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How to Make BBQ Ribs

Barbecue ribs grilled with sauce on the side

How To Make BBQ Ribs

St. Louis & Kansas City Style Spare Ribs

One of the things I like best about traditional American BBQ is the different flavor profiles that can be found in various regions. For example, though St. Louis and Kansas City are only about 250 miles apart, the flavor profiles found in each city are different. 

Even if you’re new to the world of BBQ, you’re probably still familiar with what is arguably the most common type of BBQ sauce: Kansas City BBQ sauce. It’s thick, sweet, and deep mahogany in color. Their neighbors to the east, however, put a bit of a tangy spin on that style of sauce giving it a different profile altogether. 

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Which is better? You can decide for yourself because we’re going to make both today and get down with some smoky spare ribs hot off of the Shokunin Kamado, or whatever grill you have at home. Trust me on this one, once you nail these spare ribs, you won’t look at another plate of ribs from a chain restaurant the same way again.

A point of clarity before we get started: both of these regional styles of BBQ are being done using pork spare ribs, trimmed to what is called the St. Louis cut. This is typically how they come prepackaged at the store. The St. Louis cut is only referring to the way the ribs are trimmed, not the flavor profile in which they are being cooked.

I’m a huge fan of the spare rib because I love the lean-to-fat ratio. If these are too fatty for you, or if you just want to try a different style, check out my Memphis style baby back ribs (recipe coming soon). Similar in that they are both eaten without utensils, but have completely different flavor.

Tips For Making Ribs on The Grill

The Grill: These ribs are going to be smoked, using some high-quality wood chunks. Don’t think you have to own a smoker though, just about any grill can be used as a smoker by using indirect heat and adding wood chunks to the charcoal.

The Bite: You’ve probably heard “the meat was so tender it fell off the bone.” To me, and to most others meat that tender is too tender. We’re cooking these ribs to a temperature of about 205° which is a good bite tenderness. If you really want “fall off the bone” cook them for an extra 30 minutes while they are wrapped.

A tender rib with a bite taken out of it.

The Smoke: I talk about this in most of my smoke recipes, but not all smoke is good smoke. Be sure you’re using a quality wood chunk to ensure clean smoke. For pork ribs, I like a combination of hickory and apple wood. If you have a gas grill, you can make yourself an aluminum foil envelope and pack it with wood chips. Poke some holes in it and place it over a burner for your smoke source. 

The Wrap: I like to wrap my ribs after they have gotten to the perfect color, which is usually after about 2 to 2.5 hours on the grill. The wrap does two things. First, it prevents the ribs from getting too dark. More importantly, it allows them to get tender. When wrapping, be sure to wrap as tightly as possible to prevent the ribs from steaming and ruining the texture.

The Temperature: If you’re not sure if your ribs are done, this blog about rib doneness is very helpful. Take 5 minutes and give it a read. 

How To Make BBQ Ribs – St. Louis & Kansas City Style

Serves 6-8 |Prep Time 30 minutes | Cook Time 3.5 – 4 hours

Ingredients
4 racks St. Louis cut pork spare ribs
2 cup St. Louis Style BBQ Sauce
2 cup Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce

For the Rub:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup paprika
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dry mustard

How To Make BBQ Ribs

Step 1: Set up your grill for two zone cooking and using a reliable leave-in thermometer, maintain a cooker temperature of 255° F. 

Step 2: Trim spare ribs to clean up any edges and remove any hanging pieces of meat. Try to get them into a uniform shape. You’ll often notice a somewhat loose piece of meat on the back of the ribs. Trim that off. 

Trim excess fat from ribs

Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. Simply grab a corner of the membrane with a paper towel and peel it off. 

Remove the membrane from ribs by peeling it off

Depending on where the ribs were fabricated, they will require a different amount of trimming. Save any edible meat and fat that you trim off, they’re a great addition to BBQ baked beans

Step 3: In a shaker bottle, combine rub ingredients and shake well to mix. Season ribs starting with the bone side, then flip them and do the meat side. 

Ribs seasoned with rub

Step 4: Place one hickory and one applewood chunk onto hot coals, then place your ribs over indirect heat and allow them to take a smoke bath for 2 to 2.5 hours. 

