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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Memphis-style Dry Rub Smoked Pork Ribs

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

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My mother loved barbequed pork ribs but, like many her favorite foods, they had to be prepared to her liking. When it came to ribs, she had no taste for what she called “sticky finger, dribbly-chin ribs that come off the grill or smoker with the meat falling off the bones, and smothered with that sticky sweet sauce.” Her favorite BBQ rib was the the dry rub variety coated with herbs and spices and slow cooked in a smoker until the meat was tender and juicy, while still retaining a delicate chew without the meat falling off the bones.

Every summer for several years we were invited down to the town of Mashpee, on Cape Cod, to stay with friends for a few days. One of the meals during our stay usually consisted of these ribs with side dishes of hardy greens like collards or kale (cooked southern style), and Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black- eyed peas and rice and served throughout  New Orleans on New Years’ Day.

For the past several years I have experimented with various recipes and production methods for preparing dry rub ribs. The results, however, have been mixed. There are endless variations of the classic dry rub used to coat these ribs. The classic Memphis-style rubs proved to be consistently the best-tasting.  So I made some minor adjustments in spice and herb quantities that suited my taste. That was the easy part of this process. Figuring out how to cook the ribs was a bit more problematic.

I don’t own a smoker, and I already own more limited-purpose cooking gadgets than I can store properly when not in use. So I decided to turn my Weber grill into a smoker. I called a chef I had worked with years ago in a popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He shared with me a method that teams my Weber grill with my electric oven to produce ribs that have all of the qualities of ribs cooked in a high-end smoker in half the time. I decided to give this method a try.

When you place any food on a hot charcoal grill to cook, you set into motion a series of chemical and physical events that will determine if that food will be edible after it is cooked. Fortunately, there are many reliable methods that you can use to help you monitor and control the cooking process and insure success.

The most popular method for cooking food over charcoal is grilling. Grilling usually involves cooking steaks, hamburgers, chicken, chops, or vegetables over an even layer of charcoal. Grilling is a simple and effective method for adding a distinctive flavor and texture to any food.

Barbequing is also a popular method for cooking meat, seafood, and vegetables using hot charcoal. The main difference between the two is that grilling incorporates high heat to quickly sear food to lock in the juice, which allows the food to continue cooking without drying out. Of course, overcooking is easy with this method, which will dry food regardless of searing. Barbequing usually involves cooking food at very low temperatures (200° to 300° F) for extended periods of time (8 to 12 hours and longer). This allows for wood smoke to be added to the preparation procedure.

But smoking food requires extended cooking times and often marinating or brining, depending on the type of food being cooked. The complexity of barbequing allows the cook to incorporate many variables that will infuse the food with a customized taste and/or texture.

In the weeks that follow I will discuss some of these variables and how to use them. The following recipe offers a fail-safe method for any cook with a 22-inch, Weber-style kettle grill to prepare and serve barbeque smoked pork ribs that are both tender and loaded with flavor. Also, this can be accomplished in 5 hours or less with a minimum of fuss.

I suggest that you follow my formula when you prepare these ribs for the first time to get an idea if it works for you. Then you can customize it to suit your personal taste and texture preferences.

The Rub (Read the rub formula before you mix the ingredients. Cayenne pepper contains a fair amount of chili-heat. You can increase or decrease the amount of cayenne pepper to suit your personal taste.)

Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl and set it aside.

2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon table salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
1½ teaspoons onion powder
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dry mustard



22-inch Weber-style kettle grill

50 charcoal briquettes

Large half-size (9-inch x 12-inch x 2-inch deep) disposable aluminum pan

1 cup apple wood chips (soaked for one hour)

An electric or gas range with an oven capable of holding a reliable temperature of 300° F

1 rimmed cookie sheet with a minimum cooking surface of an 18×14-inch and a footed wire rack to fit the sheet

Wood chips for smoke

One hour before you plan to start cooking, add 1½ cups of warm water to the wood chips.

The Ribs

2 racks St. Louis-style pork ribs (2 to 3 pounds each)

Remove the ribs from the package and wipe them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

Place the ribs in the rimmed cookie sheet and coat both sides of the ribs with the spice mixture. Press the rub firmly with the palm of your hand to insure that it sticks to the ribs. Set the ribs aside.

The Mop  (This vinegar and cider mop is used to add additional flavor to the ribs and replace moisture lost from the ribs during the cooking process.)

2/3  cup apple cider

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Mix the ingredients for the mop and set it aside.

 I have specified when and how much of this mixture to use during the cooking process. It is important that you do not exceed what I have specified. Excess moisture added to the ribs while cooking will result in what pit-masters call “stall.” In other words, the extra moisture added back to the ribs will stop (stall) the cooking process until it evaporates. This can add as much as an hour to the cooking process.


The Method

Prepare the grill by setting it up according to the photo below.

Open the bottom vents halfway.

Place 15 briquettes on one side of grill and the remaining briquettes in the chimney starter. The aluminum pan under the starter in the photo there to give you an idea of its exact size. Place it in that location with about an inch of water added when you are ready to cook.

Light the briquettes in the chimney starter and let them burn until they are lightly coated with a thin layer of ash. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Empty the contents in the starter onto the unlit briquettes.

Place the aluminum pan with one inch of water added to the now empty side of the grill.

Put the cooking grate in place, cover the grill with the lid, and heat the cooking gate for about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle half of the drained wood chips over the coals. Place the ribs, meat side down, on the cool side of the grill, cover the grill with the open top vents over the ribs, and cook for 45 minutes.

Flip the ribs to meat side up, and switch the positions of the slabs. The slab closest to the coals moves to the rear and the other slab moves to the side close to the coals. Distribute the remaining wood chips over the coals. Brush the meat side of the ribs with about two tablespoons of the vinegar/cider mix and continue cooking the ribs for another 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, set one of the oven racks to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300° F.

Transfer the ribs to the wire rack fitted in the rimmed cookie sheet, as shown in the photo below. Add two cups of water to the pan. Brush the meat side of the ribs with another 2 tablespoons of the vinegar/cider mix. Carefully set the pan on the middle rack and continue cooking the ribs for one hour.

Brush the ribs with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar/cider mix. This will be for final mop brushing. Continue cooking the ribs until the thickest meat reaches 190° F. Remove the pan from the oven and cover the ribs with loose tent of aluminum foil. After a 15-minute rest, cut the ribs between the bones and serve.

Note: St. Louis-style spareribs are the best ribs for this formula. These ribs are trimmed of the excess belly fat, cartilage, and skirt meat found on regular spare ribs. No additional trimming is necessary.

Baby back ribs are too lean and usually become very dry during the extended cooking procedure outlined in this formula.

The best rib cut for this formula

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The photo below shows the most efficient grill set up for barbequing these ribs.

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The most effective set up for transferring the ribs from the grill to the oven.

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It is time to eat and enjoy first class barbecue.

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Next post — A taste of Hawaii

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