I learned so much by smoking countless spareribs over the years. And there is a science behind making good barbecue ribs.
And I am going to show you all the tips and tricks to make the best juicy and tender spareribs in the world.
Choice of ribs
We start by choosing the right rack of ribs. There are basically two kinds of ribs. The belly ribs, and the spareribs that are from the back of the pig. That’s where the loin is. When you remove the loin, you are left with the spareribs. That’s why it’s a cheap cut of meat.
The thicker cut spareribs you sometimes see at the butcher’s are not authentic spareribs because they have a piece of the loin on top. For this recipe, I am going to use some original thinner cut spareribs.
Removing te membrane
When we have chosen the right ribs, we have to prepare the ribs by removing the membrane. Stick a dinner knife between the bone and the membrane and pull the blade up until you can get a finger underneath the membrane. Then you can pull up the membrane while you push the ribs down with your other hand. After that, you trim off the loose ends, so it looks better.
Adding a rub or seasoning
With the spareribs looking pretty, we are going to add some flavour. By keeping the flavours simple, the taste of the meat is going to improve. The easiest and definitely tasty way to season spareribs is using salt and pepper. For salt, I use fleur de sell, and I always use fresh ground black pepper.
If you prefer the American bbq flavour, add paprika powder, onion powder, and garlic powder to the mix. There are a lot more options to add other flavours, and I encourage you to experiment.
I won’t want you to go crazy and just keep adding more flavours than needed. Keep it simple with 5 or 6 spices or herbs so you can taste the different ingredients in the end product. I’ve got a few other bbq rubs for you to try if you want to get a bit more adventurous.
If you use salt and pepper, you don’t have to sprinkle on a lot. When you go for the bbq rub, you want to put on an even layer. I use an empty Nutella jar with a cap where I put some holes in. You don’t need an extra binder like olive oil or mustard for the rub to stick. The salt in the rub draws out moisture from the meat, which works as the rub’s adhesive.
Selecting the charcoal
Now it’s time to cook the ribs. We do that with indirect heat and smoke. If you’ve got a ceramic grill like my Kamado Joe, you need hardwood lump charcoal. Just put a small layer of charcoal on the bottom, so it’s easy to control and keep a stable temperature for 4 to 6 hours.
I light up the charcoal with a firestarter made of wood shavings and wax. You can use the brown ones made from cardboard or use a torch, but whatever you do, never use those white cubes or lighter fluid. These contain chemicals that make your barbecue smell and eventually your ribs as well.
Now you have to wait until the firestarter has completely burned down and the layer of charcoal has a glowing core.
By selecting your smoke wood, you have to take into account whom you are cooking for. I always use local wood because the people you cook for are used to smell that smoke. In the Netherlands, that is, for the most part, oak and beech tree. But we also use fruitwood like cherry and apple. These give a light smoke that’s perfect for these thinner cuts like spareribs.
I prefer bigger chunks when I smoke on a ceramic grill. The smaller chips you can use in a smoke tube on a gas grill. In charcoal grills, you basically only use chunks.
Creating the right bbq set up
Now it’s time to set up your grill to get indirect heat. On a ceramic grill, you need heat deflectors that keeps the heat away from your meat. On a bigger gas grill with different burners, you can turn down one or two burners and place the meat on that side of the grill.
With a kettle grill, you can make two zones with glowing charcoal or briquettes on one side, so the other side is the cooler side where you put your meat.
Look for the mahogany brown colour
When the grill has a stable temperature of 120°C (248F), you can put the ribs in the grill and close the lid. When the ribs are getting a nice smoke colour, and the rub sticks to the meat, you have to choose between three options of what you are going to do next.
Adding extra flavour or keep it natural
You can keep the ribs natural and just let them smoke until they are done. You can sauce them at the end of the cook to get a caramelized surface. Or you can spray the ribs and build up an extra flavour. I’ve been experimenting with different spraying liquids.
Wrap your meat with aluminium or butcher’s paper
After one and a half or 2 hours of smoking and building enough flavour and smoke, you wrap your ribs in aluminium foil or butcher paper. Both work fine, so you just choose what you want. It does not make any difference.
The wrapping speeds up the cooking process and keeps the meat juicy. Wrap the ribs airtight to keep all the moisture in and put them back on the grill. Close the lid to cook them until they are done.
Check for results
How long do you have to keep them wrapped? That all depends on the thickness of the meat, the heat in the grill and how tender you want the ribs. You always hear them talk about the 3-2-1 method. The 3 step method stands for 3 hours of smoke, 2 hours wrapped and 1 hour sauced.
This method is used for cooking belly ribs at bbq competitions. You only use this method with spareribs if you like your spareribs turned to pork mush.
Just keep your spareribs wrapped until the probe of your thermometer goes through the meat with little resistance. If you like your ribs fall-off-the-bone, the probe goes through without resistance, and you can tear the meat easily of the bones. I like my spareribs with a bit of a bite, so I pull them out a little earlier.
If you choose to sauce the ribs, this is the time to do it. Put them back on the grill, Brush on some sauce and let the sauce caramelize for about 20 minutes. I don’t sauce these ribs because I want to let the dry rub be the hero of these ribs. But be free to do whatever you want.
Now you know how to cook the juiciest ribs, you can try out a few of my recipes for different flavour profiles and choose your favourite.
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BBQ gear used
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