Ribs with spicy bourbon barbecue sauce. No dry rub required. Just smoke ’em low and slow and occasionally baste ’em with apple juice.
Want to know how to make head-turning ribs with spicy barbecue sauce? It’s easy. Forgo the dry rub, smoke ’em low and slow, and slather ’em with a boozy barbecue sauce just before serving. It’s that simple. The insane tenderness of these ribs is due in large part to that second edict, the one about being smoked nice and sloooooow at a looooooow temperature. No smoker? No sweat. It’s a cinch to jury-rig an outdoor smoker. Take a gander at our recipe testers’ tactics which you’ll find in the comments beneath the recipe.–Renee Schettler Rossi
How This Recipe Came To Be
According to author Mitchell Rosenthal, this outrageously satisfying ribs with spicy bourbon barbecue sauce recipe came into existence while he was doing “field research” on barbecue a few years back. Here’s how the rest of the story goes… “I ended up in Hillsdale, Kansas, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. There I discovered The Bank, a place that serves beautifully smoked meats and perhaps the greatest barbecue sauce I’ve ever tasted. A conversation with the pit boss revealed that his ‘cue method was to forgo the dry rub and use hickory at a very low temperature, giving the meat more time in the smoker.”
“After you make these ribs the first time, you’ll realize the hardest thing about preparing a batch is the cooking time. By that I mean when the air starts smelling of smoke and the ribs begin taking on a gorgeous deep color, well, you’re going to want them right away. But, as I said, these ribs are the low-and-slow variety and patience is necessary. I often cook these ribs for parties, and guests inevitably ask me for the recipe. “No need to write it down,” I say. “It takes 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Just some salt and pepper, and after a half hour, baste them with some apple juice, and then again after 2 1/2 hours. That’s how you get that paper-thin, candylike glaze.”
“At the restaurant and in this recipe, we use St. Louis-style ribs, which are the spareribs trimmed of the tips. But you can use regular spareribs or even babyback ribs. Make sure to ask your butcher to remove the membrane from the rib racks to let more of the hickory smoke flavor in.”
Ribs with Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
- 3 to 4 handfuls hickory chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
- 10 pounds St. Louis or spareribs or baby-back ribs membranes removed* (see * Note)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup apple juice
- Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
- Prepare a barrel smoker or adapt your charcoal or gas grill for smoking. You want the temperature to be between 225° and 250°F (107°C and 121°C). Take the rib racks out of the refrigerator and allow them to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes while you get the fire ready.
- Season the ribs liberally with salt and pepper. Place the racks, bone side down, in the smoker and toss in a handful of the soaked hickory chips. Smoke the ribs for 30 minutes, then baste them generously with half of the apple juice. Smoke for 2 1/2 hours longer, rotating the ribs every hour by moving the racks closest to the heat source to the farthest point and vice versa. Be sure to also add charcoal every hour or so to maintain the temperature inside the smoker at about 225°F (107°C). Add more soaked wood chips after 2 hours to keep the smoke flowing. After the additional 2 1/2 hours has passed, baste the ribs a second time with the remaining apple juice. Repeat, continuing to rotate the ribs, add charcoal, and toss more wood chips into the smoker at the previously mentioned intervals, until the ribs are tender and the meat pulls away easily from the bone, 4 to 4 1/2 hours total.
- Transfer the racks of ribs to a baking sheet, take them inside, and plonk them on a platter or cutting board. Cut the ribs apart, slather them with some of the Spicy Bourbon Barbecue Sauce, and then plonk the rest of the sauce on the table for dipping and dousing.
*How To Remove The Membrane From RibsTo remove the membrane or silver skin from a rib, use the tip of a small knife to loosen a corner and then grab the membrane with a paper towel and slowly pull it off.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
You don’t need a smoker to make these tasty ribs. I often use my gas grill as a smoker, so I followed this recipe using the grill. I placed the soaked chips in a little smoker box and set one side of the grill on high, the other on low. I may have had the temperature a little high for part of the time, because my ribs cooked in only two and a half hours. However, they were a lovely caramelized brown and quite tender so I don’t think the heat was excessive. I suspect they may have tasted more intense if done in a smoker or cooked slower for longer, but they did have the characteristic wood-smoked flavor. The sauce was simple and nicely flavored. I don’t know that it beats out my favorite, but we all liked it. There isn’t much new here besides smoking the ketchup. It didn’t pick up much smoke flavor; again, that may have been because I didn’t have a true smoker, but the recipe was easy and successful.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can still make this barbecue ribs recipe. Just put an aluminum pan in the barbecue pit and place your wood chips inside it. We do this when we use our propane pit and get great results. These ribs we cooked on our Big Green Egg. I’ve always thought you needed the perfect rub to have good ribs. This recipe just proved that simplicity is the key to good ribs. The smoky flavor really shines in this recipe. The ribs had a nice smoke ring and were very tender. You tasted meat and smoke and it was the perfect combination. The sauce was good but it had too much Tabasco sauce for our taste. It seemed to overpower the sauce. I would make it again but adjust that seasoning. I would also either smoke the ketchup a little longer or use a lot more wood chips to give it a heavier smoke flavor. All in all, though, I believe I’ve found the perfect rib recipe and won’t have to bother making a rub again.
If you can’t find St. Louis ribs (I couldn’t), this barbecue ribs recipe would work fine with regular spare ribs or baby back ribs. I used a Big Green Egg instead of a barrel smoker to prepare these ribs. You should be able to make these in any setup where you have indirect heat and can control the temperature reasonably well. Using the Egg, where the heat is pretty even, I did not feel the need to rotate the ribs every hour, so I just rotated them once. You do need to do this if you have a setup like a barrel smoker, where one side might be hotter than the other. Note that what the recipe wants you to do here is rotate the ribs, not flip them over. They should cook the whole time bone side down. I used wood chunks for smoke instead of chips, and highly recommend you do the same. Chips have a pretty short life in the smoker, whereas chunks can last for hours on end. The chunks I put on top of my coals were still going strong after more than four hours. The apple juice for basting the ribs doesn’t add much in terms of flavor, but what it does do is ensure a beautiful crust in a burnished mahogany hue. Underneath that lovely crust, these ribs had a vivid pink “smoke ring,” and below that, tender meat. Very simple with a pure taste. Note that the ribs are not brushed with sauce while they are cooking, but after coming off the smoker. They are cut apart and served with sauce on the side. Which is the way it should be.
We didn’t have a smoker to cook these barbecue ribs, so we did some Internet sleuthing and found a way to smoke them on the grill. We took the soaked wood chips and placed them in two disposable aluminum mini-loaf tins. We placed those under the grates toward the back of the grill and brought the heat up to 250°. Once we had heat, we placed the racks of ribs on the grill and followed the directions from there. The aroma coming off the grill for the next four hours was amazing. We sat outside next to the barbecue, kept watch on the temperature, and enjoyed the scent of the wood chips smoking the racks of ribs. The ribs came off fork-tender with a lovely flavor of smoke. They did not need any sauce, but we went ahead and used it anyway. They were delicious–smoky, sweet, and spicy. The sauce was a snap to whip up and made enough for us to use for multiple grillings. While these ribs require a bit of attention while cooking (keeping an eye on the temperature, mainly), they are worth every minute of the four and a half hour cook time.
Originally published June 12, 2018