BBQ Spare Ribs
From Ribs, Chops, Steaks and Wings by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe
John has done some pretty great things that he should be proud of. He’s awesome at his job, manages to single-handedly support us, our dogs, and our house, does some pretty impressive home repairs, and even stays calm, cool and collected during calamities such as kitchen fires. But if you’re asking me, the thing he should be most proud of in the whole world is…these ribs. I swear I’m not exaggerating about this one. We’ve hosted our fair share of food-centered shindigs at this point, but I honestly don’t recall ever getting as many compliments as we did on these ribs. They are phenomenal. And I can say that without bragging, because I truly had nothing to do with them. While I was playing the role of hostess-with-the-mostess inside our air conditioned kitchen, John was out on our deck schvitzing (as declared by one of our Jewish guests when John walked back into the house…yes, we invite Jewish people over and then serve ribs, but that’s neither here nor there) over 3 beautiful racks of perfectly smoked ribs. Despite 100+ degree weather this 4th of July, John spent the better part of his afternoon outside tending to these mouthwatering logs of meat. I’m not going to lie, they are a bit of work, but I promise it’s a labor of love. Sure, you can go out and spend $20 on a slab at a restaurant, but I PROMISE you these are better, and by shopping at our local Mexican grocery store for the meat they cost us all of $8 a slab. As for the spice rub, we mix up a bunch of it at once and keep it in a tupperware container for months…if it lasts that long.
The first step to the process is the butchering of the ribs. First, let me explain a little meat lingo that we learned recently. If you purchase “spare ribs” what you are actually buying is St. Louis cut ribs, attached to rib tips, attached to random boneless pork meat. Presumably a nice butcher man (or woman) could separate these cuts for you, but I don’t think that service is included in the $2/lb price we pay at the Mexican grocery store. No worries though, with the help of this YouTube video (or this creepier version) and the following series of pictures (captions by the pit master himself) you’ll have yourselves some beautifully butchered meat in a matter of minutes.
So first off let me say this, I am by no means skilled with a knife nor have any kind of formal training in butchering. Somehow Tera has taken these pictures in such a way that it actually looks like I know what I’m doing.
The first step is removing the flap of random meat and any excess fat from the slab. Once the slab is nice and clean looking you will need to remove the membrane off of the bony side of the ribs. Take the membrane off by slicing into it at the very end (on the side with the largest bones) and using a paper towel simply pull it off down the ribs. It took me a few slabs to really get the hang of this, after you do it’s a breeze.
The next step is separating the St. Louis cut ribs from the rest of the slab. Using your hands, bend and fold the slab until you find the joint between rib bone and the rib tips. It should run on a curve which creates that natural slimming slab of ribs look you’re used to. Starting as far up the big bones as there are rib tips, place the knife in the joint and let the knife run down the joint and do the work for you. If you’re meeting strong resistance it is because you’ve gotten out of the joint and just need to change the angle to find the easy path back down the slab.
And here’s another picture of this process with the St. Louis cut almost completely separated from the rib tips (and extra random pork meat). [Also, I swear to god my arms aren’t that hairy. Tera screws with the contrast in these pictures to make the food pop, which apparently also makes dark colored arm hair pop as well]
Once you separated out the St. Louis cut look over the front and back of the slab and remove any excess fat or random flaps of meat. Feel free to save any of the excess meat that you’re removing, can be used to make a fried rice or ground up for some ground pork.
Trim down any of the excess meat from the rib tips so the rib tips end up looking fairly rectangular (will still end up skinnying a little bit on one end naturally).
Here’s the separated rib tips, top, and the random boneless piece of pork, bottom. I’d love to tell you all the cool things we’ve done with that random piece of pork, but thus far we’ve forgotten about it in the fridge every time and it’s gone bad before we got around to using it. We suck.
Now, without further ado, on to the recipe that will make you famous at block parties/bbq’s/progressive dinners (I swear we don’t live in the suburbs, these are just the only backyard BBQ events that came to mind) for years to come.
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup salt
- 2 Tbsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 2 slabs St. Louis cut ribs*
- rib rub, from above
- 1/2 cup honey
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- 2/3 cup apple juice
- 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray all the way in the HMK), divided
- Combine all rub ingredients in a small bowl.
- At least 30 minutes before grilling and no longer than 4 hours before rub the ribs down with rib rub.
- Prepare the grill for cooking over indirect heat at 300 degrees (in other words, only turn one side of the burners on).
- Soak about 1 cup apple or cherry wood chips in a bowl of water for 10-30 minutes before grilling time. Drain chips and wrap them into a tin foil packet. Poke a few holes in the top of the packet to let the smoke come out. Alternatively, if you own a smoker box, you can use that.
- Place the wood chip packet on the side of the grill with the burners on.
- Place the slabs, meaty side up, on the side of the grill without burners on. Close the grill and cook 1 hour.
- Flip the slabs over, meaty side down, and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
- Flip the slabs over one last time and cook for another 30 minutes or until the ribs are nice and caramelized.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and transfer to a working surface. Tear off two sheets of aluminum foil (I recommend the heavy duty extra wide foil as the normal foil is just a tiny bit to narrow) and place the ribs in the middle of each sheet, meaty side up. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper and pour the honey over the slabs. Push the sides of the aluminum foil up to make walls (being careful not to puncture the bottom with the rib bones) and pour the apple juice into the packets. Fold the foil together and seal the packets.
- Return the packets to the grill (once again being careful not to puncture the packets) and cook for 45-60 minutes until the meat is good and tender (no scientific way to tell except by touching or using a toothpick).
- Remove ribs from grill and raise the temperature of the grill to 400 degrees.
- Remove the ribs from the packets and separate the BBQ sauce into two containers, one for basting the ribs and one for serving. Baste the meaty side of the ribs with 1/2 of the BBQ sauce set aside for basting and return them to the hotter grill (400 degrees), meaty side down, for 5 minutes.
- Use the remaining basting BBQ sauce and baste the bony side of the ribs and flip and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and enjoy with the remaining BBQ sauce!
*Note: The quantities in this recipe are meant for the St. Louis cut ribs only. If you’d like to make the rib tips too, increase the quantities a little so you have enough to coat all the meat. As far as cooking the rib tips goes, follow the same procedure as the St. Louis cut ribs, except they’ll take a little less time at each steps as they’re significantly smaller (~15-30 minutes less pre-foil, ~15 minutes less in the foil or just leave them on the whole time and they’ll be extremely tender).