People often ask me what my favourite thing to cook is when I’m feeding a crowd, and without fail I have to say it’s ribs!
Ribs may be seen as one of the peaks of outdoor cooking because you have to master the art of controlling the temperature for a prolonged amount of time, get the smoke just right, sauce at the right time, do you spritz with apple juice, when do you wrap, etc, etc. Some people can make ribs sound so difficult to cook but in reality that epitomise the Minimal Input – Maximum Effect ethos! All of the prep is done in advance and the barbecue takes care of the rest.
The muscles in-between the ribs are very strong and require a Low n Slow cook method to give a melt-in-the-mouth result! Some smoke, a low temperature and a little moisture added at the right time all add up to give a finished dish that will put smiles on everyone’s faces. I promise nobody will be asking where the sausages and burgers are!
This recipe does not involve cooking in cola, boiling or braising in the oven for hours before the ribs finally glance the grill on the way to the table. Ribs should be cooked on the grill from start to finish, primarily because meat can only absorb smoke when it is raw on the outside. Any cooking prior to the ribs hitting the grill will 100% stop any smoke penetrating the meat, and in my eyes give a substandard finished product.
There are only a few steps to start you on your journey to BBQ Rib Heaven and they would be…
- Remove the membrane
- Sauce & Wrap
In this recipe I am putting the focus on the technique. Once you feel confident that you’re able to control the temperature of your barbecue for the duration of this cook, and can produce delicious mouth-watering ribs a handful of time (practice makes good eats!! 😉 ) then I encourage you to experiment with making your own barbecue rubs, sauces and smoking wood choices.
*The video link shows how to cook pork ribs on a standard charcoal kettle but if you are cooking on a dedicated smoker, ceramic gas or pellet grill then the principles can be transferred across directly.
- 2 sheets of pork baby back ribs
- French’s American mustard
- Barbecue rub (Angus & Oink Moo Mami)
- Barbecue sauce (Angus & Oink Rampant Angus)
- Applewood smoking chunks or pellets
- Setup your BBQ for indirect heat at 110c, lid down vents open as applicable.
- Remove The Membrane
Use the tip of a blunt knife or head of a teaspoon to remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs. Start in the middle of the ribs by teasing the membrane up at one end. Work through the length of the bone and once you’re able to hold the membrane with a finger and thumb, hold the rack of ribs down and pull up on the membrane. If this membrane isn’t removed it will contract and develop a rubbery texture, which will be awkward to eat and also mean smoke cannot penetrate properly from the underside.
IMG_3547 – A video of BBQ Pitmaster Jim Johnson removing the membrane from a sheet of ribs.
Apply a zig-zag of the mustard to both racks of ribs, enough to coat lightly when smoothed out. Then take the Moo Mami barbecue rub and apply across the top side of the ribs. Leave the ribs for about 20 minutes until the dry seasoning has begun to soak into the ribs. You will know this is happening when the dry rub changes to have a shiny and wet appearance, known as sweating.
Take the ribs to the grill and place in the area of indirect heat. Sit the smoking chunks on the burning charcoal and replace the lid. Smoke/cook for about 2 hours, or until the ribs reach a core temperature of 70-75c using a digital temperature probe.
If you don’t have smoking chunks you can use smoking wood chips, but you will need to return to the grill to add more as they will only last 15-20 minutes. Smoking chunks are simply larger pieces of wood that will smoulder and smoke for a longer period of time, meaning you just have to monitor the temperature of the grill.
To maintain the temperature of a charcoal grill is like keeping any fire going. Once the fire is setup, you want to add a little bit of fuel every now and then, to prevent big swings in temperature. Waiting too long, or adding too much at once will mean the ribs take longer to cook and if the temperature goes too high, it could mean the finished product is tough from being cooked to fast.
- Sauce & Wrap
With the ribs at 70-75c it’s now time to sauce. When you remove the ribs from the grill you will see they have a fantastic dark colouration to them, known as the bark. This is from the sugars in the rub caramelising, and the smoke that has clung during the first part of cooking.
Take the Angus & Oink sauce and apply an even coating to the top of each sheet of ribs. Then wrap in parchment and foil to securely wrap each rack of ribs. Wrap each rack of ribs so that the foil and parchment can be opened without needing to tear it open; this will be helpful later when it comes time to check if they are cooked.
- Return the ribs to the barbecue in the area of indirect heat and continue cooking for another hour at 110c. Open each packet and using a set of barbecue tongs check to see if they are cooked. Use the tongs to hold each rack half way along the length and lift up. If the rack of ribs is still holding together you need to re-wrap and continue cooking for longer. If the rib that is being held at the tip of the tongs come cleanly away from the meat attached to the next rib, then your ribs are cooked and all that’s left to do is rest them!
Just as with cooking a steak or large roast of meat, it’s important to rest ribs once they are cooked. Remove them from the grill, wrap in some thick t-towels and place on the kitchen counter to relax for an hour. I should warn you that this step will fill your kitchen and home with the heady aroma of smokey barbecue, and you will be tempted to peak and taste, but your patience will be rewarded I promise you!
Ribs come in different sizes depending where you get them from. I cook all of my ribs using the technique above and I just know that some of the timings will vary if the ribs are slightly meatier. I’ve also sent this cooking method to friends near and far when they have asked me how to cook ribs, and without fail everyone has been able to cook their ribs to perfection!
Ribs can be “batch cooked”, to use an old term, and those you won’t eat on the day they are cooked can be chilled, wrapped and either chilled for a few days or frozen for up to 3 months. When you want to enjoy them again, simply defrost and reheat using a roasting indirect heat of 180-200c and use a digital temperature probe to make sure they are thoroughly reheated to 75c or higher.
For a slower pace of cooking or when preparing food to feed a large gathering, I think it’s time to raise your Rib Game!