We’re in the dead of summer and with July 4th right around the corner, barbecue should be on many a mind. Countless different images might come to mind when you hear “barbecue”–burgers, wings, pulled pork, etc–but if you had to pick any single one dish to represent this delicious style of cooking, what would it be? For me, it would have to be a smoked rack of ribs.
I used to be of the saucy ribs camp, but given everything I’ve heard about dry rubbed ribs, I thought it was time to give this a fair shot. I could never fathom it before–I mean after all, its just meat! Wouldn’t it be dry (“dry rub”–sounds dry!)? Wouldn’t it be bland? And so on. Ribs simply needed sauce.
Well now that I’ve finally tried dry rub, this is definitely the way to go. I love a good sauce, but keep it off of my ribs! You start with a light coating of mustard followed by a generous coating of sugar and spice (and everything nice) and then you smoke these guys oh so slowly for several hours. This is just hot enough to gently, slowly melt the fat which bastes the meat as the outer spice rub transforms into this magnificent, crispy, explosively flavorful crust that would simply become soggy and muted in the presence of a wet sauce. If you’ve never tried ribs this way, give it a shot this summer–you’re in for a real treat.
- 2 slabs of spare ribs (mine were ~4.5 lbs each). Baby back works, too!
- yellow mustard (probably under 1/4 cup–enough to lightly coat)
- Spice rub
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 tb paprika
- 1 tb ground mustard
- 1 tb onion powder
- 1 tb garlic powder
- 1 tb celery salt
- 1 tb chili powder
- 1 tb kosher salt
- 1 tb black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp ground thyme
- 1/2 tsp celery seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Begin by soaking the wood you intend to smoke with in some water. You have many choices here–I went with mesquite because I love the flavor, but many would argue for a milder flavored wood, such as apple. If you’re not sure where you stand, experiment or mix a few!
Then, as with many things barbecue, there’s controversy over the small stuff (dry rub vs mop vs sauce? spareribs vs baby back? etc): to remove or not to remove the membrane (its a plasticky-feeling layer on the inside of the ribs)? One side says that if you cook the ribs right, the membrane takes care of itself and is a non-issue when you go to eat the ribs. The other side says that you’re impeding smoke penetration with the membrane and not taking on as much flavor as you possibly could. I really don’t have a damn clue, but removing its easy enough, so I removed it. If you want to, its really easy: simply separate it from the meat of ribs in a small corner on the rack, grip it with pliers (or a papertowel), and then just yank it off–it ought to peel right off in pretty much one piece. Discard this.
Warm your smoker up to somewhere between 215 and 225°F. While you wait, lightly coat the ribs with yellow mustard and rub it all over. Then, mix the sugar and spices in a bowl and coat the ribs with it. It might seem like a lot, but its really not. It ought to stick due to the mustard, but be sure to rub it on there–there’s a reason its called a rub. Some would say you should let the ribs sit for a few hours in the presence of the spices. I didn’t bother.
And now, the big thing: time! Lay the ribs on the smoker (bone-side up) and note the time. In roughly 5-6 hours, they ought to be done. Ensure the ribs are not on direct heat and that you maintain a low, steady temperature throughout this process. The smoke needs time to work its magic. Don’t spoil the surprise by peaking inside–all you gain is an extended cooking time for all the heat you let out! Just trust the meat and the smoke. Only check in later when you think the meat might be done to verify that its fall-apart tender (try to lift the rack–the center should give under the weight and begin to fall apart) and has reached a safe internal temperature (around 170°F).
When the ribs are done, get them off of the heat and give them about 10 minutes to rest. Once time is up and you can’t hold back any more, cut off a portion, grab a handful of napkins, and get to it.
I served these with sweet potato fries and a grilled peach (a cold beer is also an essential side, lol).