How to make perfect smoked ribs in 11 easy steps
Grillstock is famous for its righteous BBQ, served in its restaurants, celebrated at its festivals and published in its own book. Here founder Jon Finch ribs us up the right way…
The great British BBQ has moved on. It is no longer acceptable to cremate a couple of sausages over a raging inferno in your garden and call it a BBQ. No longer are you allowed to chuck a couple of hockey-puck-like, frozen burgers onto the flames. Times have changed, my friends, and it is time to raise your game.
This summer, you’re going to cook US-style, low ‘n’ slow smoked baby back ribs – proper BBQ. Channel your inner pit-master. Of course a dedicated smoker is best suited for this, but you can also smoke ribs on most kettle-style BBQs.
For us, ribs hit the sweet spot of the ultimate BBQ. They’re very forgiving – an extra half an hour isn’t going to ruin your lunch. The cooking time is sufficiently long to guarantee you have at least 4-5 hours of standing around, chatting to your mates and drinking beer while technically cooking (but not as long as brisket or pork shoulder which require 12-18 hours of cooking and overnight fire-management).
You’ll get pit-master points from your friends and family, and while the end result is impressive, it’s easy with a few simple tricks.
We recommend sipping a bloody mary for the rib-prep stage. Use some of your BBQ rub (see 10.15am) instead of celery salt and add a splash of BBQ sauce into the vodka and tomato juice mix.
Crank up the volume. Search Grillstock BBQ Beats on Spotify.
Take your ribs out of the fridge and remove the whitish membrane from the bony side. Take the end of a blunt knife and tease away an edge of membrane, free from the bone, so you can get hold of it. Now use kitchen paper for grip and pull it away gently.
Give the ribs a rubdown. Shop bought is fine or better still, make your own. A rub for ribs should be about 1 part Maldon salt, 1 part brown sugar and 1 part mixed herbs and spices of your choosing. We like paprika, chipotle or chilli powder mixed with garlic powder or onion powder. But experiment and use the flavours you like. Put the ribs in a large roasting tin (so you don’t make a mess), and give them a good coating, then leave them to stand for an hour or so.
Fill a chimney starter with natural, sustainable, lumpwood charcoal and wait until the fire has reached the top then carefully tip the coals into 1/3 of your BBQ so that they are tightly packed into the side. On the other side, put a disposable tinfoil tray and fill it with hot water from the kettle.
Now add wood chunks to the glowing coals. Pit-masters view wood as a seasoning, an extra layer of flavour. You’re going to get a good background smoke flavour from the lumpwood charcoal so the wood chunks should be chosen to give a nice accent, an extra-special hit (check out macsbbq.com for a good selection). Pecan, cherry and apple are all great with ribs – they have a nutty, sweet flavour. Hickory is also good, but avoid mesquite. Sorry Texas, but it doesn’t float our boat. Use large golf-ball to fist-sized chunks small chips burn up too quickly. Close the air vents at the bottom of the BBQ so they’re just 1mm - 2mm open. Leave the top vent open. We’re aiming to stabilise the BBQ at around 110C (225F).
is approaching rapidly, so consider something that will ease you gently into the afternoon. A tennessee smooth ought to do the trick. Shake one egg white, 15ml lemon juice, 35ml bourbon and a splash of bitters together in a shaker then pour into a rocks glass with a slice of lemon.
Check the BBQ temperature has stabilised, then put the ribs, bone-side down, over the pan of hot water. Smoke them like this for about 4 hours, rotating the ribs every now and then so they all spend some time nearest the coals. Keep an eye on the BBQ temperature and add a handful of lumpwood charcoal if it starts to drop. There’s no need to keep adding wood.
Pull yourself up a comfy chair and drag over a bucket of cold beers. Turn the tunes up and kick-back, keeping the ribs company as they embark on their smoky journey to BBQ nirvana. If anyone tries to give you chores, sorry, you can’t help, you’re busy cooking.
You and the ribs ought to be getting on pretty well by now, but it is time to check if they’re done. If you have an instant-read thermometer, you want the internal temperature to hit 92C. The ribs are ready when the meat comes away for the bone when pulled, but isn’t falling off. If they are not done, close the lid and give them another half an hour. There’s no exact science to this – they’re done when they’re done.
Make a batch of our maple glaze: Heat 125g dark soft brown sugar, 125ml bourbon, 125ml soy sauce, 125ml ketchup, 125ml maple syrup, 75ml honey, 1 tbsp Frank’s® RedHot Sauce and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar in a pan, stirring often. Once you’ve decided the ribs are officially ‘done’, brush with the glaze and cook for a further 20-30 minutes, brushing with more glaze until the ribs are dark and sticky.
To serve your ribs, carefully flip them over, so they’re meat-side down, and slice between each bone. Pile them on a big board and let everyone help themselves.