on about hour four to five. Sweet and sour sauce also makes a good glaze, although if you want a little heat you might add some habenaro or Frank's Red Hot Sauce to it.  When I'm cooking for a large crowd and not in a contest, I'll often have several different meats on the cooker. Using a good Chinese sweet and sour sauce with a couple of tablespoons of habanero or wasabi mixed in for a glaze is a great way to pop the flavor on both pork and chicken. I also use it on ducks and geese, but that's for another article.

When in a contest, I have a separate cooker going at a higher temperature, usually around 350. I use this one for cooking hot dogs and such for the kids, heating sauces, beans, Seafood entries, whatever. I also use it to finish my ribs.

When the ribs are ready to come off the big cooker, I'll glaze both sides and then put them on the hotter cooker for ten-twenty minutes per side, This hardens the glaze and gives an extra texture to the meat. You don't want to cook the meat, just the glaze.

You could use a heavy tomato-based sauce if you like. Personally I find them overpowering and not complementary. You just spent six or seven hours preparing and cooking these fabulous bones and now you're gonna smear some stuff out of a bottle all over them? Why not skip all the trouble and just stick a straw in the bottle and stay in the easy chair? No, not for me. I put all that effort into crafting these ribs with layers of mind-blowing flavor, while still maintaining the integrity of the meat itself. Leave the heavy sauce for your Uncle Jimbo or whoever. That stuff is best left for dipping, or hiding mistakes, when it comes to ribs.

The meat will pull back from the tips of the bone about 1/4"-1/2" when you are close to done. Use a meat thermometer and look for 165 degrees in the meat to know when they safely cooked. Properly cooked ribs do not fall off the bone. Ideally, when you bite in the middle of the rib, just that meat should tear loose, the bone should turn from white to gray and a little moisture will bead up on the bone. If the meat is stripping off the bone then it is overcooked. If the bone falls away from the meat when picked up, it was cooked too long and steamed too much. Either of these will not have the flavor that a properly cooked rib does. A really good rib will start with a distinct flavor as you bite it, then there will be one or two distinct flavor changes as it moves over your tongue all while still letting the person know that this is pork and nothing else.

Above all, enjoy cooking

I hope this has been of some help. There are thousands of different ways people cook ribs. Whatever you choose, never be afraid to experiment and make your own recipe. Involve the family too. My 13 year old son loves BBQ contests and cooking for family gatherings, lotta great memories created there. Enjoy!

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