If you want to be in the BBQ hall of fame, you need to make a great rack of ribs, but if you are new to barbecue they can be intimidating. I mean, look at them. Meat, bone, meat, bone - much more complicated than a burger.
So, where to start? What makes a great rack of ribs? Great flavor, light smoke, perfect texture, and a sweet and tangy sauce. Is your brain engaged? Let's build some Kansas City style baby-back ribs.
Step 1 - Get ya some meats
Step 2 - Citrus tea brine (optional)
Step 3 - Prep Mr. Ribs and apply Mr. Cumin Rub
Step 4 - Fire (Fahr, if you are from Missouri)
Step 5 - Indirect heat and smokey-smokes
Step 6 - Foil (Fohl, if you are from Georgia)
Step 7 - Sauce to knock your socks off
Step 8 - Winner, winner, ribby dinner
Step 1: Get Ya Some Meats
Here they are: Meaty, baby-back ribs. These are pretty tender, as barbecue meat goes. You can get away with grilling them quickly and they will taste great with quite a bit of chewiness. But there is a secret land of deliciousness that is unlocked by slow cooking with smoke, and that is where we are headed.
So, let's dress these bad boys up.
Step 2: Optional Step: Citrus Tea Brine
Normally, I love my ribs with a rub, slow smoke, and sticky sauce - straight up. But if you are up for an adventure and have a bit more time, you can brine the ribs overnight for a bit more flavor. Here's a tangy citrus/tea brine that I used:
1 quart Black Tea, brewed
1 quart Orange Juice
1 cup Lime Juice
1 cup Lemon Juice
1 cup Kosher Salt
1 cup Raw Sugar
Heat it on the stove to dissolve the solids. Cool it down to at least room temp, dunk your ribs in the pot, and leave them in the fridge overnight.
Step 3: Prep Mr. Ribs and Apply Mr. Cumin Rub
It's morning(ish) and your ribs have brined. Or, you are impatient and decided you need ribs today. I can't blame you.
First thing to remember about ribs: They have got to be prepped. On the bone side of the ribs, there is a tough, chewy membrane that you must peel off. Let's just say that if you don't, you will wish you did. Work your finger under the membrane in the middle of the rack and peel it from the center out. If it breaks or is too slippery, grab it with a towel and pull. If it isn't clear, check the pics below. Get it all. Trash it.
Is the membrane removed? Good. Pat them dry and get ready to rub. I love the combo of cumin, garlic, celery, and sugar. It is aromatic, smoky, and sweet, and that's the mood I was in today. So here's the rub (pun):
4 Tablespoons Raw Sugar
2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
2 Tablespoons Cumin
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
2 teaspoons Celery Seed
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
Mix it up and coat the ribs liberally with the rub all over. Can you smell the cumin? Doesn't it smell good? (MAN that smells good.) Rub it in. If you like to cook with love, this is the step where you can add it.
Step 4: Fire (Fahr, If You Are From Missouri)
I had a buddy from Missouri who always said "Fahr" when he was probably meaning "Fire." I didn't hold it against him, but I also didn't understand him until he had said it at least twice. Never mind that... where were we?
Oh yeah. We need some fahrrr. Fill the charcoal chimney with charcoal, wad up some newspaper in the bottom, and light. When the top coals are starting to turn white and flames are licking the top, you're ready to pour. Dump them to one side of the grill, add the grate, and put the lid on. You will want to choke the air vents back to about 1/2 way. We are going to restrict the airflow to keep the grill at about 250F throughout cooking. A thermometer stuck in an air vent helps bunches with this.
Word of warning: Don't over-cool the grill, or you'll put the fire out. If it needs more air, open the lid and blow on the coals a bit. They will re-start shortly.
Step 5: Indirect Heat and Smokey-Smokes
If you've done any barbecue homework, you have probably heard about indirect heat. Basically, the fire goes on one side and the meat goes on the other. I've got a rib rack to maximize grill space. I can do a few racks of ribs this way and keep them organized. It's like a file cabinet for your ribs, which should appeal to you if you are OCD like me.
If you are crowding the fire with your meat, you can put a piece of foil over the coals to shield the ribs from direct heat.
Drop a couple chunks of pecan, cherry, or other fruit/nut wood into the coals and let them smolder while the ribs do. Look for light whisps of smoke once the lid is on. We don't want to nail them with harsh smoke - we're looking for aroma and taste. It takes time and we have plenty of time on our side.
Leave the meat on for 3 hours. Keep the grill temp around 225-250F by regulating the air vents. Smaller vents = lower temperature. Every hour or so, check to see if you have enough fuel and add charcoal if needed.
Step 6: Foil (or Fohl, If You Are From Georgia)
After 3 hours, we're going to do something interesting. Pull the ribs off (and weep tears of joy because things are getting beautiful). Wrap them in aluminum foil and return them to the grill for another hour to steam in their own amazingness. After one more hour, they are done.
When you open that foil, save the drippings. THAT is our secret weapon.
A side note: people often equate "falling off the bone" with good ribs. That's not the goal. That's just overdone. You want a soft, chewy texture. They shouldn't be tough, but they shouldn't be overcooked either. When the meat starts to pull back and expose the end of the bone and the rib "sags" when you pick it up from the end - that's how you know it's done.
If you stick to the general time/temp guidelines I'm giving you, you'll get there.
Step 7: Sauce to Knock Your Socks Off
I loves me some BBQ sauce. This sauce is so good I wish I had a flask full of it to drink right now. If you think that's gross, I will win you over after you taste it. It tastes really, really good.
1 cup Tomato Ketchup
1 cup Honey
2 Tablespoons Molasses
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce or Worchestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
2 teaspoons Chipotle Tabasco
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Celery Seed
Add the drippings from your foiled ribs. Hear the angelic choir. We are almost there.
Spread the coals out on the grill for direct heat. Put the ribs on, bone-side down. Coat liberally with sauce and put the lid on the grill. Let them get warm and sticky for about 5 minutes, but don't let the sauce burn. Pull them and let them rest for about 15 minutes under foil.
Congratulations. You just made some phenominal KC style ribs.
Step 8: Winner, Winner, Ribby Dinner
Now that the ribs are done, you can cut them up into servings (1 to 3 rib chunks) or just go at it, caveman style and eat a whole rack. The texture is soft and chewy. The flavor is rich and smoky. The sauce is sticky, sweet, and leaves you craving more. Enjoy the process and the results. If you are nice enough to share, enjoy the applause.
Well done, grillmaster! You are now a barbecue rock star.