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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Home barbecue 101: Memorial Day ribs

Disclaimer: Not my ribs

Disclaimer: Not my ribs

If there is a holiday that marks the beginning of the backyard barbecue season, it has to be Memorial Day. Though it is a year-round practice in my house, I always make a point to fire up the smoker at some point over the long weekend for some ‘cue.

I’ve already talked about how easy it is to smoke some pulled pork at home. But sometimes, when I don’t have enough time to prep a butt, or too full of a schedule to man the Egg for 10-12 hours, I go to the next best thing: Spare ribs.

Yes, spare ribs. While I’ll never turn down a tender rack of baby backs, I’m very partial to the meatier, porkier spare rib. The notion that baby back ribs are always more tender than spares is false, assuming that the spare ribs are properly smoked. A key exception to this is if you are so pressed for time that you have to cook the ribs at a temp higher than 250 degrees. In that case, the spare ribs won’t work out well, and you should stick to baby backs.

So, for you rib rookies, here is a crash course that you can put to good use this weekend.

Comparatively, there is much less work that goes into smoking a good rack of ribs, and the end product is just as much of a crowd pleaser.

A few key things to note:

- If you boil your ribs, stop reading this right now and go bash your head against a wall. The word “blasphemous” doesn’t do it justice. You are dead to me now.

- Prep work is crucial to a good rack of ribs. Like leaving the giblets in the turkey, forgetting to remove the pleura – AKA, the silver skin, a thin membrane lining the bone side of the ribs – will ruin an otherwise promising rack. The membrane gets rubbery and gross.

- “Fall off the bone” isn’t what you are shooting for (unless that is how you prefer your ribs). If the meat dissolves off of the bone, they are overcooked.

- If you are working with a small grill space, use a rib rack, but be careful. Don’t over crowd the ribs, there needs to be proper airflow between the racks. Also, make sure you flip the ribs halfway through, or the meat closest to the grill will overcook.

Ask your butcher if the membrane has been removed when you buy them. If not, ask if they can do it for you. And if the answer to that is no, removing the membrane yourself SHOULD be pretty easy (as in this video), but that stuff can get pretty slippery. When it comes time to grab it and pull, use a paper towel to get a little better grip.

Once the membrane is off, you can throw on marinade or brine if you’d like and refrigerate overnight. However, I usually find that to be unnecessary. I prefer to pat the ribs down with a good rub, let them rest while I fire up the egg, and then throw them straight on.

Assuming you are going with spare ribs, you definitely want to go low and slow. Keep the temperature between 225-250, for around 3-5 hours, depending on the thickness and size of your ribs.

As always, time is much less important than temperature. You are shooting for 180-190 degrees (I’d take them off no later than 185, lest they wind up like a pile of Houston’s overcooked “fork and knife” ribs). But the challenge with ribs is that getting an accurate read on a thermometer can be difficult.

Instead, you are going to have to do it by feel, which is somewhat of a contradiction in a post aimed at beginners. There are numerous ways to check the doneness…if a toothpick slides into the meat with little to no resistance, they are probably done. Pick up one of the racks with a pair of tongs…if they droop, and the meat cracks on the surface as though it is about to break, pull them off. Obviously, if the bone slides right out, pull them immediately – they are overcooked.

If you choose to apply a sauce, wait until the meat is ready before putting on the first coat. A coat of surgery sauce can turn gummy in the grill if applied too early. I like to avoid using too much mop sauce so as to not turn the bark soggy. I’m a fan of the Memphis-style dry rib, and I usually just leave the sauce on the side at the table. If you see that tell-tale pink ring on your meat, and have a good rub on there, that should be all that you need.

So, what is going onto your grill this weekend?

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

50 comments Add your comment

Oinker

May 25th, 2012
6:47 am

IMP, 225-250 is too hot…shoot for 225 tops…I have one of the original BGEs and can keep the temp at 185 which I prefer make the best dry ribs ever..

mrmambo

May 25th, 2012
8:09 am

I’ve had great results for 2 years and at least 6 barbecues with Cook’s Illustrated’s Memphis Dry Rub Spareribs (July, 2010):
- they leave the membrane on, as it keeps some of the fat from rendering out and produces a more tender rib
- they smoke for 90 minutes at 250-275°–purists disagree over how long you need to smoke; most say primary infusion is within first hour or two and it can get bitter after that
- they finish in a 300° oven for 2-3 hours, getting up to 195°, same as for pork butts

Y’all can argue over the “right” way to do it, but I’ll be enjoying these ribs around 3pm today and smiling to myself! :-)

Progress

May 25th, 2012
8:18 am

I agree that boiling ribs is a bad move because it drains the flavor off into the water. However, I have found that it’s good to braise them first in a mixture of beer, molasses, spices, etc. If you do this it imparts flavor and helps to break down the connective tissue before you throw them on the smoker. The result is a more tender, juicier rib, instead of a tough, stringy one. That connective tissue needs to turn gelatinous to give the ribs that buttery texture, which is difficult to do just on smoke alone without overcooking them.

