6 steps to the best barbecued ribs – The Denver Post

By Steven Raichlen, The New York Times

Let Texans brag about brisket and Carolinians extol pulled pork shoulder. For the rest of us, the ultimate emblem of barbecue — and test of a grill master’s mettle — is ribs.

Picture meaty slabs stung with spice, bronzed with smoke and slathered with sticky sweet barbecue sauce. The meat is tender, but not too tender, with a profound pork flavor enhanced by the pit master’s art.

You may have thought such alchemy possible only at the best barbecue joints. But great ribs are surprisingly easy to make at home, which is good news at a time when eating out can be fraught.

Ribs are barbecue at its most primal and unadorned; indeed, that’s the crux of their appeal. It’s conceivable that you might eat brisket with a knife and fork or more likely between two slices of white bread. Pork shoulder comes either shredded or chopped, and you always eat it on a bun.

Ribs, on the other hand, demand to be devoured caveman-style, ripped apart with bare hands and gnawed right off the bone.

I won’t say that cooking them is quick — if you want speed, grill a steak. But if ribs take two to three hours in all, the actual prep can be done in 30 minutes. True, the process as I’ve laid it out here requires a homemade spice rub and barbecue sauce, and turning your grill into a smoker. But the results are achievable by all and eminently worth the effort.

Just follow these six steps and the recipe I’ve provided. No special equipment is needed beyond the grill you probably already have in your backyard.

1. Choose the right ribs.

The pig supplies four types of ribs: baby backs (sometimes called top loin ribs), spareribs, rib tips and country-style ribs. You want to use the baby backs, which are cut from high on the hog (quite literally, as they abut the backbone). Baby backs have the most generous marbling and the tenderest meat, which makes them relatively quick to cook — and a natural for newcomers. When possible, buy ribs from a heritage pork breed, like Berkshire (sometimes called Kurobuta) or Mangalitsa. They cost more, but their intense porky flavor justifies the price.

2. Layer the flavors.

One of the secrets of great ribs — indeed, great barbecue in general — is a process that creates layers of flavors. I start with a slather, like Dijon mustard, that I brush on both sides of each rack of ribs. Next, I apply a rub — in the recipe below, a fragrant amalgam of chile powder, brown sugar, salt and pepper, with celery seed added for spice. The third layer comes from apple cider, which you spritz on halfway through cooking. (This also helps keep the ribs moist.) The fourth layer — the varnish, as it were — takes the form of a chipotle bourbon barbecue sauce, which you sear into the meat over a hot fire, creating a glossy finish. The crowning touch is a light, fresh sprinkle of rub added right before serving the ribs to bring attention back to the spice.

3. Grill over indirect heat.

Most professional pit masters cook ribs low and slow in a smoker. You’re going to use a hotter and faster method called indirect grilling. In short, you cook the ribs next to, not directly over, the fire, with the grill lid closed and hardwood added to produce wood smoke.

To set up a charcoal grill for indirect grilling, light the coals, then pour or rake them into two mounds at opposite sides of the grill. Place a foil pan in the center to catch the dripping rib fat. The ribs go onto the grate over this drip pan, away from the heat.

To set up a two-burner gas grill for indirect grilling, light one side and cook the ribs on the unlit side. On a three-burner gas grill, light the outside or front and rear burners, and cook the ribs over the unlit burner in the center. On a four- to six-burner gas grill, light the outside burners and, again, cook the ribs in the center.

On a kamado-style grill, insert the heat diffuser, a ceramic plate that separates the food from the fire. Pellet grills, by their very design, grill indirectly, so no special setup is needed. Note that with all these types of grills, the lid must be closed.

If cooking four or more racks of ribs, you may want to invest in a rib rack, which holds the slabs vertically, allowing you to fit four racks of ribs in the space two slabs would take lying flat.

4. Apply the smoke.

Wood smoke has been called the umami of barbecue. It is certainly barbecue’s soul. While you can make delectable baby back ribs without wood smoke, as the French and Brazilians do, they won’t taste like American barbecue. So which wood to use? Debate rages in barbecue circles over the superiority of apple versus cherry, hickory versus mesquite, or whether to employ a combination of several woods. Mesquite lends the strongest flavor, but any hardwood chunk or chip will deliver the requisite smokiness. I smoked the ribs in my recipe with cherry wood, simply because I had it on hand.