This is a combination of a recipe I've used from some time from Cook's Illustrated (July/August 2002, pg. 6), combined with a recipe I saw in a local paper some time ago (contributing the cider simmering aspect), and a few tips that have made things easier for me along the way. I usually get started around 10 or 11 in the morning and have things ready to eat by about 5 or 6.
Step 1: Brining the Ribs
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup cane sugar
1 gallon water
Brine them for one hour, any more and you risk excessive saltiness. When done, pour out the water and pat them dry. Get under the flaps of fat too. This isn't ultra-critical, but will help you spread the rub better, otherwise it might glop up in the wet spots.
Step 2: Rubbin' the Ribs
- 1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1 3/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp table salt or 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp dried oregano
- 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Put one tablespoon of rub on each side of the ribs (though probably more on the meaty side). I DON'T remove the silverback, which some probably consider sacrilegious, but I like it there to hold them together a bit later. While the ribs are in the fridge 'marinating' in the rub, you should go ahead and put a bowlful of wood chips to soak. Pecan or hickory are good. Actually, you should probably start soaking them half an hour into the brining process, so you can start the grill and have them heating up while the ribs are spending their half-hour rub session...
Step 3: Start the Grill
You'll want to start the grill and get the wood chips heating about the time you put the rubbed ribs back in the fridge for their half-hour wait. That way, the chips should be smoking well when you put the ribs on the grill. The beginning and end of the process are when the best smokey flavor is obtained (especially considering that during the midpoint they'll be simmering in cider-filled tinfoil packets)... I like a mix of hickory and pecan chips, sometimes maple is nice near the end to add some extra sweetness. If I had to choose one for the entire process, I'd probably go with pecan as a nice combination of smoky and sweet.
Step 4: Grill for 2 Hours
Turn them each half-hour, keeping them on the 'cold' side of the grill. I like to use a rib rack to conserve space and keep them off the grill itself. It also helps prevent the copious amounts of grease from dripping down into the grill.
Step 5: Simmer in Cider
Wrap each half-rack in aluminum foil (use the sturdy stuff, so it doesn't tear), making a pouch that can hold about a third of a cup of apple cider, then seal them shut. Let them simmer in these packets for about 1.5 hours, still moving them around every half-hour for even heating, and also to check if any need 'topping' up as the cider steams.
Step 6: Final Smokin' and Saucin'
After unwrapping the ribs from their pouches, smoke them another half-hour, basting them if you'd like with the juices collected in the pan of the rib rack and the leftover cider, then if you want to apply any sauces, do that for the final half-hour. Last time I did these, I did 1/3 plain dry-rub, 1/3 with Sticky Fingers mustard-based sauce, and 1/3 with another mustard-based sauce from Ronnie's Ribs out in Elgin, SC. Usually, one of those two sauces would probably be a ketchup-based sauce, but hey, this is the midlands of S.C. we're talking about!
Step 7: Chop 'em and Let 'em Rest Afore Eatin' 'em
Let the racks rest in foil for about 5 minutes, especially the sauced ones (apply another helping of sauce first), so the sauce will thicken up on them. Then chop into individual ribs and serve! Extra sauce is always welcome if you're a sauce fiend...