Also, while I’ll be doing baby back ribs this weekend, I’m also doing some of my very favorite, beef short ribs. If you’re talking about buttery ribs, there’s nothing better than a beef short rib smoked over mesquite for 2 hours at 200 degrees before being slathered with some sauce for another half hour and then finally thrown directly over the heat for some sizzle. The best ever (except for lobster).

Jon Watson

May 25th, 2012
9:00 am

@mrmambo – interesting. While I can’t endorse the use of an oven, I’m intrigued by the decision to leave the membrane on. Do you remove it after they are cooked, or eat them with the silver skin still on? How does that not get chewy as heck?

ted

May 25th, 2012
9:02 am

I do a modified 3-2-1 method and use foil. Blasphemy to some, but when I’m shooting for a deadline to finish cooking for a meal/event, it helps get all the racks more or less done at the same time. I don’t foil nearly as long as the original method b/c I’m shooting for bite-through not fall-apart ribs.

Get to cook this weekend on my parents’ WSM. Will get to see if I can do ribs as well on their smoker as my own.

justmy2cents

May 25th, 2012
9:37 am

I found my hubby a recipe from “Dr. BBQ” for baby back ribs. It is all we use now! Rub em, leave them in the fridge overnight, a couple hours on the grill/smoker, then wapped in foil with apple juice & honey and back on the grill/smoker for a few more hours. Yummy! We will be having them Sunday.

mrmambo

May 25th, 2012
10:38 am

Nope, John–the membrane stays on and it really isn’t chewy at all. I know I used to pull it, too, and it’s common BBQ lore, but it really does seem unnecessary. Try some next time and see if it works for you.

Cook’s has disproven some other BBQ traditions including putting rub on day(s) before (the meat is so thin that it doesn’t have far to go) while others have shown that presoaking wood does nothing (the water only penetrates about 1/8″ into the chunks).

Oh, and I use an iQue temperature controller for my Weber Smokey Mountain–you set the desired temperature and it controls the air intake to regulate the fire. It’s pretty amazing–you can almost set it and leave it for hours, just checking now and then. I did a pork butt for 12 hours and it held the heat the whole time with only one charcoal addition.

And, as for using the oven: well, wrapping it in foil on the smoker/grill is the same as covering it in an oven; they’re both essentially braising and heat is heat. If it’s wrapped, it’s not getting any more smoke anyway! Plus, like Ted said, it’s much easier to control and deliver consistent results on-time. This recipe, though, does leave them uncovered, but it’s much easier to finish in the oven than fiddle with the smoker–the smoke’s already in there.

DERWOOD

May 25th, 2012
11:07 am

MAN I MADE A MISTAKE IN READING THIS ARTICLE. I AM AT WORK AND MY MOUTH IS WATERING FOR SOME RIBS. ANY BODY DELIVER?

yuzeyurbrane

May 25th, 2012
11:24 am

I am happy to say that I have discovered many of your points through trial and error over the years and seem to have satisfied consumers. Definitely do not parboil first. I like to reduce the fattiness somewhat so I have punched a fork through the membrane between the bones to ease the fat drip. And I would like to try it without the membrane but I saw no link to the how-to video you mentioned?

Baltisraul

May 25th, 2012
11:30 am

Jon……I have heard boiling ribs for years but to date, have never met anyone who has done it that way! I guess many years ago it was done. With all the info out there on the best methods, boiling is NEVER mentioned. Very good piece you wrote today, really enjoyed the feedback also.

Bob from Accounttemps

May 25th, 2012
11:36 am

So I’m clear, a smoker is required? Not a Weber Genesis?

Doc Hollidawy

May 25th, 2012
12:23 pm

I’ve tried to like spareribs, but just can’t over baby backs. Agree with the short ribs above as well if you’ve never tried those. I am on the lower end of temps as well liking to keep my BGE at 200 for ribs.

BBQ U guy (Steve R.) had a show where he did spares at 350 for a shorter time. Haven’t tried that yet, but they looked good. Anyone cooked them that high or heard of that?

KingRover

May 25th, 2012
1:18 pm

I did “turbo spares” on my BGE. http://eggheadforum.com/discussion/1138939/turbo-spare-ribs#Item_14
http://eggheadforum.com/discussion/1138949/turbo-spare-ribs-baby-v-loin-v-spare

Have always done spares (though i keep on for about 5-6 hours usually.) Just bought some loin backs for the first time (Publix had em on sale.)

