This recipe comes to us from BBQ Pitmasters judge, Melissa Cookston. These ribs, which Cookston serves up at Memphis BBQ Co. with fellow grillmaster and co-owner John Wheeler, are the perfect way to kick off the fall with a Labor Day barbecue. 

Ingredients

  • 6 Slabs baby back ribs, about 3 pounds each
  • Basic BBQ Rub (recipe follows)
  • 4 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 Cup purple grape juice
  • 1 Cup Memphis BBQ Co. Original World Championship BBQ Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon chipotle powder

For the Basic BBQ Rub:

  • 1 Cup turbinado sugar, finely ground
  • 1/2 Cup white sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 Tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Teaspoon ground mustard
  • 4 Tablespoon Chili powder
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin
  • 6 Tablespoon Spanish paprika

Preparation

To make the Basic BBQ Rub:

Step 1:

Using a coffee grinder, grind the turbinado sugar with a few “pulses” until it is lightly powdered.

Step 2:

Combine with other ingredients and hand stir until well incorporated. Store in an airtight container.

To make the ribs:

Step 1:

Rinse the ribs and remove the membrane from the back. Trim any excess fat from the tops of the slabs. Trim 1 bone from the large end of the ribs and 2 bones from the small end. This will give you a much more consistent slab for cooking.

Step 2:

Starting on the backs, sprinkle the ribs with approximately ½ tablespoon of rub each, then add ½ tablespoon mustard each and massage into the meat. Flip the ribs over and repeat. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. For a contest, I marinate ribs like this for 12 to 16 hours.

Step 3:

Prepare a smoker to run at 225 degrees with around 4 chunks of apple wood and 4 chunks of cherry wood so that the wood will smolder throughout the cooking. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator, unwrap, and repeat the rub and mustard procedure, massaging them in. Don’t get it too thick or paste-like, as this will give you a dark appearance when cooked. Place the ribs in the smoker meat side up and cook for 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the smoker and increase the temperature to 250 degrees. Apply rub and mustard to both sides of the ribs as before. On the top sides, slather approximately 1 tablespoon of honey over the surface, then sprinkle heavily with Turbinado sugar. Lay the ribs meat side up on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and fold up the edges. Pour approximately 1 to 2 ounces of purple grape juice into the bottom of the foil, then finish wrapping the ribs but don’t crimp the edges—you want steam to be able to escape.

Step 4:

Return the ribs to the cooker for 2 hours, then test for tenderness. (I cook ribs in this stage until they look overdone and too tender. Don’t worry, they’ll tighten up. If they still have too much texture, leave them in for 20 to 30 more minutes.) Remove the ribs from the cooker, open the foil, and drain off the liquid. Using the foil as a tool, “roll” the ribs over so the bone side is up, glaze with sauce, then roll them back over and glaze the tops. Using long tongs, carefully remove the ribs from the foil and place them back in the smoker for 15 minutes. This will let the glaze cook onto the ribs and let the ribs tighten back up. Remove from the cooker and allow to rest for 5 minutes, apply a very thin coat of sauce to “glisten” the ribs, then lightly sprinkle with chipotle powder before serving.