These Memphis style ribs recipe coat St. Louis-style spareribs with a paprika, garlic, coriander, and pepper rub, slowly smoke them on a grill and finish them in the oven until almost-but-not-quite-fall-apart tender. No barbecue sauce necessary. Swear.
Memphis style ribs draw quite the dedicated following—and not just down South. Understandably so. These ribs rely only on a rub of warming spices—notably paprika and cayenne and black pepper for a mild heat along with the subtle sweetness of brown sugar. As always with ribs, they’re smoked low and slow, but then they’re wrapped tightly in foil and slid in the oven to let the meat gently braise in those seasoned juices. The ribs are traditionally served dry, meaning without sauce, as the rub is sufficiently spectacular to render anything else unnecessary. Though of course if you crave something slathered over the top, we won’t stop you.
Memphis style ribs are most commonly made with St. Louis-style spare ribs, although the approach works equally terrifically on other ribs.–Paula Disbrowe
Memphis Style Ribs
- 3 tablespoons Diamond Brand kosher salt or 2 tablespoons Morton’s kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 2 racks (4 1/4 pounds) St. Louis-style spare ribs trimmed, membranes removed* (see * Note)
- Wood chips chunks or logs, for smoking
- Hot sauce or barbecue sauce for serving (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine the salt, paprika, granulated garlic, coriander, black pepper, and Korean red pepper flakes. Sprinkle the mixture over both sides of each rib rack and use your hands to coat the surfaces evenly with the seasoning.
- Place the racks on a rimmed baking sheet and let them rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or wrap them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. (Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling.)
- If using a charcoal grill, prepare a charcoal grill for indirect cooking on medium-high. Wait until the coals are glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash before proceeding.
If using a gas grill, heat it for indirect cooking.
- Use tongs to remove the cooking grate and place a drip pan with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of warm water on the side of the grill with no heat. Toss your smoke source (chips, chunks, or log) in the grill or smoker box, if your grill has one. Carefully wipe the preheated grill grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again.
- When the fire begins to produce a steady stream of smoke, place the ribs over indirect heat (if a portion of the rack stretches over the heat source, it’s okay), close the grill, vent the grill for smoking, and smoke for 30 minutes, using the vents to maintain a temperature of 275°F (135°C) to 300°F (150°C).
- Use tongs to flip and rotate the ribs, so the opposite side is stretching over the heat source. Close the grill and continue to smoke, flipping and rotating the ribs every 30 minutes, adding more wood and coals (if using charcoal) as needed to maintain a steady temperature and smoke flow, until the ribs are deeply fragrant and have a nice crisp crust, about 1 1/2 hours more.
- Preheat the oven to 225°F (108°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and top the foil with a couple layers of parchment paper.
- Stack the racks on top of each other on the baking sheet. Wrap the racks tightly in the paper and foil packet and let them finish in the oven for 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the oven and let them rest, untouched, for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, unwrap the ribs. Use a sharp knife to slice the racks in between the bones, separating them into individual ribs, and pile them on a platter. If desired, serve with your favorite sauce on the side, though it's not necessary. Originally published May 15, 2019.
*How to remove the membrane from ribsTo remove the membrane or silverskin from your ribs, use the tip of a small knife to loosen the membrane anywhere along the rack. Grab the membrane with a paper towel (to help keep your grip on it—it's slippery) and slowly pull it off. You should be able to pull it off in one long piece. If it breaks, just restart at a new spot.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
There are many different ways to cook a rack of ribs, but there's no doubt that ribs kissed with smoke are king. If you haven't tried the method in this recipe, don't be intimidated to give it a go. It's spot on. The dry rub in this recipe is very good and it does pack a little heat. You may want to omit the sauce.
I like to smoke for 2 hours and then into the oven for 2 hours. The ribs will pick up plenty of smoke in that 2-hour time frame. I'd definitely recommend this method of smoking. Chicken also does well with this method.
I will say the most challenging thing is adding more charcoal and wood, but you can buy a grill grate with flip-up or hinged sides. They aren't that expensive and worth it if you want to smoke on the grill. Smoking on the grill relies on controlling your vents, both top and bottom, and once you have them under control it is a breeze.
Originally published May 15, 2019