After spending many hours inundated with smoke, scientifically zeroing in on the finer details of all things barbecue, I can honestly say that cooking baby back ribs is the easiest crowd pleaser out of all barbecued meats. The meat is very consistent in size and tenderness, it's therefore simple to follow the recipe and get the job done without much guess work or trial and error.
Eating barbecue baby back ribs is such a simple pleasure, the juicy smoked meat separating easily from the bone with no sinew or connective tissue to work around. The flavors imparted from a good quality rub absorb easily, allowing for more assertive seasoning in less time.
I can recall the first time I ever had a barbecued rib, the primal satisfaction taken from biting the bone, senses overcome with flavor and smell of smoke, and redolent with spices, I knew that this was a very special treat, something that should be savored. When done properly, (like this post will help you do), this transcends it's humble origins, becoming truly meat candy.
Ingredients For Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
The meat itself: raw baby back rib rack, quite often referred to as back loin ribs. The piece pictured is about 3 pounds, but any size will do. Figure on about one pound per serving. Allow for cooking shrinkage, as well as bone weight.
The rub/seasoning, (starting with pepper grinder, clockwise around):
- black pepper
- cayenne pepper
- white sugar
- granulated garlic
- ground coriander
- smoked paprika (center)
- (not shown) spicy brown mustard
- cherry wood smoking pellets, or any kind that you would prefer, or a blend. For more specific advise on wood choices for smoking, see "here"
- wood chips for smoking, this would be for use in a charcoal or propane grill
- smoking logs or chunks, for utilizing a side box smoker
After combining the dry spices, you'll want to smear the mustard over the ribs, both front,
and back. Don't worry if you don't care for mustard, this step simply helps the spices adhere and form a "bark" on the finished product. Besides a certain zesty twang, it really doesn't impart a particularly mustard-y flavor.
Here you see the spice rub generously sprinkled over the back. Make sure that you reserve a little more than half for the other side.
As mentioned, here is what the top side should look like after application of the spices.
This meat will be cooking for a long time in a dry heat environment, so we will be offsetting that for most of the cook time by placing a foil pan of water below the cooking grates to keep things more moist, (in a propane grill, make sure that this is either over a burner that is off, or turned very low. In a charcoal grill, this should be away from the coals. In a side box, this should be positioned in the grill area, where the smoke enters the chamber.)
And so it begins. the seasoned ribs go on the grill once it has achieved a temperature of 250 to 275 degrees F. (In a charcoal or propane grill, this would be off of the direct heat, with a pan or aluminum foil "bowl" of wood chips smoking over the coolest part of the heat).
Once the ribs are registering 150 to 160 degrees, or if they are starting to char around the edges, wrap tightly and completely with foil to prevent loss of juices, and to keep the temperature from "stalling"
Once the meat is registering a temp. of 190, unwrap it, and give it a glaze of sauce. This is a "if this, than that", kind of cooking, so if the ribs already got a decent amount of char and bark earlier, leave the rack in the foil to allow the sauce to "lacquer", if you would like a little more crispy bits, this would be when removing the foil completely would be in order. Let the internal temp. to reach at least 195, but more importantly, pull on the outside bone gently, feeling for the meat to give just a little, indicating tenderness. Allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes, cut and enjoy.
Variations For Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
You can use many different combinations of spices and sauces to mix things up, including:
- Asian: teriyaki glaze with five spice and ginger rub
- Cajun: Blackening spice rub with cayenne pepper hot sauce
- Jamaican jerk rub
Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
- 1 Grill/smoker Pellet, side box, propane, or charcoal
- 1 tongs
- 1 Basting brush
- 1 probe thermometer We suggest digital for quickness and accuracy
- 1 Aluminum foil Enough to wrap the ribs fully
- 1 Aluminum foil pan Large enough to hold at least 2 cups of water
- 1 Chef Knife
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 tbsp. Salt
- 3 tsp. Black pepper
- 2 tsp. White sugar
- 1½ tsp. Granulated garlic
- 1 tsp. Cayenne pepper
- ¾ tsp. Ground coriander
- 1 tbsp. Smoked paprika
- 3 tbsp. Spicy brown mustard
- ⅓ bag smoking pellets ( if using a pellet grill ) any flavor you would like
- 1 lb. wood smoking chips ( if using a propane or charcoal grill ) soaking with water is optional, make sure they don't catch on fire.
- 4-7 lb. hardwood chunks or logs ( if using a side box smoker ) amount needed varies based upon type and dryness of wood
Meat and Sauce
- 1 rack baby back ribs size will vary, time shown is for a 3 to 4 pound rack. pick a rack with good marbling, but no excessive fat
- 1 cup barbecue sauce (optional) we used the cherry barbecue sauce from this site, but any favorite kind will work.
- combine all dry ingredients
- smear half of mustard onto back side of rack
- sprinkle about ⅓ of dry rub evenly across back side
- use rest of mustard to smear onto the front side of the rack
- sprinkle remaining dry seasonings evenly across the front
- allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, no longer than overnight
- bring smoker or grill up to 250 degrees, no hotter than 275-pellet grill: follow manufacturers instructions-propane grill: light only one side of the burners, keep closed until temp. is achieved, add foil pan with water in it on the cold side, under the grill grates, and the wood chips in a bowl made from the foil, also under the grates, on top of the hot burners.-charcoal grill: light small pile of briquettes, creating a pile in one side of the grill. once coals are grey and no longer showing flames, cover grill, allowing for ventilation, monitor temperature, add foil pan with water in it on the cold side, under the grill grates, and the wood chips in a bowl made from the foil, also under the grates, on top of the edge of the hot coals.-side box smoker: light wood, allow to cook down to coals, cover and ventilate, monitor temp.
- place ribs on cold side of grill, ribs facing down.
- maintain heat at 250 to 275 for roughly 4 hours, checking the temp. of the rack with thermometer every hour, until internal temp reads 150 to 160
- Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap completely with foil, return to the heat.
- continue to monitor the temperature of the meat until 190. Remove from foil
- brush the sauce onto the entire surface of the rack, (optional, if you prefer no sauce, or to do it at the table).
- If the meat has achieved the desired level of char, leave it resting on the foil, if not, remove it from the foil and put it directly on the grill.
- continue cooking until the outside bone is easily manipulated against the meat, indicating tenderness, usually at an internal temp of 195 to 205.
- remove from grill, allow to rest for 15 minutes, cut and serve
Making barbecue is very difficult, if not impossible, to break down to an exact science. You cannot simply cook any piece of protein for a specific time at a specific temperature, and always get the same results. There are just too many variables to consider to be able to approach it this way. This goes back to why most recipes that are written this way are just wrong, see Recipes Suck for more about this. I've also created a BBQ FAQ Hub to help with the usual challenges associated with this particular craft.