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The Best BBQ Ribs Survival Guide

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If you're planning to cook the Best BBQ ribs, and your doing it for the first time, it's time for you to take the plunge and do a little bit of reading. I'm gonna do my best here to help you do this right, the first time! So before we get into all the details, I'm going to summarize what you're going to need in order to get it right. Do not deviate or I cannot be held responsible for the outcome ;)

  • Do not use a gas grill. use a charcoal grill or smoker
  • Do not boil the ribs or you will suck all of the flavor right out. The will not be the best BBQ ribs if you do this.
  • Remove the membrane if it hasn't already been removed.
  • Select an appropriate wood for the smoke - do not skip this.
  • Do not grill them, cook them low and slow. That's how the best BBQ ribs are cooked.
  • Do allocate 4-5 hours of your time.
  • Select a good rub, but don't over-do it when applying
  • Select a good glaze (optional) and apply toward the end of the cook.
  • Do not wash your hands, enjoy the smoky aroma

Choosing the Right Grill or Smoker

I have a personal aversion to gas grills and I know that sounds funny, given the name of the site. They are fine for grilling ordinary meals; they are quick and easy to clean. But today, we are talking about true southern BBQ ribs, so let's just take the gas grill out of the equation. If you have a big monster gas grill, do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks on a companion for it. You'll be glad you did.

BBQ Ribs GrillYou can smoke the best BBQ ribs on a kettle style grill without too much trouble. It's all about how you set it up to cook indirectly. There are plenty of places that cover how to set these up. The other option is to get a unit dedicated to low and slow smoker cooking, like a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker. They do a great job, but can't do much else. That's why I prefer convection grills like the Primo Oval XL, Big Green Egg, or Big Steel Keg. Because they have awesome heat retention, they can grill at high temperatures, and also hold low temperatures for extended periods of time - without using much fuel. I also prefer natural lump charcoal (which these run on) for it's flavor and the fact that leftover fuel can be re-used. If someone tells you to get an 18 lb bag of charcoal to cook the best BBQ ribs, you need to be thinking about a new grill / smoker.

Selecting the Best BBQ Ribs to Cook

I'm going exclude beef ribs from the best BBQ ribs discussion, because I'm not a major league fan, and you don't often see them where I live in Georgia. So, that leaves us with two options, baby back ribs or spare ribs. I waffle back and forth over this one although others have clearly made their decision.

  • Baby Back Ribs - You often hear that you need a full slab of these versus a half slab of spare ribs. For me, it depends where you buy them. If you get them from your local grocer, that's probably true. However, I get mine at Costco and they are better, meatier and tastier than any place else I've found.
  • BBQ SpareribsSt Louis Style Spare Ribs - A special cut, or one you can do yourself, where the tips have been cut off to square the ribs up a bit. These are fattier and meatier (mostly) and are definitely tasty. This is what's usually served up at BBQ joints I've been to. If you get your ribs at Applebee's...?

I usually go with St. Louis style spare ribs because they are far less expensive than baby backs. As I mentioned, though, when I'm looking for Baby Backs, I know where to find them and they are money when done correctly. I suggest you try both. Keep in mind that the spare ribs will take longer because they are not as lean, so factor that in if you attempt both at the same time.


This is a generic guideline on the Best BBQ ribs, so no special recipes or anything. But there are some basic things you should always do, and we'll cover them here.

