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How To Cook Baby Back Ribs: Memphis Style

barbecued baby back ribs

How To Cook Baby Back Ribs: Memphis Style

There are several ways to cook baby back ribs; the “best” way is totally subjective and completely up to you. Baby back ribs can be smoked low and slow like these smoked spare ribs. They can be baked or broiled if you prefer to cook ribs in the oven. This blog, however, is about grilling baby back ribs, and they’ll be done in 90 minutes.

Today we’re grilling baby back ribs hot and fast directly over charcoal, no wood, just like they do at the world-famous Rendezvous BBQ joint in Memphis, Tennessee. They’ve been using this technique since the late 1940s at this iconic restaurant, and the key to this style of cooking is keeping the ribs high enough above the coals so that they don’t burn.

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That’s a challenge for most grills on the market today just given their design, and may be why the technique isn’t as popular as the low and slow technique. I’m going to be using the Shokunin Kamado, which uses an adjustable fire grate system, allowing me to cook the ribs high above the coals. This style of cooking can also be done on a drum style smoker if you have one, or even a Weber Smokey Mountain.

If you don’t have one of these types of grills, you can still do Memphis style dry ribs. Just follow my instructions for cooking ribs low and slow. What makes traditional Memphis style ribs so unique is that they’re not basted with sauce like you would find with many other types of ribs. Instead, traditional Memphis style ribs are served “dry”—without sauce. That certainly doesn’t mean the meat is dry, it’s just not sauced.

First, let’s answer a few questions that seem to be asked quite a bit when it comes to cooking ribs. Then I’ll cover a few tips for cooking baby back ribs on the grill. Finally, I’ll share my recipe for Memphis baby back ribs, cooked Rendezvous style.

When Cooking Ribs, Do You Boil the Ribs First or Not?

NO! Absolutely not! What’s funny is this is actually how I was served ribs as a kid. Boiled till all the flavor was cooked out of them, then slathered in barbecue sauce and burnt on the grill. 10/10 DO NOT recommend this technique.

How To Make Ribs Without BBQ Sauce

If you’re not a fan of BBQ sauce, or you are watching your sugar intake, the recipe I’m sharing here uses no BBQ sauce. The key is to make an amazing rub for the ribs that complements the pork. I’ll share mine below; I love it, and it’s been given high praise by those who have tried it. It’s both sweet and savory, and with the mop sauce (not sticky sweet BBQ sauce) these pork ribs are delicious.

How To Cook Ribs on the Grill

Generally speaking, when cooking BBQ ribs on a grill or smoker, you’ll take advantage of indirect heat and cook the ribs for several hours at low cooking temperatures. Cooking times depend on temperature, of course, but generally speaking you’re looking at about four to six hours.

The technique I’m sharing here reduces cooking time to about 90 minutes and uses direct heat, as opposed to indirect.

Tips For Cooking Baby Back Ribs

The Lid: These ribs will be turned every 15 minutes. This means opening the grill lid often and introducing a rush of oxygen to the coals. We’re cooking at 400° F and the oxygen will cause temperature spikes, so work as quickly as possible when flipping to reduce the amount of time the grill lid is open.

The Timing: Flip every 15 minutes, it’s important. I find it easiest to use a large timer for grilling and cooking so I can see it at a quick glance. Using my phone as a timer is just a hassle. Either I forget to set it, my hands are dirty and I can’t get it out of my pocket, or I can’t get the phone to unlock while doing other things, so consider grabbing one of these inexpensive grill timers.

digital grill timer from Thermoworks

The Mop: It’s not just for flavor on the ribs. It certainly adds a huge punch of flavor, but the mop sauce dripping down on the hot coals creates a ton of flavored steam. That steam helps cook the ribs and keeps them moist, so be generous when mopping the ribs.

mop sauce causing steam around BBQ ribs on a grill

The Temperature: Stay as close to 400° F as possible; that can be a challenge when opening the lid so often. Much past that and you’ll risk burning your ribs. If you notice the temperatures rising, just close down your grills exhaust vents to restrict airflow. As always, I highly recommend using a reliable leave-in thermometer to monitor grill temperatures.

How To Cook Baby Back Ribs: Memphis Style

Serves: 4-6 | Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients
2 racks of baby back ribs

For the Dry Rub:
½ cup paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp fine ground black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp celery seed

For the Mop:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup dry rub

How To Cook Baby Back Ribs

Step 1: Light your grill and set up for direct heat cooking. Using a reliable leave-in thermometer, establish grill temperature at 400° F.

Step 2: While the grill is preheating, trim ribs by taking off any stray hanging pieces of meat and cleaning up the edges as needed. Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs by grabbing a corner of it with a paper towel for grip and peeling it off. 

remove membrane from pork rib before barbecuing it

Step 3: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the dry rub. Reserve ¼ cup of the rub and transfer the remaining rub into a shaker bottle. 

Step 4: Season the ribs, starting with the bone side of the ribs first, then flip them over and season the meat side of the ribs. Set the ribs aside while you make the mop sauce.

baby back ribs seasoned with dry rub

Step 5: Bring wet ingredients of the mop sauce to a low boil over medium heat, then whisk in the reserved rub. Reserve one cup of mop sauce and set aside. Keep the remaining mop sauce over very low heat to keep warm while cooking the ribs. 

mop sauce and mop, ready for use while grilling baby back ribs

Step 6: With grill temperature stabilized at 400° F, place ribs over direct heat, bone side down. Close the lid and set a reliable timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, open the lid and mop the ribs with warm mop sauce. Flip ribs, close the lid, and start the timer for another 15 minutes. Repeat this process for 90 minutes.

mopping baby back ribs with warm mop sauce

Step 7: Remove ribs from the grill and plate them meat side up. Mop the ribs one last time and give them a light sprinkle of rub. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving with reserved mop sauce. 

grilled baby back ribs, resting on a cooking sheet

barbecued baby back ribs

How To Cook Baby Back Ribs

5 from 11 votes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

  • 2 racks of ribs baby backs

For the Dry Rub

  • ½ cup paprika
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp fine ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp celery seed

For the Mop:

  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup dry rub

Instructions

  • Light your grill and set up for direct heat cooking. Using a reliable leave-in thermometer, establish grill temperature at 400° F.
  • While the grill is preheating, trim ribs by taking off any stray hanging pieces of meat and cleaning up the edges as needed. Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs by grabbing a corner of it with a paper towel for grip and peeling it off. 
  • In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the dry rub. Reserve ¼ cup of the rub and transfer the remaining rub into a shaker bottle. 
  • Season the ribs, starting with the bone side of the ribs first, then flip them over and season the meat side of the ribs. Set the ribs aside while you make the mop sauce.
  • Bring wet ingredients of the mop sauce to a low boil over medium heat, then whisk in the reserved rub. Reserve one cup of mop sauce and set aside. Keep the remaining mop sauce over very low heat to keep warm while cooking the ribs. 
  • With grill temperature stabilized at 400° F, place ribs over direct heat, bone side down. Close the lid and set a reliable timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, open the lid and mop the ribs with warm mop sauce. Flip ribs, close the lid, and start the timer for another 15 minutes. Repeat this process for 90 minutes.
  • Remove ribs from the grill and plate them meat side up. Mop the ribs one last time and give them a light sprinkle of rub. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving with reserved mop sauce. 

Notes

There are several ways to cook baby back ribs; the “best” way is totally subjective and completely up to you. Baby back ribs can be smoked low and slow like these smoked spare ribs. They can be baked or broiled if you prefer to cook ribs in the oven. This blog, however, is about grilling baby back ribs, and they’ll be done in 90 minutes.

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