Here in Texas, beef brisket is the king of the barbecue pit, but you can’t go wrong with some tender, mouth-watering pork baby back ribs. This is a great dish to add to your barbecue repertoire, and unlike brisket, which can take days to be ready (at least with my method), baby backs can be prepped and smoked in only about a half day.
Baby back ribs come from the back section of the hog, as opposed to spare ribs, which come from the belly. Baby backs are smaller, but are generally meatier. They don’t have as much fat as spare ribs do, but they are still contain a good bit of tough connective tissue, so they have to be smoke cooked at a low enough temperature so that the connective tissue breaks down. But, you have to be very careful, because since baby backs don’t have a great deal of fat, they can dry out on you if you let them go too long in the smoker.
I buy my rib racks in three packs at wholesale stores like Costco and, if I’m only smoking for the wife and I, the excess can be vacuum sealed and frozen. If I’m smoking more than three racks, I’ll use the big smoker, but for just three, the Weber kettle grill makes a fine mini-smoker.
Slow-Smoked Baby Back Ribs
3 Racks Baby Back Pork Ribs, about 1 Pound Each
¾ Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
½ Cup Paprika
¼ Cup Turbinado Sugar
3 Tablespoons Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Course Salt
2 Teaspoons Granulated Garlic
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
½ Cup Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
Rinse your rib racks and pat dry and place them in a foil pan or large tray.
If the membrane on the back of the ribs hasn’t been removed, peel this away and discard. This will allow more smoke flavor to penetrate the ribs. Sprinkle the dry rub mixture into the rubs and then rub it in with your fingers until the ribs are completely covered.
Refrigerate for an hour or two to let the rub work its magic.
Prepare your grill. Yes, I said grill, but we won’t be ‘grilling’ the ribs. Grilling means cooking directly over high heat, which would of course turn your ribs into shoe leather. We’ll be setting up the grill for indirect cooking, so that the heat source is to the side of the ribs, and not under them. We’ll also be adjusting the dampers so that we are cooking at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, and no hotter. Any hotter and you risk getting your ribs done before the connective tissue has broken down, resulting in ribs that are tough and potentially dry as well.
Start about 12-14 briquettes of charcoal and then place four small hickory (or other smoking wood) directly on top of the coals. Place ribs on rack to the side of your coals...
...then close cover. Leave the damper on top of the grill fully open, and adjust the bottom damper so that you achieve a temperature of around 200-220F. Let the ribs smoke for one hour.
At this time, add more charcoal or wood if necessary, and rotate the ribs so that a different rack is next to the fire. (if you don’t rotate, the rack that stays closest to the fire can dry out). Let them go for another hour. Add fuel and rotate again. After another hour (three hours total) the ribs should be close to done. You can tell this by the fact that the meat has contracted a bit, leaving the ends of the bones poking out. You can also press the rib meat with your finger. It should yield quite easily.
At this point, if you’re satisfied that your ribs are done, brush on a light coat of barbecue sauce and then let them go another fifteen minutes.
At this point, they are ready to go. Slice them with the bone into individual rib servings, taking care to leave an equal bit of meat on either side.
Serve them with some more sauce and your favorite sides. Here we’ve served them with some cowboy beans and homemade slaw.
Until next time,
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,