With the 4th of July just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to share our favorite baby back rib recipe. These super savory morsels of meat take a few hours on the charcoal grill, but they are totally worth the wait. My husband Rich found this recipe on Weber’s website, and aside from his apostasy of Weber and zealous love of his new-found Big Green Egg, he follows the recipe pretty closely—minus the homemade barbecue sauce. We have someone with an allergy to tomato-based foods in our family, so he avoids brushing any BBQ sauce onto the ribs while grilling. There is also a philosophy out there in manly grilling land that says adding barbecue sauce to meats makes them char, as tomato has a low burning point. Those in the “dry rub” camp say, add your sauce when you’re eatin’, not when you’re cookin’.
What goes great with these tender, smoky ribs? Any of these recipes already posted on my blog: Corn Bread or Savory Sweet Potato Biscuits, Curry Cabbage and Vegetable Salad, Mean Mexican Rice or Baked Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions. For refreshments, try Mint Lemon Sweet Tea, Fresh Lemonade, or Rhubarb Mint Coolers—and follow your super summer meal up with warm Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. My mother-in-law Marynona’s famous Potato Salad recipe (another summer time staple) will be posted soon. Never fear—I’ll be sure all your warm-weather dietary desires are covered!
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
4 teaspoons pure chili powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 racks baby back ribs, each about 2 pounds
4 medium chunks of hickory wood, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
1 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (from above)
Mix all the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Using a dull knife, slide the tip under the membrane covering the back of each rack of ribs. Lift and loosen the membrane until it breaks, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Season the ribs all over with the rub, putting more on the meaty sides than the bone sides. Arrange the ribs in a rib rack, with all the ribs facing the same direction. Allow the ribs to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the surface looks moist, before grilling.
Fill a chimney starter to the rim with charcoal and burn the charcoal until it is lightly covered with ash. Spread the charcoal in a tightly packed, single layer across one-third of the charcoal grate. Place a large disposable drip pan on the empty side of the charcoal grate. Fill the pan about halfway with warm water. Let the coals burn down to low heat (250° to 300°F). Leave all the vents open.
When the fire has burned down to low heat, add two hickory wood chunks to the charcoal. Put the cooking grate in place. Place the rib rack over indirect low heat (over the drip pan) as far from the coals as possible, with the bone sides facing toward the charcoal. Close the lid. Close the top vent about halfway. Let the ribs cook and smoke for 1 hour. During that time, maintain the temperature between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents. Meanwhile, make the mop.
Make mop: In a small saucepan mix the mop ingredients. Simmer for a few minutes over medium heat to melt the butter, and then remove the saucepan from the heat. Or melt butter in microwave, and add other mop ingredients and stir.
After the first hour of cooking ribs, add 8 to 10 unlit charcoal briquettes and the remaining two wood chunks to the fire. At the same time, lightly baste the ribs with some mop. Leaving the lid off for a few minutes while you baste the ribs will help the new briquettes to light. Close the lid and cook for another hour. During that time, maintain the temperature of the grill between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents.
After 2 hours of cooking ribs, add 8 to 10 unlit charcoal briquettes to the fire. Remove the ribs from the rib rack, spread them out on clean work area and baste them thoroughly with some mop. Put them back in the rib rack, again all facing the same direction, but this time turned over so that the ends facing down earlier now face up. Also position any ribs that appear to be cooking faster than others toward the back of the rib rack, farther from the charcoal. Let the ribs cook for a third hour. During that time, maintain the temperature between 250° to 300°F by opening and closing the top vents.
After 3 hours of cooking ribs, check if any rack is ready to come off the grill. They are done when the meat has shrunk back from most of the bones by ¼ inch or more. When you lift a rack by picking up one end with tongs, the rack should bend in the middle and the meat should tear easily. If the meat does not tear easily, continue to cook the ribs. The total cooking time could be anywhere between 3 to 4 hours. Not all racks will cook in same amount of time. Lightly brush the cooked ribs with some sauce and, if desired for crispiness, cook them over direct heat for a few minutes. Transfer to a sheet pan and tightly cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with barbecue sauce on the side.