Expert Tips for Perfect BBQ Ribs

Photos: Selma Dakota, Extreme Images; Jonathan Chester, Extreme Images; Ardie A. DavisPhotos: Selma Dakota, Extreme Images; Jonathan Chester, Extreme Images; Ardie A. Davis

by Ardie A. Davis and Paul Kirk

The humble rib, a delicacy since man discovered fire, is one of America's favorite things to eat. But the vast majority of the time we feast on ribs at roadside rib shacks and barbecue joints rather than make them at home. If you've never grilled or smoked ribs on your own and don't know where to start, or even if you know a lot, listen up. We've run and competed in hundreds of rib contests, and there's always more to learn. In this basic primer we'll share our secrets to shopping for, prepping, and grilling or smoking ribs, plus provide recipes from our new book, America's Best Ribs. But, before we jump into the details, here are 10 dos and don'ts for mastering ribs.

See also: Healthy Comfort Food Recipes for Any Day

Ardie A. Davis and Paul Kirk's Rib Commandments

1. Fresh First, Frozen Second: There is no doubt that fresh meat is best, but frozen ribs can be delicious, too; if using frozen meat, always thaw before cooking.

2. Avoid Shiners: For the best-looking ribs, look for meat to cover the entire length of the bones, and avoid exposed bones, known as shiners.

3. Go Hog Wild: People usually eat more ribs than you expect so make sure you buy enough.
Here's what we suggest:

Spareribs: 6 ribs (or 1/2 slab-ribs are often sold by the slab) per person
Baby back ribs: 1 to 3 ribs per person
Country-style pork, beef, and bison ribs: 1 to 2 ribs per person
Denver lamb ribs: 7 to 8 ribs (or 1 slab) per person
Mutton ribs: 1 to 2 breasts per person

4. Keep It Together: Don't cut rib slabs into individual pieces for cooking. Cook the whole slab, and then slice it into individual ribs for serving.

5. Save Bits and Pieces: As you're preparing the ribs, reserve any meat trimmings and smoke them to make barbecue beans, or for tasting samples before dinner.

Related: The Best Barbecue Secrets

6. Season with a Light Hand: Don't overdo with marinades, rubs, mops, or sauces! Grilling and smoking bring out the natural flavors of ribs, and while seasonings can enhance those, they can also quickly overpower them. If you can't tell that ribs were grilled or smoked, they're overseasoned.

7. Don't Boil Away Flavor: While some cooks rely on this method for tenderness, when you boil meat you lose its flavor in the water.

8. Wraps Are Not in Fashion: Never wrap ribs in foil for cooking; foil blocks smoke and steam-cooks the meat. It's fine to loosely cover cooked ribs with foil for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

9. Presentation Matters: People eat with their eyes before they even taste food, so put care into how you plate and serve your ribs. Instead of butcher paper or disposable plates, arrange ribs on a glass or ceramic platter or a large dinner plate. Don't drown ribs in sauce; brush it on lightly and serve the rest in a bowl or bottle on the side. A sprinkling of rub or chopped parsley adds eye appeal and many Texans expect to see a pickled jalapeño on the plate.

10. Be Creative with Leftovers: If you're lucky enough to have any leftover ribs, remove the meat for use in barbecue beans, sandwiches, coleslaw, or what's known as a barbecue sundae: In a canning jar, layer barbecue beans, coleslaw, and meat and garnish with a sour pickle. Of course, you can also rewarm ribs in the microwave, covered with a paper towel, until just warm, 1 to 2 minutes.

Simple Smoked Beef Short Ribs

• 6 (4- or 5-inch-long) beef short ribs
• Barbecue sauce, for serving

Mustard Slather
• 1 cup prepared yellow mustard
• 1/4 cup dill pickle juice
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger


• 2 tablespoons sea salt
• 2 tablespoons coarse or restaurant grind black pepper
• 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
• 2 teaspoons white cane sugar


Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and outline the bones with a sharp, pointed paring knife. Combine all the ingredients for the mustard slather in a small bowl and blend well. Brush the slather over the entire surface of the ribs.

Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl and blend well. Sprinkle the rub over the slathered ribs.

Heat a cooker to 230° to 250°F. Oil the rack and place the ribs on it bone side down over indirect heat. Cover and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn and cook for 45 minutes more, then turn and cook for another 45 minutes, or until the ribs reach 185°F on a meat thermometer.

Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and let them rest, covered loosely with aluminum foil, for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the ribs into individual pieces and serve with barbecue sauce.

Kansas City-based cookbook authors Ardie A. Davis and Paul Kirk are charter members of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and authors of America's Best Ribs and America's Best BBQ. Davis founded the American Royal International BBQ Sauce, Rub, and Baste Contest as well as the Great American Barbecue Sauce, Baste, and Rub Contest. Kirk has won more than 475 cooking and barbecuing awards, including seven world championships, and runs the Baron of BBQ School of Pit Masters.

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