Greater Baltimore area residents: I’m speaking about food and nutrition at CrossFit Glen Burnie on Saturday, July 13th. More info is here.
Like most red-blooded American men, I have a special place in my heart for barbecue ribs. That’s probably pretty obvious, since I have no less than TEN ribs recipes on my site (my favorites are here and here) – that’s nearly 5% of all my recipes!
My taste in ribs has changed over the years, as well as my cooking method; originally I braised my ribs in apple juice and onions for a couple hours, then crisped them over a grill. While I still like ribs that way from time to time, I’ve come to better appreciate smoked ribs – those cooked over low temperatures for extended periods, gently nudged to perfection by wafting curls of smoking cinders.
The trouble is, despite all of my outdoor cooking adventures, I keep pushing off the idea of buying a charcoal grill or a smoker, the usual staples of tasty smoked ribs – my backyard patio only has so much real estate, and I don’t think Mrs. Domestic Man would appreciate more contraptions back there. So I’ve been diligently plugging away at making an easy, foolproof method for smoking ribs on a gas grill, and I’m ready to share the meats of my labor.
To demonstrate, I decided to use spare ribs, which is a cheaper cut of ribs, but they taste just fine to me when cooked properly. I also used a drip pan full of hard cider to flavor and moisten the ribs as they smoked (regular apple cider or water would do fine as well).
1 rack spare ribs (5-7 lbs), membrane removed
1 tbsp each kosher salt, black pepper, coconut palm sugar, paprika
1/2 tsp each cayenne or chipotle powder, garlic powder, onion powder
2 1/4 cups hard cider, divided
2 handfuls hickory wood chips
Most pork BBQ rubs call for brown sugar to help caramelize the ribs, but I’ve found that coconut palm sugar gives you the best of both worlds: it’s naturally harvested from the coconut palm, unrefined, and has a low glycemic index. I do have a sugar-free rub that would do the trick as well, although this rub is better suited for beef ribs.
Many competitive barbecuers like to trim their spare ribs before smoking them; typically they remove the skirt (flap) from the cupped side of the ribs, as well as the rib tips (the upper part attached to the long ribs). The general idea is that these parts will cause the ribs to cook unevenly. While that’s true, I’m not cooking ribs to win awards, I’m cooking ribs in order to eat them – therefore I leave everything on so I can get as much meat for my money as possible.
Remove the membrane from the bottom (cupped side) of the ribs – here is a quick video on how to do it. Combine the rub ingredients and rub them generously over the spare ribs, and allow the ribs to come to room temperature (30 mins).
Here’s how to set up a gas grill for smoking ribs. You’ll only be using one grill burner (or two, depending on your grill model) to heat the wood chips so that they smoke. Put a smoker box or two filled with wood chips on the hot side of the grill, and a drip pan with two cups of the hard cider on the cool side of the grill. You can also make your own smoker box out of tin foil if you’re feeling crafty.
You’ll want to soak half of the wood chips for 30 minutes so that they won’t start smoking right away. What I like to do is use one smoker box for soaked chips, and another for dry chips – that way, the dry chips burn up in the first hour or two, and the second set of wood chips will smoke for the remaining couple of hours.
Start your grill and leave the burner that’s under the wood chips on high heat for 15-20 minutes to start the smoking process. Reduce the heat so that the grill is between 240-260 degrees, then place the ribs over the drip pan.
Grill the ribs for three hours, until the meat starts to recede and you can see the bones sticking out, like in the picture above. Wrap the ribs tightly in two layers of heavy duty tin foil with the remaining 1/4 cup of hard cider, and place them back on the grill to smoke for another 30 minutes.
Remove the ribs from the grill and let it cool for another 20 minutes before unwrapping.
That’s it! Trim your ribs however you want, and add some barbecue sauce if you’d like. If you’re up for it, you can brush on the BBQ sauce and throw them back on the grill under direct heat to caramelize the sauce. It all depends on how you like your ribs.