  • Rinse The Best BBQ Ribs - After taking them out of the pack.
  • Trim The Best BBQ Ribs - If you are doing baby backs, there is very little to do, but spare ribs should have the tips trimmed off and any excess fat removed.
  • Remove the Membrane - Doing this will help the smoke get into the meat. It's simple, use a butter knife to get under the member (on top of the bone side), wiggle it a bit until you can get your finger in there. Then grab a flap with a paper towel and slowly pull it off. The paper towel is the trick. It's almost impossible to hold onto with your fingers because it's so slippery
  • Apply the Rub - You're the best judge of which rub to use. I make my own and have a few that I really like and use regularly. Different recipes may call for some new ideas, which is half the fun. Some suggest lightly coating the ribs with vegetable oil before applying the rub. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Test and choose for yourself.
  • Get Your Smoker Going - If you are using a charcoal grill, make sure you create a void on one side for indirect heat. Dedicated smokers or convection grills typically have some means of deflecting heat around the food. I cook my ribs at temperatures between 225 and 250° F. If you allow it to get much higher, your results will not be as good. Definitely do not cook them over 275° F.
  • Add Wood for Smoke - I've found with lump charcoal that I don't need to add a lot of wood. I typically add a hand-sized chunk of hickory or apple. Sometimes I'll add two. What you don't want to do is overwhelm your food with smoke. And you don't need to keep adding wood. The smoke really only takes in the early part of the cook anyway, so beware of anyone suggesting you keep adding chunks, chips or pellets throughout the cook. Pointless. The other thing you don't need to do is soak them in water.

Rub Recipes

I tend to stick to a few special rubs for the best BBQ ribs that I like, but you may want to experiment. I've done a basic rub recipe break down that might help get you started. A visitor stopped by to offer a sweet and heat BBQ rib rub you might like. Wild Willy's Number One-derful Rub. Feel free to add your own rub recipes to the mix so other's can find them.

Start Cooking

  • Meat Side Up - Put the slabs on the grill meat side up if you have room. If you have less room, you can use a rib rack, which could add to the cook time if the airflow is constricted. The other cool method I've seen is rolling the ribs up and using a skewer to hold them together
  • Wait - Don't Look - Unless you are putting on a glaze over the last hour, there is no point in opening the lid. It just adds to the cooking time. And speaking of times, I usually cook my baby back ribs about 4 hours, although they've gotten done quicker at times. It depends on how much meat they have and sometimes how many you have packed together in the grills. Spare ribs will take up to 6 hours; remember, they're fattier.
  • When are they done? - First off, you don't even need to check if the meat hasn't pulled back from the bone yet. Once it has, there are a few things I've done. 1. I grab bone and tug to see how easily it pulls away. It should only take a slight tug when its done. 2. The bend test is where you pick up the slab with your tongs and give it a quick bounce. If the bark cracks and you see meat, it's done. Pretty scientific, huh?
  • Glazing and Saucing - Once I'm set up for indirect, I can't go back, so I tend to do this over the last hour. I take whatever sauce or glaze I'm using and begin putting it on in layers, every 15 minutes or so. This builds up a nice layer of flavors and the heat caramelizes the glaze along the way. The other option is to take your finished ribs, coat them with your glaze and put them over the direct fire until they caramelize.

The end result is a smoky treat with a little heat wrapped in sweet. The best BBQ ribs you'll ever taste

Best BBQ Ribs Side Dishes

I'll eat anything with ribs. In fact, I've been known to just eat ribs! I like to keep the sides fairly light, especially since I serve them up mostly in the warmer months. But, I also like to add some additional comfort food in there too (BBQ ribs comfort me just fine too).  Here are a few ideas, sans recipes, to get you thinking...

  • Variations on Coleslaw - Coleslaw is cool and light and goes well with any BBQ meal, include pork ribs. But don't just stick to traditional slaw. How about green apple and fennel slaw?
  • Corn - I like corn on the cob, but I've also got a great corn and tomato salad recipe you should try
  • Cornbread - I'm not a super big fan of straight cornbread, but I won't refuse it either. I'd rather make it more of a meal in and of itself, which is why I regularly make my spicy sausage and cornbread casserole.
  • Baked Beans - These are easy, just open the can, put them in a pot and let whatever you're cooking drip into them. Or you can go crazy and make them from scratch. I like bourbon baked beans, myself.

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I know this is TOTALLY different from what most people think of how to cook ribs, but trust me it WORKS! I have won two rib cook-offs with this method. …

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