KingRover

May 25th, 2012
1:23 pm

Good primer Mr. Watson. Another way to check for doneness is to see how much bone is exposed. The meat should start to pull away from bone a little bit.

Kirk

May 25th, 2012
1:31 pm

mrmambo, I”m going to have to strongly disagree with “Cook’s” regarding putting the rub on the day before. It makes a big difference – I’ve done it both ways many times, and letting the meat sit in the rub overnight definitely imparts more flavor into the meat.

catsmeow

May 25th, 2012
3:10 pm

My recipe for great smoked ribs is get in the car, drive 5 miles to GC BBQ, buy a mess of their baby back ribs, drive back home, and INDULGE in BBQ BLISS.

Justin

May 25th, 2012
3:27 pm

@ catsmeow

May 25th, 2012
3:10 pm

Now that sounds like a recipe I’d used in a heart beat! LOL

The Real Foodie

May 25th, 2012
4:19 pm

1. St. Louis ribs are the best of both worlds.
2 Dry rub overnight.
3. Use wood only.
4. The membrane keeps the rack straight.
5. Sauce only after resting.
6. Enjoy!

The Real Foodie

May 25th, 2012
4:22 pm

Smoke until when you pick up with tongs they bend over.

Baltisraul

May 25th, 2012
5:08 pm

The Real Foodie…….I agree with your list except for leaving the membrane on. Also the tong measure method is a good one also. It is not your first trip to town, is it?

Edward

May 25th, 2012
7:42 pm

Fat Matt’s boils their ribs. That’s why anyone who says Fat Matt’s are “the best” simple doesn’t know what a good rib is supposed to taste like.

I don’t care for cooking them, myself, but point me to a place with REAL smoked short ribs and I’ll be happy.

dura10

May 25th, 2012
9:25 pm

Sadly, no one has mentioned one of the best kept secrets with ‘que when it comes to pork or chicken…BRINING. Soaking in a brine solution for about two hours works wonders. Ribs mostly will require a small cooler of a salt/water solution, usually a quarter cup salt to a gallon of water. The salt allows for a reverse osmosis effect that allows the meat to be infused with water. For you saltaphobics no the salt is not taken up into the meat. Proceed with your favorite form of cooking and if you try it once you will be sold. This is only for pork and chicken and will not work for red meat. BTW keep the meat cold during brining by putting an occasional light layer of ice on top. If you doubt this the next time you go to a sanctioned event and walk through prior to the official bell, notice the cooks have two coolers. We know what’s in one and they may or may not tell you about the other one.

sansho1

May 26th, 2012
9:07 am

I haven’t seen the need to brine ribs, personally. While brining works well for a thicker, denser meat, it’s comparatively easy to impart flavor to ribs without resorting to brining. A good spice rub is all you need IMO.

Baltisraul

May 26th, 2012
10:22 am

snaho1…..agreed, to brine ribs is sorta a waste of time. A good rub is all you need. Just go easy or leave out the sugar. It will burn and really hurt the flavor.

Marine Jacket

May 26th, 2012
12:11 pm

The only problem with this article is that it makes is seem as there is only one way Q ribs. With practice one can make ribs many different ways. I personally like to use my charcoal grill (not the smoker) with wood chips. I have been able to perfect this 2hr process to make tender ribs.

Also I prefer fall off the bone ribs, I don’t enjoy chewing my meat like an animal on NatGeo channel. I like them tender.

P.S. For the best flavor you need to season and/or marinate at least 24hrs prior to Qing.

Go Jackets!!!!!!!

Baltisraul

May 26th, 2012
2:42 pm

Marine Jacket……you are correct. There are any number of good ways of achieving tasty ribs. The first step is to let the rub sit on your ribs 24 hrs, like you mentioned. I use the smoker and the grill. Don’t really have a favorite method. Just what I feel like that day.

Fred ™

May 26th, 2012
2:44 pm

A Marine AND a jacket? That’s so redundant, it’s like say you are stupid and stupid………. :lol:

But seroously, Jon told you ONE way to do ribs and it was for BEGINNERS. For BEGINNERS you don;t need to provide 58 different options.

Jon; Interesting. My buddy, “Dr. Rib” advocates placing the ribs in foil after an hour (or 2 I forget) with some apple or orange juice to rehydrate them. I can’t argue as his are the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m pretty sure that’s also what they say at the Green Egg place (HQ) as well. I’m still trying to perfect the technique on my egg, as I’m a noob, so thanks for the explanation of WHY you take the membrane off. I knew I was supposed to do it, but didn’t know why.

go Green Egg.

