The Best Barbecued Ribs: Start to Finish

Tips and tricks that the pros use to create mouth-watering barbecued ribs in your own backyard!

With the Labor Day weekend behind us, I thought I’d get you thinking about next weekend’s grilling adventure, so we’re turning our focus to ribs.  Of course, a weeknight barbecue meal is fantastic if you have the time, but if you want the most delectable ribs to come off your grill this season, plan on giving this method about 3 hours to prepare – trust me, it is worth the wait!

As I have mentioned before, my preferred method is to use lump hardwood charcoal, banked to one side of your grill so that you are cooking over indirect heat (adding additional chunks of hardwood for smoke every half hour).  Maintaining your grill’s heat at about 250° to 270°F is the target goal.  If you’re using a gas grill, the same results can be achieved by turning off a burner or two and cooking on the side without the flames.  Adding soaked wood chips in a smoker box for gas grills is essential for imparting the smokiness to the ribs that you’re looking for (you can pick this up inexpensively at any home improvement store).  If you’re fortunate enough to own a smoker, you’ve got a leg up on the neighbors, but you can get great low and slow barbecue results on any backyard grill by following these simple steps.

You can certainly use any type of ribs, but I’d suggest pork spare or baby back ribs.  As with most true barbecue, you want the smoke, rubs and sauces you use to flavor your meat.  Only one hurdle to overcome on ribs that will prevent this from happening is on the bone side of the rack.  There is a silvery membrane, called the pleura, which should be removed to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat from both sides as you cook.  Begin by removing the membrane on the back side of the ribs (TIP: use a butter knife to begin peeling the membrane from the bone, then grab the membrane with a paper towel and gently peel it off).  Removing the membrane will also expose additional fat.   Most of the fat will melt away during cooking, but you may want to trim excess areas of thicker fat from the rib rack to provide for a more even, leaner cook.

With the membrane removed, it’s time to rub your ribs.  There are numerous recipes on the web for rib rubs and you can certainly purchase commercial blends as well.  I suggest finding a good recipe that has the flavors you like or simply be creative with the herbs and spices in your kitchen - you can’t go wrong with this one!  A great all-purpose rub can be made from granulated garlic, paprika, onion powder, cayenne and pepper.  With the rub in hand, generously coat all sides of your ribs, massaging it into the meat as you go.

Place your ribs on the grill or smoker, bone side down for about 2 hours over indirect heat.  At the 2 hour mark, this is where the real secrets of the pros come into play!  You’ll know the ribs are ready for this next step when the meat begins to pull back from the bone, exposing what is known as “pirate’s teeth”.  Remove your ribs and place on large aluminum foil sheet.  Sprinkle both sides of your ribs with brown sugar, drizzle with honey or agave nectar and wrap the ribs completely in the foil.  This will lock in the flavor, create a nice glaze, prevent the ribs from drying out and create a nice mahogany color.  Place the ribs, meat side down in the foil, back on the grill to finish cooking.  After about another hour on the grill (the meat should be extremely tender and juicy at this point), remove your ribs from the foil, brush with your favorite sauce and place back on the grill for about 10 minutes for the sauce to set.

Ribs that are drenched in sauce, falling off the bone these are not (you may as well make pulled pork).  This method for barbecued ribs will have an explosion of flavor at each bite with a perfect texture that will allow you to taste the meat, enhanced by the sauces and rubs.  Once you truly barbecue ribs, you’ll never consider par-boiled, crock-potted or oven-baked ribs again!

Keep on grillin’!

Damon Holter

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