Smoking ribs on the grill with hickory and apple wood chunks of woo

Note: Depending on the cooker you use, you may need to spritz with water or apple juice every hour to keep the ribs moist. This isn’t required in the Shokunin Kamado as it’s an incredibly tight grill. Take a look at your ribs every hour and if they look dry, just give them a quick spritz to keep them moist.

Step 5: Pull the ribs off the grill and close the lid. Adjust the vents on your grill in order to increase grill temperature to 285° F. While your grill is heating up, place each rack on a double layer of aluminum foil and top with a generous amount of warm sauce. Notice the difference in color for each sauce. 

Wrap the foil tightly around the ribs and mark with a Sharpie® so you know which rack has which sauce. Return to the grill for 1 hour.

Step 6: Remove the ribs from the grill, close the lid and adjust vents to increase temperature to 325°. Unwrap the ribs and check the internal temperature of the meat with a reliable meat thermometer. It should read about 195°. You’ll notice now the bones for each rack are very prominent.

three racks of barbecue ribs

Step 7: Glaze each rack with an even layer of sauce and return to the grill for 10-12 minutes. This allows the sauce to “set” and become very tacky. 

Step 8: Remove ribs from cooker and allow them to rest for 10 minutes. Using a large slicing knife, slice into individual ribs and serve with your favorite BBQ sides:

Smoked Baked Beans

Mac N Cheese

Apple & Jalapeño Cole Slaw 

Overhead shot of barbecue ribs sliced with sauces

Barbecue ribs grilled with sauce on the side

How to Make BBQ Ribs

5 from 10 votes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American

Ingredients

For the Rub

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • cup paprika
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dry mustard

Instructions

  • Set up your grill for two zone cooking and using a reliable leave-in thermometer, maintain a cooker temperature of 255° F.
  • Trim spare ribs to clean up any edges and remove any hanging pieces of meat. Try to get them into a uniform shape. You’ll often notice a somewhat loose piece of meat on the back of the ribs. Trim that off.  Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. Simply grab a corner of the membrane with a paper towel and peel it off. Depending on where the ribs were fabricated, they will require a different amount of trimming. Save any edible meat and fat that you trim off, they’re a great addition to BBQ baked beans
  • In a shaker bottle, combine rub ingredients and shake well to mix. Season ribs starting with the bone side, then flip them and do the meat side. 
  • Place one hickory and one applewood chunk onto hot coals, then place your ribs over indirect heat and allow them to take a smoke bath for 2 to 2.5 hours. 
  • Pull the ribs off the grill and close the lid. Adjust the vents on your grill in order to increase grill temperature to 285° F. While your grill is heating up, place each rack on a double layer of aluminum foil and top with a generous amount of warm sauce. Notice the difference in color for each sauce. Wrap the foil tightly around the ribs and mark with a sharpie so you know which rack has which sauce. Return to the grill for 1 hour.
  • Remove the ribs from the grill, close the lid, and adjust vents to increase temperature to 325° F. Unwrap the ribs and check the internal temperature of the meat with a reliable meat thermometer. It should read about 195° F. You’ll notice now the bones for each rack are very prominent.
  • Glaze each rack with an even layer of sauce and return to the grill for 10-12 minutes. This allows the sauce to “set” and become very tacky. 
  • Remove ribs from cooker and allow them to rest for 10 minutes. Using a large slicing knife, slice into individual ribs and serve with your favorite BBQ sides:
    Smoked Baked Beans
    Mac N Cheese
    Apple & Jalapeño Cole Slaw 

Notes

One of the things I like best about traditional American BBQ is the different flavor profiles that can be found in various regions. For example, though St. Louis and Kansas City are only about 250 miles apart, the flavor profiles found in each city are different. 
Even if you’re new to the world of BBQ, you’re probably still familiar with what is arguably the most common type of BBQ sauce: Kansas City BBQ sauce. It’s thick, sweet, and deep mahogany in color. Their neighbors to the east, however, put a bit of a tangy spin on that style of sauce giving it a different profile altogether

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