2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 rack (about 21/2 pounds) baby back ribs
For the mop sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared mustard (such as French’s or a Dijon-style)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 or 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
For the ribs: Whisk together the salt, black pepper, brown sugar, paprika, ancho chili powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
For the mop sauce: Combine the cider vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and Worceshire sauce in a separate bowl, whisking until smooth.
Place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet, meat side down. There is a thin membrane on the bone side. Some say it prevents flavor from penetrating the meat and is papery to chew on. But pulling it off can be a little tricky, and a lot of ribs are served with the membrane still on. The choice is yours. If you opt to remove it, slide a small knife beneath the membrane to cut it enough so that you can grab it with your hands and pull it off. The best place to insert the knife is in the midsection, so that you can tear off first one side, then the other.
Coat both sides of the ribs with the rub, working it into the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Prepare the grill. If using a smoker, start a charcoal fire in the firebox.
If using a charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect grilling: Light the charcoal in a chimney starter and let the briquettes burn until the flames subside and a light layer of ash covers the briquettes (about 20 to 25 minutes). Dump the lighted coals into 2 mounds (or, preferably, into 2 half-moon-shaped briquette baskets) on opposite sides of the grill. Place a drip pan between the piles of coals.
To cook in the smoker: Once the coals turn ashen, fully open the chimney and add 2 split logs or 6 hardwood chunks. Let them burn for about 10 minutes or until they start to flame for a couple of minutes; close the firebox door. When the logs or hardwood chunks start smoldering and smoking, set the ribs on the grate, bone side down, in the cooking chamber, as far from the fire as possible. Shut the chamber door and close the chimney one-half to three-quarters of the way; adjust to maintain the temperature inside the smoker between 225 and 250 degrees. Add 2 logs or 6 hardwood chunks as needed after roughly 2 hours. If the fire gets too hot (300 degrees or higher), close the chimney completely until the temperature falls to between 225 and 250 degrees. If the fire falls below 225 degrees, add another log or two, and make sure they catch fire before you close the firebox.
To cook in the grill: When the grill is set up as directed above and the coals are ashen, scatter a cup of the soaked wood chips on the coals, place the grill rack in position and cover the grill. Place the ribs on the grill rack above the drip pan, bone side down. Maintain the temperature inside the grill between 225 and 250 degrees. Add charcoal and chips as needed, about a cup after the first 2 hours.
To cook in a gas grill: Place the wood chips in a smoker box or a foil packet with fork holes puncturing the top to let smoke escape. Preheat the grill to high. When smoke appears, reduce the heat to medium. Place the ribs, bone side down, on the far side of grill, away from the fire. Close the lid.
After 11/2 hours, baste the meat side with the mop sauce and close the lid. An hour later, baste again, then turn the ribs over; baste the bone side and close the lid. After 30 minutes, turn the ribs over; they should now be bone side down. Baste the meat side and close the lid. After 1 hour, baste the meat side, then close the lid. Cook the ribs, covered and undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Total grill time is at least 4 hours.
Using tongs, pull the ribs from the grill and set on a cutting board to rest for about 10 minutes.
Use a sharp knife to cut between the bones.
Serve hot, either as is or dipped in your favorite sauce.
NUTRITION | Per serving: 890 calories, 56 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 68 g fat, 25 g saturated fat, 270 mg cholesterol, 3250 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar
Recipe tested by Mike Cutler; e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org