There are few things that will whet the appetite of a meat lover more than these three little words: Baby, Back, Ribs. Making baby back ribs is kinda like cooking a steak—it’s quite hard to to get it very wrong, but to make it truly great requires a little more thought, time, and attention. Anyone can sling a rack on the grill, turn every five minutes, and get a decent result if the pork is of high enough quality. But, if you do have a very nice cut of pork, why not treat it with the respect it deserves—and have fun while doing it!
Source your ribs
It goes without saying—do a little research in your area. Talk to the butcher at your supermarket, or with a local dedicated butcher or farmer. Then buy the best quality ribs you can get your hands on. It’s best to get your butcher to trim down the rack so they look uniform. After all, you want them to look as good as they will taste!
The first thing you will want to do is pull off the membrane to allow the rub to get into the flesh. Don’t worry about a little excess fat on the ribs—this will be rendered down to add extra flavor and keep the meat juicy and moist. The fat also will keep the coals smoking throughout the cooking.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
Next, add some pre-rub. You can buy pre-rub at most stores, or just mix up yourself. Salt is your friend at this stage. It will draw out the water and begin tenderizing the meat. Add a little garlic powder. Shake the mix over the pork, rub lightly, and leave for around half an hour.
A coating of mustard (doesn’t have to be anything fancy) worked into the ribs before applying the BBQ rub will help it to stick to the ribs. More flavor that stays on the meat is more flavor in your mouth! Any classic BBQ rub will do the trick. Everyone has their own favorites, and it’s exciting to experiment by making your own.
If you are going to make your own rub, a good rule of thumb is: the more the merrier. There are a few bases that you will definitely want to touch, however. A simple rub can be made from 2 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of cumin, fresh ground black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, powdered onion, powdered garlic, and brown sugar. More sugar and honey can be added during the cooking process so there is no need to go too sweet too early.
Hungry for more rub recipes? Check out our recipe for the best rub recipe for brisket!
Keep adding mustard in between every layer of rub and repeat as many times you have the patience for. Leave a five minute gap between each round so the surface can become a little tacky and absorb more flavor. The color will start to change, and the deep red hue will give you an indication of the taste sensation that is in store for you and your guests.
Whether you have a super fancy smoker such as the Bradley Electric Digital 6 Rack, a combination smoker/grill, or a regular backyard grill, two things are key when it comes to smoking these bad boys: (1) keep the heat low, at around 240 degrees F (it’s always worth considering buying a smoker thermometer or infrared thermometer for grilling to get you on the right track) and (2), keep the lid on. This will ensure an even cook and impart a wonderfully rich, smoky flavor to the ribs. If you can get your hands on some pecan pellets, then do so!
Just like in painting, you are trying to add as many layers as possible to get the best end result.
Let the ribs cook for at least forty-five minutes before the first baste. A simple melted butter and BBQ powder mix works just fine. Turn and baste a few times every ten minutes, then wrap them in foil with some mustard, honey, and brown sugar. Don’t worry too much about how long they have been cooking. Instead look at the color. Wait until you have a nice, dark mahogany.
Once they are wrapped and returned to a slightly cooler grill, you can relax for a bit. After you fill everyone’s drinks (delicious homebrew beer, anyone?) and set the table, you can unwrap the ribs. Baste them with a little more of the butter/rub mix and place on the grill to achieve the final glaze and color—the icing on the meaty cake.
They don’t need to be falling off the bone. At this stage you have gone too far! But, if you have, it’s okay—some even prefer it that way! Crack open another beer, serve up a few appetizers that are suitable for a BBQ, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your ribs will be delicious and heck, you deserve it!
Try baby back ribs sous vide! Learn about how to cook sous vide here!