Inspired by recent events, I wanted to have a go at making my own barbecue. Around here, pulled pork seems to be king, but I wanted something that I can’t seem to get enough of in North Carolina: Memphis-style dry ribs.
For dry ribs, it’s not strictly necessary to have a smoker to achieve perfectly good barbecue. You can get excellent results with a standard grill and some soaked wood chips. The reason a grill can produce such good results is that, compared to pulled pork, ribs are cooked hotter and faster–350F for an hour or two instead of seven, twelve or even eighteen hours for pork shoulder (aka pork butt). The one shortcut you can’t take is on the smoke. Without smoke, it’s not barbecue, it’s just grilling.
Looks good doesn’t it? The only complaint I heard was that I didn’t make enough! Detailed instructions to making your own barbecue on a grill are after the jump.
I want to thank Sticky Fingers for sending me some dry rub to use on my first attempt at Memphis style ribs. Over the next week expect a full write up on their sauces and their dry rub.
The recipe makes enough for 4, 6 if you serve lots of side dishes.
Cooking time is between 2-3 hours.
2 baby back pork ribs (Also sometimes called “loin back ribs”, though loin back ribs are normally a bit bigger and meatier.)
dry rub mixture (I used Sticky Fingers dry rub, but see below for a recipe to make your own.)
natural lump charcoal (Remember that this meat will be bathed in smoke, if you use self lighting charcoal the meat will be exposed to all the chemicals in the briquettes–not good.)
wood chips (Any natural hardwood, like hickory can be used)
Heavy duty aluminum foil
The day before
Fortunately, there is not much preparation with baby back ribs. It’s mostly just meat and bone. The one thing that should be done is to remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs. Removing the tough membrane will allow for better smoke penetration and make eating the ribs easier.
Turn your racks so that the underside of the ribs (the concave part) faces you. Use a butter knife to lift and pull up part of the membrane. Then grip the membrane with a paper towel (it will be too slippery to grasp with your fingers) and gently pull upwards to peel it off. It should come off in one piece. If it tears, just use your butter knife to lift the membrane and start again.
If there are fatty bits or loose tissue at the ends of the ribs, you can trim these with a knife. You can also use your butter knife to remove any extra fat. This isn’t strictly necessary as most will render out during the cooking process anyway.
Liberally apply the rub over both sides of the ribs. Don’t be shy about it, this is the only flavoring you are going to use. Wrap in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerated over night.
Day of barbecue
Soak several large handfuls of wood chips in water for at least an hour (I’d guess about 4 cups of chips). Place them onto a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and fold the foil to make a pouch for the chips. Use a skewer or a fork to poke lots of holes in the top of your foil pouch. I split my wood chips into two pouches.
While the wood chips are soaking, start your grill. If using a gas grill, turn on only one burner on low heat. If using charcoal, pile 10-15 briquettes in a pyramid and light them. Make sure any bottom grill vents are fully open. Once the coals have white ash over them, spread them on the very edge of the on side of the grill.
Set the foil packet over the metal v-racks of your gas grill, or directly on top of the coals. Place the ribs on the opposite side of the grill from the foil packet and close the grill lid. If your grill lid has a top vent, position it so that the vent is opposite the foil packet (to encourage the smoke to be drawn across the rib racks).
Leave the grill alone for 60-90 minutes. No peaking! The smoke will escape.Your grill thermometer should register between 325-350F during the cooking time. Check the ribs after they have been smoked for at least 60 minutes in this temperature range. You can test the tenderness of the meat by giving one of the bones a pull, if it gives a bit without too much effort, the meat is ready. Remove from the grill, sprinkle a bit more dry rub on it, and serve.
During my attempt, I was a bit light handed with the coals in the beginning and after about 45 minutes, I realized that my coals were almost spent. I removed the first foil wood-chip packet and added more coals. Once these coals lit, I put my second packet of wood chips on the grill. In my eagerness, I overdid it a bit with the second batch of coals and my grill got a bit hotter that ideal. I ended up with ribs that had a bit more char than I wanted. Mind you, they were delicious, there was no harm done. They were not burnt at all. Some even said they preferred it this way, crispy and smoky on the outside and tender through the meat.
Homemade dry rub
To make your own dry rub, combine the following ingredients:
1/2 cup table salt
1/4 cup ground black pepper
1 tablespoon powdered garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground celery seed
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder