Hi Folks! Jack, from North Coast BBQ Smokers, again. Did you try my Authentic Pulled Pork recipe previously posted on Willoughby Today? I hope you enjoyed it. Here’s another one you’re going to love: Authentic Memphis Dry Ribs!
Everyone loves ribs. I don’t know what it is about them, but when you mention ribs, ears perk up and salivary glands kick into high gear. Perhaps, it’s because the meat that lies between the rib bones on a pig is some of the tastiest meat of any animal.
There are many ways to prepare ribs, but in Memphis there’s only one way: Dry. That is, Memphis ribs are rubbed with a spicy “dry” seasoning before and after cooking. Sauce never touches a true Memphis rib. You might think the word dry describes the taste and texture of ribs cooked without sauce. Quite the contrary; Memphis ribs are tender, juicy and full of flavor.
The most famous destination for ribs in Memphis is Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous, located in a basement, down an alley across from the Peabody Hotel. No trip to Memphis is complete without a meal, “down at the Rendezvous”, to borrow a line from John Hiatt*. There are too many great destinations for ribs in Memphis to list, but a couple more of my favorites are Willingham’s BBQ and Interstate BBQ. If you’re ever in Memphis, be sure to check them out.
But enough with the culinary tour of Memphis, and on with the “meat” of this article: The recipe!
The first step is to buy some ribs. There are beef and pork ribs. In Memphis, ribs are pork, which is what this recipe calls for. You’ll find several options at your local grocery or butcher shop including Baby Back Ribs, Spare Ribs, and St. Louis Ribs.
Baby Back Ribs (a.k.a. loin back ribs or back ribs)
Baby Back ribs come from the top of the rib cage next to the spine of the pig. The term “baby” means they come from a young pig and not a full grown sow. Baby Back ribs have short and curved bones with meat between and on top of the bones. These ribs are usually meatier than Spare ribs and, in my opinion, tastier. They are also more expensive than Spare ribs or St. Louis ribs.
Spare Ribs (a.k.a. spareribs or side ribs)
Spare ribs are located on the belly side of pig below the back ribs and include the breast bone. Unlike Baby Backs, Spare ribs are almost flat and often contain more bone than meat. They also contain more fat, which tenderizes them as they cook, and is what makes them the cut of choice for many cooks. The lower end of the Spare rib has a short, meaty section structured with cartilage. This section is known as “rib tips”. Spare ribs are the least expensive cut.
St. Louis Ribs (a.k.a. St. Louis Cut)
St. Louis ribs are Spare ribs with the breast bone and rib tips removed. Once trimmed, St. Louis ribs form an almost perfect rectangle, which results in a consistent cook across the rack, and nice presentation.
Once you’ve chosen your ribs you’re ready to prepare them for the grill or smoker.
Authentic Memphis Dry Ribs
Serves: 4 – 6
Method: Indirect heat
Wood: Hickory, Oak, Apple or Cherry
Cooking Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
4 T. Paprika
2 T. Dark Brown Sugar
1 T. Black Pepper
2 t. Kosher Salt
1 t. Garlic Powder
1 t. Chili Powder
1 t. Lemon Pepper
1t. Dry Mustard
½ t. Onion Powder
½ t. Cayenne Pepper
½ t. Ground Cumin
¼ t. White Pepper
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch of Accent or other flavor enhancer
Tip: If you don’t want to make your own, there are many great bbq rubs available on the market.
SOP MOP SAUCE
½ c. Apple Cider Vinegar
½ c. Water
½ c. Apple Juice
1T. Dry rub
2 Slabs Baby Back or St. Louis-Cut Pork Ribs
• In a bowl, combine the dry rub ingredients. Mix well and set aside.
• In a separate bowl or jar, combine the Sop Mop ingredients. Mix well and set aside.
• Remove the membrane from the backside of the ribs (see note below).
• Lay 1 sheet of plastic wrap per slab on a counter top. Lay 1 rib meat side down on each sheet. Apply the dry rub to the meat in an even coating, patting down so it adheres. Apply to the bone side first, then flip over and coat the meat side. Wrap plastic wrap around each slab and refrigerate at least 2 hours or preferably 24 hours.
• Remove the meat from the refrigerator 1 hour before you plan to cook allowing it to warm up to room temperature.
• Build a fire using wood, or a combination of wood and lump hardwood charcoal in your pit, smoker or grill. Build the fire on only one side of the cooker for indirect heat. You do not want to cook the meat over the coals!
• Once the cooker reaches 225 – 250 degrees, place the ribs meat side up on the opposite side of the grill from the coals. (Tip: You may want to put a water pan beside the coals and under the meat to increase the humidity in the cooker).
• Close the lid and cook for 4 hours or until ribs are tender. Be sure to maintain a temperature between 225 – 250 degrees in the cooker. Add a couple of chunks wood to the fire every hour for flavor. I prefer to use milder flavor woods on ribs such as apple. (Tip: A combination of apple and cherry wood works great on ribs).
Optional Wrapping Method:
o After about 2 hours, you may want to wrap your ribs in foil, or you can leave them cook unwrapped.
o Tear a large sheet of foil per slab. Place one slab on each foil sheet and fold up the four sides. Pour about a cup of juice, pop, or water inside and loosely close it around the ribs, being careful not to puncture the foil with the bones or it will leak!
o Put the ribs in foil back on the cooker for 1 – 1.5 hours.
o Remove ribs from foil and cook another 30 mins. – 1 hour or until ribs are tender.
• Slather the meat with the Sop Mop Sauce every 30 minutes.
• The ribs are done when you can slide a toothpick into the meat with little resistance.
• Remove the ribs from the cooker, lightly coat with Sop Mop Sauce and dust with a coating of dry rub.
• Cut and serve immediately.
Note: You do not have to remove the membrane. It is completely edible. If you choose not to remove it, it cooks into a flaky layer with a texture almost like cellophane. Most restaurants do not remove the membrane because it’s time consuming when cooking large quantities of ribs. However, removing the membrane allows the spices to penetrate the meat for added flavor. I always remove the membrane.
Try this method: Removing the membrane can be tricky at first, but it’s not difficult. Lay ribs in sink, meat side down. Around the second bone from the smallest end of the rack, flick the membrane with the tine of a fork. Once you see the membrane separate from the ribs, slide the tine of the fork under it and lift. Pull the membrane far enough away from the ribs that you can slide your finger under it. Once you have a finger under the membrane, carefully pull from the short end to the long end of the ribs, removing the membrane.
*John Hiatt is a singer/songwriter legend. This quote comes from the song Memphis In The Meantime on the album Slow Turning. Check him out!
Jack Gee, barbeque connoisseur, shares his experiences and recipes with Willoughby Today. Jack represents North Coast BBQ Smokers, a Stump’s Smokers regional dealer. For information on the finest outdoor cookers on the planet and more great barbecue tips and tricks, please “like” us on facebook at www.facebook.com/NCBBQS