When people think about barbecuing pork, this is the dish they think of. But despite their ubiquity, smoked spare ribs—like pulled pork—are hard to get right. We’ve taste-tested them all over the United States. What we’ve found is that, more often than not, the ribs delivered to our table are dry and flavorless—which is why they are served with a bucket of sugary syrup! When we do find good ribs, they’re usually at some tiny roadside stand, where they’ve been smoked all day; the taste is so powerfully flavorful, you don’t even need sauce! This recipe will help you re-create that authentic barbecue flavor in your own backyard. Keep in mind that there are people who spend a lifetime getting smoked ribs just right, so give yourself some time to perfect them.
Real barbecues are gigantic pits of smoke, fire, and coals. They look intimidating—not like something you could just up and create yourself. And while it’s true that using hardwood in a real pit is probably the best way to experience barbecue, it is by no means the only way. You can do it at home. You don’t need much beyond a kettle charcoal smoker, which, when compared to the price of your gas grill, is cheap. [Editor’s Note: Readers without a smoker, take comfort. We included directions for how to smoke these spare ribs on a grill. Who loves you?!]–Matthew McCarry and Stacy Toth
LC What Wood Would A Woodchuck Use To Smoke Spare Ribs? Note
Hey, smoking meat is super simple once you get the hang of it. At least, so say the authors of this fine recipe, and we believe them. Here, a little more advice from them on what wood to find: “The first step is to buy smoking chips. We’ve found applewood chips in regular grocery stores and more exotic woods in barbecue stores or online. Different wood chips impart a different flavor, so you should experiment to see what you like best. You’ll want to first soak the chips in water for at least 30 minutes; this is so they will smolder rather than catch fire.”
Special Equipment: Wood chips (see LC Note above)
Smoked Spare Ribs Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 6 H
- Serves 4 to 6
- 2 racks (about 4 pounds) pork spare ribs
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar (or substitute maple, date, or palm sugar)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce
- 1. Let the ribs rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
- 2. In a small bowl, make the rub by combining the sugar, chili powder, cumin, salt, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, and cayenne pepper with a fork.
- 3. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Then coat the ribs with the rub, using your hands to completely cover the surface of the meat with the spices.
- 4. Following the instructions below, smoke the ribs at 225°F (107°C) for 5 hours (about 1 hour more than the number of pounds of meat). Keep the coals smoldering at low heat so that the ribs don’t burn, catch fire, or overcook. Check the ribs periodically to make sure they aren’t drying out. Flip and move the ribs 90° every hour in order to get crosshatch sear marks across the flesh. The meat is done when it is tender and releases easily from the bone.
If using a smoker: Put your soaked chips in the smoking basket and your meat on the top racks.
If using a jury-rigged smoker: If buying a new smoker is too expensive for you, you can build one for yourself with just a large terra-cotta pot and a large terra-cotta bowl large enough to fit a hot plate and a round grill rack, bricks, and an aluminum pie plate. Here’s how to construct it: Raise the pot off the ground with some bricks but leave the hole at the bottom of the pot uncovered for the hot plate cord. Place the hot plate in the bottom of the pot, and pull the hot plate’s cord through the hole so you can plug it into an outlet or extension cord. Put your soaked wood chips into an aluminum pie plate and put that on top of the hot plate. Place the grill rack on top of the pot so that it sits inside the pot, but well above the hot plate. Cover with the bowl, which is your lid. Turn on the hot plate and you’re smoking!
If using a gas grill: Can you smoke meat with a regular gas grill? We’ve done it, and it’s effective if not perfect. This is an unsophisticated version of smoking, and real pit masters frown on it, but we’ve done it many times. The taste is not as intense, but the meat is still tender and delicious. If you want to try it, here’s how: Put your soaked wood chips in an aluminum pie plate and cover the top tightly with aluminum foil. With a butter knife, poke about 10 holes in the foil. Remove the grates from one side of your grill and place the pie plate directly on those burners. Light your grill and set only the burners underneath the wood chips on their lowest setting. If there is a large vent on the side of the grill with the wood chips, plug it with an old rag to prevent the smoke from escaping. Keep your meat on the opposite side of the grill, where the grates are still in place. Wait for the wood to start smoking—at least 15 minutes—before you place your meat on the grill.
- 5. Remove the ribs from the heat, and let them rest uncovered for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce.
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Smoked Spare Ribs Recipe © 2013 Matthew McCarry and Stacy Toth. Photo © 2013 Aimee Buxton. All rights reserved.
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