Smoking meats is more art -- maybe even voodoo -- than exact science. It’s not as if you can season these ribs and then throw them in the oven and forget them. You literally must control fire and smoke for hours, which is sort of like cattle-driving housecats to Kansas.
The brand of ribs you buy will make a difference. We recommend getting them from a butcher shop or butcher you trust. This recipe uses the 3-2-1 method: 3 hours of low-and-slow indirect cooking, 2 hours in aluminum foil, 1 hour out of the foil (6 hours total).
Make Ahead: Make the seasoning mix well in advance so you can just sprinkle it on when you’re ready to make the ribs. You'll need to soak 2 cups of hardwood chips in water for at least 1 hour, or use 4 to 6 split logs or about 8 to 12 hardwood chunks, preferably oak, hickory, pecan or a combination.
Servings: 3 - 4
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 12 ounces beer, such as a lager (optional)
- 1 rack (about 3 pounds) pork spareribs (see headnote)
If using a smoker, start a charcoal fire in the firebox.
If using a charcoal grill, prepare the grill for indirect or two-zone 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.
Whisk together the salt, black pepper and the cayenne pepper, if using, in a small bowl. If using the beer, pour it into a bowl.
Place the ribs on a cutting board. There is a thin membrane on the bone side. Some folks 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 liberally with the seasoning mixture and rub it into the meat.
To cook in the smoker: When the coals turn ashen, open the chimney completely 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 two logs or 6 hardwood chunks as needed after roughly 2 hours. If the fire gets too hot (325 degrees or higher), close the chimney completely until the temperature falls to about 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, place 2 or 3 hardwood chunks (or a cup of the soaked wood chips) on the coals, place the grill rack in position and cover the grill. When the hardwood chunks start to smoke, 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 hardwood chunks/chips as needed, about 1 cup after the first 2 hours and 1 cup after 4 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.
After 1 1/2 hours, if using the beer, baste or mop the meat side, then turn the ribs over and baste the bone side. Close the lid after each subsequent basting. Repeat the procedure 1 1/2 hours later. If you don't use the beer, you don't need to turn the ribs over.
After a total of 3 hours, wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. Move the wrapped ribs back over to indirect heat, bone side down, for 2 hours. Remove the foil; if using the beer, baste on both sides. Place the ribs bone side down and leave them alone for 1 hour.
Use tongs to transfer the ribs to a cutting board; let them rest for about 10 minutes.
Use a sharp knife to cut between the bones. Serve as is or dipped in your favorite sauce.
From Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.
Tested by Tim Carman.
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