BGE Man

May 26th, 2012
4:52 pm

Good article, Jon – the spares are great. Sorta like a good sirloin steak, not the fanciest cut, but very flavorful when cooked right. Question – I haven’t heard anyone mention a drip or water pan. I typically will use about a half of a tea kettle’s worth of water in a drip pan, sitting on the platesetter, below the ribs. Too much water turns your ribs into pot roast, but a little seems to really help tender them up. Publix has the $1.99/lb spares this week, and I think I’ll be doing a rack tomorrow before the big race!

wizeman

May 26th, 2012
5:39 pm

crawfish and shrimp boil tomorrow. grill the otther 364 days

SambosFavorite

May 26th, 2012
7:05 pm

Enter your comments here

truthpaste

May 26th, 2012
7:06 pm

I always go with beef ribs in the oven at 225 until the meat pulls back from the bone. I start with a dry rub, but apply a molasses based sauce in the last half-hour. You will suck your thumbs for a week after.

SambosFavorite

May 26th, 2012
7:06 pm

Too many southern morons here. No membrance, 200 degrees MAX (especially on gas), brining is fine, as long as you know what you’re doing and you’re sober. Stupid azz southerners.

BGE Man

May 26th, 2012
7:26 pm

@Sambos – at least we know how to enter comments :)

truth

May 26th, 2012
8:01 pm

Big Green Egg – need to cook slow and low. Some yank would be using a gas grill. Idiot.

1 4 GT

May 26th, 2012
8:36 pm

Get’m truth & BGE Man. Kick his butt back to yankeeland!

Baltisraul

May 27th, 2012
8:17 am

SambosFavorite………..Too many southerners in the South, you say? WOW, who would have guessed? We have been cooking great food in the South for, forever! Your kind are not welcome. You sir, are no gentleman. The last thing we need is some “Bloomberg” yankee telling us how to grill/bar-b-que!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

old school

May 27th, 2012
3:38 pm

My grandparent taught us to BOIL PORK TO RID IT FROM: insect eggs, larvae, unclean handling, remove some fat. Also, a little bit to shorten cooking time. But mostly for cleaning. Then sauteed over night. Be Blessed. Cook carefully.

George P Burdell

May 27th, 2012
3:39 pm

Sorry, but you ignorant Yankees can take your sweetened ketchup BBQ sauce and return from whence you came. BTW, if you live in the South, that makes you a Southerner.

Seriously, I use a Cookshack Smokette stainless steel electric smoker. It has a digital temperature control and holds heat at that perfect 225-250 degree range. It’s also very efficient requiring only four ounces of wood for an 8 hour smoke. I like to do a rub and then throw them in. The spices will cook into the meat. Costco is the best source for meat. Foil can be important. There is an effect that will impact the internal temperature of the meat. This is due to a evaporative effect that actually cools the meat. If you’re going to be cooking over 4 hours, you’ll need to foil the meat at some point or you’ll lose fluid and increase cooking time.

George P Burdell

May 27th, 2012
3:43 pm

The Texas Crutch: http://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/texas_crutch.html

Also, one secret of good BBQ is even, moderate heat. That’s what you get with the Green Eggs and Cookshack.

Baltisraul

May 27th, 2012
3:43 pm

old school…..no need to boil with the new methods used to medicate the hog. No longer a danger. Been that way for many years now.

Baltisraul

May 27th, 2012
3:44 pm

Gerge P……good point about the foil.

Baltisraul

May 27th, 2012
3:45 pm

SambosFavorite…..you have been told, we don’t need your input, we know what to do down here, little fella!!!!!!!!!!!!

Raja

May 27th, 2012
4:00 pm

the best ribs are marinated in a little soy sauce and dry rub overnight. If you have a gas grill you can still smoke them with hickory chips. If cooked correctly they will taste like you cooked them on wood.

BGE Man

May 27th, 2012
4:33 pm

Got a nice 4lb rack of spares on the Egg right now. The temp has been steady at 245F and life is good in Dixie!

southern bell

May 27th, 2012
4:42 pm

Rub with apple cider vinegar to destroy the pork infestation. Pork has a natural pigs filth. That’s why we call it swine

southern bell

May 27th, 2012
4:47 pm

You can add garlic powder vinegar and moisten while grilling

ugaboz

May 27th, 2012
6:00 pm

always ley my ribs sit in brown sugar overnight,

Slash

May 27th, 2012
6:08 pm

A bunch of yanks telling southerners how to grill, smoke, and BBQ. That is rich.

Genaro Sabha

May 27th, 2012
10:45 pm

Assessed and Approved. . . But would any one have a strategy for cupcakes?

Baltisraul

May 28th, 2012
7:20 am

southern bell………they don’t call it a swine becaus it is a dirty animal. A swine is a domestacated pig or hog. Cider vinegar will not kill disease but cooking it will.