Barbecue is a true labor of love, but with a few easy steps you too can create mouthwatering baby ricks ribs the whole backyard cookout crew won't be able to resist.
Melissa Cookston, the two-time World Champion Pitmaster and owner of Tennessee's Memphis Barbecue Co., shares her tips for smoking up the perfect set of barbecue ribs.
Whether you're prepping for an ultimate Labor Day cookout or just trying to celebrate the end of summer with good food, follow Cookston's tips and you can't go wrong at the grill.
1. Finding the perfect rack
"When selecting ribs, there are three different cuts to choose from – baby backs, spare ribs, and St. Louis spare ribs. In Memphis, we tend to prefer the leaner and tenderer baby back ribs rule but in most parts of the country the meatier and more flavorful spare ribs are the cut of choice. At our Memphis Barbecue Co. restaurants we serve spare ribs with the breastbone area trimmed off to create a more uniform rack known as a St. Louis cut."
2. Perfect prep time
"Once you have your rack of ribs, flip them over and you’ll notice a shiny thin layer of membrane covering the bones. While many people, especially restaurants, will leave this one, it’s rather tough and will make the ribs chewy when cooked. To remove, simple take a butter knife and insert it between the bone and membrane in one corner of the rack of ribs, use your fingers to separate the membrane slightly, then grasp the membrane with a paper towel and pull the rest of the membrane from the rib bones. Trim 1 bone from the large end of the ribs and 2 bones from the small end in order to create a consistent sized rack for smoking and remove any additional silver skin (tough shiny white membrane) from the ribs before seasoning."
3. Use the perfect seasoning blend
"Once the membrane has been removed, it’s time to pump up the flavor with some seasoning. Simply sprinkle approximately 1 tbsp. of your favorite BBQ dry rub seasoning such as my Memphis Barbecue Co. Ultimate BBQ Rub on each side of the ribs. Also remember that yellow mustard is your friend at BBQ time! A light coat of mustard after seasoning your meat will help tenderize as well as adding some flavor- but you won’t get the “mustard” taste."
4. Apply the perfect marinade
"Once the ribs have been seasoned, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. By allow the ribs to rest in the mustard and dry seasonings, the flavor is able to fully penetrate the meat. When your smoker has come to temperature, unwrap the ribs and re-season with dry rub and mustard."
5. Get the perfect grill space ready
"While a smoker is the most common way to prepare ribs, almost any grill can be made in to an indirect smoker for longer cooking times. For a charcoal grill, simply build your fire to one side of the grill and cook on the other. Placing a small pan with water or apple juice underneath your food will also help with this effect."
6. Cook to the perfect temperature
"For most BBQ recipes, I find 250 degrees is a great temperature for smoking at the house. At this temperature, baby back ribs will cook in approximately 4 hours while a St. Louis cut rib will cook in approximately 5 hours."
7. Perfect the smoking technique
"When smoking meats such as ribs, the smoking wood you use should be used in moderation, just like salt. Too much smoke will overpower your product. A fruit wood such as apple or cherry is typically the best choice for the backyard cook - you won’t run as much of a risk of overpowering the meat or making it bitter. When your cooker comes to temperature, simply add four chunks of wood to the charcoal for the perfect amount of smoke."
8. Wrap your ribs perfectly
"Ribs benefit greatly from cooking low-and-slow. For cooking times longer than 2 hours, most meat will benefit from wrapping in foil. For example, baby back ribs will take roughly 4 hours while spare ribs will take closer to 5 hours and both should be wrapped after 2 ½ hours. This will help tenderize the meat, and maintain a beautiful color to the product rather than it becoming too dark or black. To wrap the ribs, lay them meat side down on top of a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, add flavor enhancers if desired (see some popular additions below), then loosely wrap the ribs so that steam can escape from the packet."
9. Perfect flavor enhancers
"When wrapping the ribs, feel free to add a light dusting of dry rub seasoning as well as a couple of tablespoons of apple juice, grape juice, or even cola to add a richer depth of flavor and to help achieve that beautiful tenderness you are looking for in the perfect rack of ribs (and despite what you may have heard, “fall of the bone” ribs are overcooked. Look for a rib with a bite that pulls cleanly from the bone and doesn’t take all of the meat with it!)."
10. Sauce: The perfect finishing touch
"If you want to add sauce, only add it during the last few minutes of cooking and allow it to “set” on the meat. Too much heat or adding sauce too quickly will over caramelize the sauce and add that burnt sugar flavor. To sauce, simply remove the ribs from the smoker, carefully open up the foil and allow all of the liquid to drain out. Brush sauce on the bone side of the ribs, then use the foil to roll the ribs over and brush the top side with sauce. Place the ribs back on to the smoker for 15 minutes so the sauce can set and the ribs can tighten up. Remove the ribs from the smoker, allow them to rest for 5 minutes, and apply another thin coating of sauce before serving your perfect rack of ribs."
Don't forget the sides. Try Cookston's recipe for Barbecue Baked Beans.