There was the year that I demonstrated how to make ribs eight times on the same national morning show. Each time, I would remind them we did ribs the last time, and the producer would say, “I know but everyone loves ribs!” And that is true.
The bonus: They’re easy to make — and easy to smoke — at home. You don’t need a smoker to smoke ribs. All you need is a grill, some soaked wood chips and great meaty ribs.
If you are like most people and cook only baby-back ribs, up your rib game and try St. Louis ribs, which are trimmed to remove the flap of meat on the underside of the breast bone and squared off to more easily fit on the grill. Spareribs are cut from the belly or side of the pig. They are longer and fattier than back ribs.
Once you decide on which rib to buy, there are a few things to remember. First, make sure that each slab weighs at least three pounds and that the ribs have a nice layer of meat covering the bone. Slabs of ribs that are factory-cut often have “bone shine,” or areas of the rack where the blade hit the bone and cut off all the meat, exposing the bone.
Second, buy the highest-quality, freshest product available. If you have a local butcher who cuts the meat, frequent his or her shop. If you don’t have a local butcher, go to a high-volume grocery store that rotates with fresh product every day. Be sure to look at the expiration date on the label and give your purchases the old-fashioned smell test. If it smells off, it is probably old. I prefer buying ribs that are cryovac-ed as they are generally the freshest choice.
In this recipe, I am cooking these ribs at a more traditional smoking temperature of 250 degrees because every backyard griller wants to approximate the barbecue of the competition circuit at least once.
I use soaked wood chips regardless of the temperature or the fuel. Because the wood is the final flavoring element, it is as important as the quality of the meat and the rub. If you are using a gas grill, you can make a smoker box out of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fill it with wet wood chips as the gas grill preheats with all burners on high. The chips will start to smoke and smolder and will continue even as you reduce the heat to a medium-low indirect heat. Make sure to place the chips in the upper-left hand corner of the grill under the cooking grates. If you place the chips on the cooking grates, they are so far from the heat element that they won’t smoke.
Also, wet the chips so that they will smoke and not erupt into flames. On a charcoal grill, simply toss a handful of wet wood chips on both sides of the gray-ashed charcoal when you put the ribs on the grill. And don’t forget, ribs can only be smoked using indirect heat.
The best way to test for doneness is to make sure that the meat has receded from the end of the bones. You should be able to bend the rack without breaking it in pieces.
What you need
▪ Four racks St. Louis ribs, about three pounds per slab.
▪ Half a cup apple-cider vinegar.
▪ Favorite spice rub
▪ Soaked wood chips, such as apple or hickory
▪ Favorite barbecue sauce, optional
▪ Beer or apple cider
Build a charcoal fire or preheat gas grill. Remove silver skin from back of ribs, if desired. Set up the grill for indirect heat and if using wood chips, place soaked chips directly on charcoal, or in smoking box of gas grill.
Blot the ribs dry with paper towels. Brush the ribs lightly with the apple-cider vinegar over both the front and back of ribs. Set aside for five minutes. Sprinkle ribs liberally on both sides with rib rub and let sit, covered lightly, for 15 minutes.
Place ribs (bone side down) in the center of the cooking grate or in a rib holder/rack, making sure they are not over a direct flame. Grill covered (at about 250 degrees, if your grill has a thermometer) for about three to 3.5 hours or until meat is tender and the rack bends easily but doesn’t break.
Note: If you smoke at 250 degrees, only a little of the bone will pull back from the ends of the rib bones. If you cook the ribs at 300 degrees, much more of the ends of the bones will be exposed as more of the fat will be rendered from the ribs.
Leave ribs untended for the first 60 minutes — this means no peeking; very important when using wood chips. Check ribs after an hour and then every 30 minutes or so. If the ribs start to burn on the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower your fire/heat slightly.
Twenty minutes before serving, un-stack ribs, if necessary, and brush with barbecue sauce. You can also brush with a mixture of barbecue sauce and beer or apple cider_this becomes a “mop” which is thinner than traditional barbecue sauce.
Remove ribs from grill and let rest 10 minutes before cutting into individual or two to three rib portions. Warm remaining sauce in a saucepan and serve on the side, if desired.
Start to finish: Four hours. Serves six to eight.
Nutrition information per serving: 434 calories; 306 calories from fat; 34 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 113 mg cholesterol; 1079 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 23 g protein.