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Recipe File: Barbecue Pork Ribs (Baby Back or Spare)
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Cooking For Engineers



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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 1:06 am    Post subject: Recipe File: Barbecue Pork Ribs (Baby Back or Spare) Reply with quote

I've been planning on writing down my recipe for barbecue pork ribs for a couple years now. I kept avoiding it to prevent runaway discussions on whether or not this is the best way or the correct way to barbecue ribs. I finally decided to just sit down and write it. This is how I do my ribs, barbecue style. They come out delicious, tender and juicy, and full of smoky flavor.

The texture of the ribs after cooking is not "falling apart". The meat doesn't fall off the bone when you prod it with a fork. (For that, you'll want to take a look at Recipe File: Oven Baked Spare Ribs which will produce meat and cartilage that is just completely falling apart.) However, the ribs will be tender enough that it'll come off the bone easily when you're eating it, and the texture will provide just enough chew to be satisfying. I think that's the best texture for ribs (even though sometimes I do like the completely falling apart texture as well - that's why I have more than one recipe for making ribs!).

This recipe is more of a method than a firm step-by-step because there's a lot of flexibility when it comes to barbecuing ribs. I usually smoke at least two racks of ribs (a rack is one side of the hog - one continuous cut of meat that includes 8 to 15 ribs depending on your butcher and the style of cut) at a time but cooking one rack is pretty much the same exact recipe - cooking times don't change only the amount of spice rub you use up.

Before we start, you'll need pork ribs. Baby back ribs come from the loin of the hog and the bones are generally smaller and the flesh is leaner and meatier than spare ribs which come from the side and belly. Because of the leanness of baby back ribs, the cooking time is less (about 1-1/2 hour compared to 2-1/2 hour) than that of spare ribs. In the photographs for this recipe, I prepared baby back ribs, but I'll mention the differences between preparation for baby back and spare ribs in the text.

You'll also need a dry rub. I like using the rub from my Grilled Pork Chops recipe. In fact, I usually prepare a large quantity of the rub and put them into jars so I can use them whenever I need it. Alternatively, you can use a store bought spice rub like those found at Rod's Rub.

For glazing, a barbecue sauce is needed. My Slow Simmered Spicy Barbecue Sauce is a crowd pleaser, but I like trying out other people's sauces and playing with a variety of store bought sauces as well.

Wood chips (hickory or mesquite both work really well) are also needed. Part of what makes barbecue ribs authentic is the taste of smoke permeating the meat. Since the ribs cook in just a couple hours, the smokiness will be fairly mild.

Let's begin.

The night before you plan on barbecuing, prepare your pork ribs. Working with one rack at a time, lay the rack on a large cutting board. You'll want to trim off any excess meat because they won't cook at the same rate as the rib meat. Usually baby back ribs don't come with any extra flaps of meat, but spare ribs, St. Louis style and country style ribs often do. Cut them off and save them for a stir fry or other pork dish.


Flip the rack over so the meaty side is face down. There is a thin membrane on this side that goes over all the bones. Removing this membrane is optional, but generally a good idea. It can become a very tough sheet that tastes and feels like you're chewing on plastic if you cook it with the ribs. To remove it, just thrust a blunt object (like the blunt tip of a thermometer) in between the membrane and the bones as shown in the photo. Wiggling your tool around a little should give you enough room to get a finger beneath the membrane.


Once you've got a grip on the membrane, pull it away from the back of the ribs. You'll need to use some force, but if you're smooth about it, the membrane should come away as one piece. Using a paper towel can help you grip the membrane better if your fingers keep slipping.


Cover both sides of the rack with a generous portion of spice rub. I generally use about 1/2 cup of rub per rack of ribs. Make sure you use your hands to rub the mixture into the ribs. The moisture from the pork should be enough to make the rub stick and coat easily.


After both sides have been rubbed with the spice rub, place the rack onto a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. The foil should be large enough to wrap the entire rack in it (just image you're going to gift wrap the ribs).


Fold the foil over the ribs and fold the aluminum foil onto itself to seal just like you would if you were preparing to freeze it. (For photographs explaining the folding and crimping technique please refer to Kitchen Notes: Freezing Meats.)


Do the same steps (removing excess meat, removing the membrane, spice rub, and wrapping in foil) for each of the other racks of ribs that you might be preparing. Put them onto a sheet pan and slip it into the refrigerator so the rub can do its thing. We'll want to leave the ribs in the fridge for at least 10-12 hours. The salt and sugar in the rub should draw out some moisture from the ribs which serves two purposes. First, it firms up the flesh a little bit, and, second, helps provide moisture to the rub which turns it into a paste and then a liquid. The liquidly rub penetrates into the meat during the next several hours, so it's important to wait before cooking the ribs.

About an hour before you plan on cooking, soak 2 cups of wood chips in water for that hour.


Prepare a grill for indirect heat. For a charcoal grill, start a fire and move the coals to one side, leaving the other side without coals. For a gas grill, turn on the burners only on one side. (If your grill doesn't have burners on just one side, then I suggest you rig up something so your ribs will be much higher up and away from the flames than they normally would be.) You'll also need a rib rack (a metal device that looks like a desk top filing rack - not to be confused with a rack of ribs which is the cut of meat that a rib rack is designed to help you cook). If you don't have a rib rack or don't want to buy one, then just use a V-rack for roasting chickens and turkeys. Flip it over so the point of the V is facing up and stick it on the grill. That's how I do it. Place the rack on the side of the grill without direct heat.


