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Head Country Hot & Spicy Smoked Spare Ribs

pork spare ribs sliced on cutting board with pickes
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Pork spare ribs just scream BBQ. When I was a kid my dad would boil these things in salt water for god knows how long then throw them on the grill with some BBQ sauce and burn them to a crisp. He and my mom loved them but I was just never able to acquire a taste for such fine cuisine. Needless to say, for many years I didn’t have a fondness for ribs. Can’t imagine why, right? It wasn’t until I learned how to do ribs the right way through trial and error and a lot of practice that I figured out just how simple these things are. There are many different methods to making terrific ribs, this is just one of them.

Step-by-step with photos | Download recipe (PDF – 1MB)

Head Country Hot & Spicy Smoked Spare Ribs

Serves: 5-7 | Prep time: 30 min | Cook time: 5.5 hours

Ingredients

2 racks pork spare ribs (also called St. Louis-style ribs)
Yellow mustard
Head Country Hot & Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce

For the rub:
6 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 freshly-ground black pepper

Equipment

Charcoal grill or smoker
Premium hardwood lump charcoal, I prefer Fogo
Cherry wood chunks
Chimney starter or Looftlighter
Probe thermometer (like the Thermoworks Smoke*)
Disposable gloves

Directions

  1. Combine ingredients for rub into a shaker bottle and mix thoroughly.
  2. Open and rinse ribs in cold water, pat dry.
  3. Salt evenly and return to refrigerator for 1 hour (this is optional).
  4. Light grill and bring up to temperature (235 degrees).
  5. Cover ribs with light coat of yellow mustard.
  6. Season ribs with rub.
  7. Place in 235 degree smoker, over indirect heat.
  8. Spritz or mop every 45 minutes for about 5 hours.
  9. Glaze with sauce at the 4.5 hour mark.
  10. Let the sauce set for 30 minutes.
  11. Serve and enjoy!

Step-by-Step

Step 1: First we need to make a rub to infuse our spare ribs with great flavor during their long, slow cook. You can buy pre-made rubs but I like using a blend of sugars, salt, chili powders, garlic powder, and pepper. Simply add all of the ingredients for the rub to shaker bottle and mix thoroughly.

Step 2: Now that we’ve made the rub, it’s time to prep the ribs. I start by rinsing the ribs; and, as a germophobe, I always glove up for this and other steps that have me touching meat. After taking the ribs out of the packaging, I like to run them under cold water and rinse everything off.

Step 3: Then I pat them dry with a paper towel and put them on my cutting board so I can trim any excess meat from the backside of the ribs that is likely to burn up anyway (but don’t throw the trimmed meat away, more on that in a later post) and then get the membrane off the back of the ribs.

That membrane will lead to some chewy ribs and prevent your rub from penetrating so you’ll miss out on some flavor as well. I use a butter knife and a paper towel to grip the membrane and peel it right off. Some come off easier than others but it’s not difficult.

Step 4: Once the membrane is removed you’re ready to season these up. I hit them with a light coat of kosher salt and then let them sit in the fridge for about an hour. Then I coat them with a thin layer of yellow mustard before hitting them with the incredible rub we made earlier.

Step 5: While the ribs are in the fridge go ahead and set your grill up for two-zone heat, light the charcoal, and bring it up to temp (about 235 degrees). You can use any charcoal grill or smoker you have, just be sure to use a quality lump charcoal. I prefer Fogo over the typical briquettes you might find at the big box stores. Additionally, have some chunks of wood ready to go in with the lump charcoal in order to get a great smoke flavor.

Regarding the wood selection, there’s no right or wrong wood to use but for spare ribs I like to use a combination of hickory and cherry for both flavor and color. That said, unless you’re a very experienced BBQ connoisseur, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to determine what wood was used. Most people just want the ribs to taste… smoky, but don’t get carried away with the wood chunks or you’ll risk getting too much smoke on them. If you think there’s no such thing as too much smoke, I can assure you that there is. In the end you’re really looking for these ribs to have a hint of smoke flavor that says these were cooked over a pit and not boiled flavorless like the ribs I grew up eating.

Step 6: With the grill at a steady 235 degrees, place the ribs over indirect heat and close the lid; here you’ll just let the cooker, charcoal, and wood chunks do the work. I let them go for about an hour and then I’ll spritz or mop them every 45 minutes thereafter to keep them moist. This is the simple process of introducing a liquid to the surface of the ribs to avoid drying them out. This can be accomplished by using a spray bottle or a BBQ mop.

Feel free to play around with different liquids and mixtures; many people will use an 80/20 combination of apple juice and apple cider vinegar and I like that combination as well. Recently I have been using a 75/25 ratio of sweet tea and cinnamon whiskey and that’s been really good too.

Step 7: After about four and a half hours, it’s time to coat the ribs with the sauce of your choice. For this batch, I chose Head Country’s Hot & Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce because it’s a great compliment to the sweet and spicy flavors of the rub.

There are many techniques for doing ribs, some call for wrapping them in foil for a period of time. For these ribs, I just run them naked the whole cook until they’re done.

Step 8: It’s time to check if our ribs are done. But, you might be wondering, how do you know when they’re done? There is a plethora of methods people use to determine whether or not ribs are done. The FDA says internal temp of 145 is done, but I promise if you eat a rib done to that temperature it will be the last rib you’ll eat. In general, you’re looking for about 195 degrees internal temp, and you can check this article for guidelines on how to know when your ribs are done. However, because the determination of “they’re done” is so subjective I use the Thermoworks Smoke* with the needle probe* in order to get accurate temperature between the bones and take any guess work out of the determination.

The phrase “falling off the bone” is often used to describe the level of tenderness for good ribs but that’s actually an indication of ribs that are overdone. Done perfectly, ribs will stay on the bone when you bite into them and you’ll get a clean bite like this.

If you’re looking for the perfect side for the incredible ribs you’ve just made, try these beans.

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