When someone says the words “authentic barbecue”, often the first thing that comes to mind is pork ribs- succulent, smoky, tangy, tender & sweet ribs. There are many ways to make ribs, and if chain restaurant ribs are all you’ve ever tasted, you’re missing out. Big time. We’ll show you the best way, according to the pros, to make award-winning ribs at home.
Ribs are a tough cut of meat, the muscles between the rib bones have an important job to do in holding the chest cavity together, so they’re going to need some TLC to get them to that state of finger licking good.
But never fear, ribs are easy!
You don’t need to use your oven and you really don’t want to ever boil them. You can easily use your kettle grill and your Slow ‘N Sear to make competition-quality ribs with little effort. No pre-baking, and no pre-boiling.
PrepStart by acquiring a rack of either loin backs (also called baby backs), spare ribs, or St Louis cut (trimmed spare ribs). For more on the different cuts of ribs, and pork cuts in general, see the AmazingRibs.com pork cuts page. Once you have your ribs, you’ll need to do a little bit of prep. Mainly you’ll want to remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs. Also, trimming up some loose parts around the sides of the rack is a good idea as well.
To make the best ribs you’ve ever had, use the low & slow 225 lighting technique with your Slow ‘N Sear. Holding your temp near 225 F you should plan on 5-7 hrs until they’re finished. Thicker larger racks of ribs may take longer, and smaller thinner racks could be done in 4 or 5. A good rule of thumb is try to find trimmed ribs (baby or loin backs, or St Louis cut spares) less than 3lbs per rack. Over 3lb racks are large racks and will take much longer; 7, 8, or 9 hrs isn’t uncommon with large thick racks. But, you’re probably thinking “there’s a huge difference in 4 or 5 hrs and 8 or 9 hrs!” And you’d be right. So try to find smaller racks of ribs, less than 3lbs. Full spare ribs contain the St Louis cut with the ‘rib tips’ still attached. These racks will be much larger and heavier by nature.
When are they done? We like to use what we call “the bend test” to tell when our ribs are ready.
At or near the 5 hr mark, if we’ve kept our temperature steady near the 225 F range, grab the whole rack of ribs with a pair of tongs, about 1/3 of the way down the rack, and pick them up. Give them a gentle bounce. If you see the surface meat begin to crack open as it bends, they’re ready. If they bend but there are no visible cracks in the surface, they’re not ready yet. They’re safe to eat, but they’ll still be quite tough at this point so they’re not ready. If you find yourself in this situation at the 5hr mark, keep them going and re-check them in this manner every 15-30 minutes until the cracks begin to appear.
Dig in! Once you get a good solid crack, not simply a small one, then your ribs are ready. If your rack completely breaks in half, they’re past done but at least the good news is it’s time to eat! Pro competition cooks and KCBS BBQ Judges say that the perfect rib has a clean tug from the bone- a clean bite can be taken without pulling all the meat from the bone, the bite leaves clean bone, it’s not tough & chewy, but also not “fall apart”. Fall apart ribs are overcooked. But, your preference is your preference!
If you choose to apply BBQ sauce to your ribs, do so only after the meat is ready. That’s how the pros do it.
You have two options- ‘sauce & sizzle’, or ‘sauce & set’.
To sauce & sizzle, apply the BBQ sauce to one side of your ribs then place the ribs, sauce side down, on the grill grate directly over the charcoal in your Slow ‘N Sear. Sizzle it no more than 30 seconds. Sugary BBQ sauces can easily burn and char- pay attention! While it’s sizzling and caramelizing, paint the sauce on the top side. Repeat the 30 second sizzle on that side. Now serve those ribs!
To sauce & set, apply the BBQ sauce to one side, then the other, then keep them on the indirect side where they’ve been for about another 30 minutes. This will allow the sauce to ‘cook’ onto the meat and begin to slowly caramelize.
But…who says you even have to sauce them? The choice is yours! You can warm up a bowl of BBQ sauce and serve it on the side. If you use a well-seasoned rub on your ribs, serving them “dry” with sauce on the side is a popular choice so your dinner guests can use as much or as little as they like.
For more on saucing strategies, check out the AmazingRibs.com Sauce Strategies article.
- Prep: trim and remove back membrane
- Dry brine overnight, season/rub before cooking
- Low & slow at 225 F; 5-7 hours
- Cook until ribs pass the “bend test”
- Sauce, if desired, once meat is ready