Remove the wood chips from the water. If you've got a charcoal fire going, put the wood chips directly onto the coals where they should begin to smolder. If you're using a gas grill, place the wood chips into a smoker box (or an aluminum foil sheet shaped into a box with holes punched in the top like the one in the picture) and put it on the side where the flames are on. Turn the fire up until the chips begin to smoke and then turn the heat down to low.


Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and unwrap them. If the racks are too long to fit on the rib rack on your grill, then you might have to cut them in half. Insert the racks or half racks into the rib rack so they are standing up. Position them so they are as far away from the heat source as possible. Close the lid.


Every twenty minutes, open the lid and rotate the ribs. Move each rack closer to the heat source, then move the rack closest to the heat source to the position farthest from the heat.

After about 1-1/2 hours for baby back ribs or 2-1/2 hours for spare ribs, the meat should have shrunk away from the bone substantially. The temperature of the rib meat should be over 180°F which means much of the collagen in the meat has probably converted to juicy and unctuous gelatin (the reason we love ribs).


At this point, pull the racks off the grill and clear off the smoker box and rib rack. Redistribute the heat so it is even throughout the grill (for gas grills, use medium heat). Place the racks of ribs back onto the grill and brush on your favorite barbecue sauce. Every three minutes, flip the racks and brush more sauce on. Repeat until you're tired, have run out of sauce, or can't wait any longer.


Cut the ribs apart to serve.


That's it. Follow these steps correctly and you should have some great barbecue ribs.


Barbecue Pork Ribs
Prepare grill for indirect low heatPrepare grill for direct medium heat
2 racks of baby back or spare ribsremove membranerubrefrigerate 12 hourssmoke for 1-1/2 hours (baby back) to 2-1/2 hours (spare) rotating every 20 minutesglaze over medium heat for 3 min. each side repeating until sauce is consumed or chef is tired
1 cup spice rub
2 cups wood chipssoak in water 1 hourheat on grill until smoking
1 cup barbecue sauce


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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1618
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In case anyone is interested, I had posted a "behind the scenes" photo of one of the photography setups for this recipe on my blog.
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Franker
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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 2:52 pm    Post subject: Cooking temp Reply with quote

What temp do you try to keep your smoker at for this?
225? 230?
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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been using variations on this technique for quite some time: http://metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=6553 ... rather than use indirect heat, I just use fewer coals. This has proven tricky -- if I use too many coals, the ribs will char a bit early on if I'm not aggressive at spraying out flare ups; and if I use too few coals, the fire doesn't last quite long enough. I'd considered indirect heat but didn't think there was enough space to do two racks at once on my Weber (and really, if you're cooking for 3 hours, you gotta do more than one rack!) -- the "rib rack" suggestion solves that problem neatly.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1618
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 7:27 pm    Post subject: Re: Cooking temp Reply with quote

Franker wrote:
What temp do you try to keep your smoker at for this?
225? 230?

I have no idea. I don't have a smoker right now and the thermometer on my grill is a joke.
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PostPosted: Sat May 31, 2008 7:41 pm    Post subject: Excellent ribs Reply with quote

I sent a link to your article to my husband, and now feel guilty because he acted on it straight away with excellent results! Thanks very much!
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dmlamb
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What's the recipe for the spice rub you made for the ribs?
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1618
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dmlamb wrote:
What's the recipe for the spice rub you made for the ribs?

I linked to it within the article. Here is the link again:
Recipe File: Grilled Pork Chops

The spice rub is the first three photos of that recipe and the first recipe summary table at the bottom.
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arbeck



Joined: 03 Jun 2008
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2008 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How hot is your grill when you do this? My BBQ ribs would never be done in that short of time. For baby backs I do a 2-1-1 method. Two hours of smoking, then one hour in foil and another hour out. With spare ribs I do a 2-2-1 method. I use a vertical smoker that is always between 240 and 275 degrees.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
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Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2008 1:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The best I can estimate is that the grill is about 250-300F on the side where the ribs are arranged.
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2008 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm excited to say I just found this site and I love it! the step by step directions along with the pictures are perfect. (especially the pictures!!) I'm really glad I found your site. Do you ever list the nutritional information, such as calories, carbs, or fat? Thanks, Diane
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1618
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anonymous wrote:
Do you ever list the nutritional information, such as calories, carbs, or fat?

I've considered it, but in the ended decided not to due to technical reasons (i.e. laziness). Maybe sometime in the future when I'm not working full time and can spend the time I'd like to spend on this website.
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 20, 2008 2:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's my offering of a firm favorite here.

Pork Spare Ribs, Ok the BBQ tag in this instance relates to the use
of BBQ sauce when initially marinated for an hour. Chinese Recipe
from a book that has been in the Family bookcase since i can remember.


Of course these must have my Fried Rice to go with them, lol
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Long retired PE
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 9:19 pm    Post subject: RIBS AND RECIPES Reply with quote

I,too, just recently found this site and find it is very informative. Who (or is it whom) ever came up with it deserves much credit and many thanks. I'm doing 2 racks of ribs as we speak.

Long Retired PE
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DocChuck
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 4:48 pm    Post subject: Leave it to an engineer ... Reply with quote

. . . their bridges may sometimes fail, but their ribs are always infallible! LOL

Just kidding (I earned my right to kid fellow engineers over 45 years ago).

Seriously, your method for cooking ribs is impeccable, and your photography ain't none too shabby.

Thanks for the great post.
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