Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs
Rubbed with sugar and spices, these ribs have a good kick to them. Balance their heat by brushing them with a sweet-and-sour Bourbon-Bacon Barbecue Sauce.
3 (2- to 3-pound) racks baby back pork ribs
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground mustard
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups apple wood chips, plus more as needed
8 quarts lump charcoal, plus more as needed
2 cups Bourbon-Bacon Barbecue Sauce
You’ll need a charcoal grill to turn it into a smoker (or better yet, if you have a smoker, use it). You will also need long heatproof tongs, matches or a lighter, newspaper, 1 disposable aluminum 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, 1 disposable aluminum 8-inch square pan, a baking sheet, 2 oven mitts, 2 buckets of water (one to soak the wood chips and the other to refill the aluminum loaf pan), and an oven thermometer.
A chimney starter, which looks like a large beer stein, is handy for lighting charcoal. They can be purchased at hardware stores or online.
Lump charcoal is preferred because the charred pieces of wood burn hotter and cleaner than briquettes, the uniform black pillows made from carbonized wood and a starchy binder. If you do buy briquettes, avoid the self-lighting ones, which are laden with chemicals.
Buy pure, resin-free, bark-free wood chips. Choose your wood chips based on the origin of the ingredient you are smoking. For example, use cedar chips for Pacific salmon and hickory chips for Southern catfish. For this recipe we recommend apple chips, but any wood will do. Wood chips can be purchased at most hardware stores and grocery stores during the summer months, or online.
1. The night before cooking, remove the thin membrane attached to the underside of the ribs by sliding the tip of a paring knife under the membrane and pulling it up and off with your hands. Rinse the racks, pat dry with paper towels, and set on a baking sheet.
2. Combine the salt, sugar, and spices in a small bowl, using a fork to break up any chunks. Rub the ribs all over with the vegetable oil, then sprinkle evenly with the spice mix. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours. When ready to cook, remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in a bucket of water for at least 15 minutes.
4. Remove a kettle grill's cooking grate and set it aside. Fill a chimney starter three-quarters of the way with charcoal, then pour that unlit charcoal onto one side of the grill's charcoal grate, using tongs to stack it in a slight slope against the side of the grill bowl. Remove 1 cup of the wood chips from the water, shaking off any excess water, and lay them in the middle of the unlit charcoal. Fill the chimney again halfway with charcoal. Place the chimney on the grill's charcoal grate next to the unlit coals. Twist two or three sheets of newspaper into rings, and place them under and inside the chimney. Light the newspaper through the holes at the bottom of the chimney. After about 5 minutes, the charcoal should be red and flames should have appeared toward the top of the chimney.
5. Carefully pour the lit charcoal onto the pile of unlit charcoal on the grate, using tongs to prop them on the pile. Top the lit charcoal with another cup of drained, damp wood chips (you should have 1 cup of wood chips left for regulating the smoke as the ribs cook). Set the empty chimney aside. Place the 8-inch square aluminum pan next to the hot charcoal (this is the drip pan). Set the cooking grate back on the grill. Fill the 9-by-5-inch aluminum loaf pan three-quarters of the way with cold water and place it on the cooking grate over the hot charcoal (this is the steamer pan - the steam that the water creates is needed to keep the grill temperature low). Set an oven thermometer on the cooking grate near the edge of the grill and opposite the charcoal. Cover the grill, making sure that the bottom and top vents are open and that smoke is coming out of the vents. (If smoke is not coming out, check your fire to make sure it is lit. If it’s not, relight it, using tongs to transfer the warm charcoal from the grill back into the chimney starter.) Let the grill heat until it reaches at least 250°F, about 15 minutes.
6. Place the ribs on the cooking grate bone side down, over the drip pan (not over the flaming charcoal). If all three rib racks do not fit, cut one rib rack in half and wedge it against the side, making sure it does not sit over the lit charcoal. Cook, covered, making sure the lid’s vent is over the ribs (not the fire), for 30 minutes. Flip the ribs over and rotate their positions. Check the grill temperature: It should be between 250°F and 350°F. If it’s too hot, add more water to the loaf pan (it evaporates) and close the lower vent by half. If the temperature is too low, make sure the bottom and top vents are open, or you may need to feed your charcoal by lighting more in the chimney. Cover and cook for another 30 minutes.
7. At this point, the smoke will start to die down. Carefully remove the steam pan and transfer the cooking grate (with the ribs on top) to a heatproof surface. Add the remaining 1 cup drained wood chips to the charcoal. Return the cooking grate to the grill and set the steam pan back over the burning charcoal. Flip the ribs and cook for 15 minutes more. (Alternatively, slip the wood chips through the cooking grate so they fall on the charcoal.)
8. Slather some barbecue sauce over the ribs and cook for 15 minutes more (for a total of 1 1/2 hours). Check for doneness by lifting up one end of a rib rack. The rack should bend slightly in the middle. (The meat should not fall off the bone. It should be pink in the center with smoke lines running around the cut areas.) If it does not bend, continue to cook, covered, until it does. (Do not poke the meat with a thermometer.) Serve the ribs warm with extra sauce. Serves 4 to 6. Makes 3 racks, 45 ribs. –Jill Santopietro for CHOW.com.
Note: The ribs need to smoke for about 1 1/2 hours. During the last 15 minutes, slather them with barbecue sauce. They can be made ahead and reheated over low heat in a smoker or oven.