Growing up in California, authentic BBQ sauce was never on the menu (even if I was offered a dish with BBQ sauce as a kid, I was too picky to eat it). Dating a Southern boy quickly changed that, and I'm so grateful it did! The first time I made homemade BBQ sauce in my own kitchen, I couldn't believe how flavorful it could be. This past Memorial Day, Aaron and I rolled up our sleeves (with lots of paper towels close at hand) and indulged in these outstandingly messy ribs. I couldn't resist accompanying them with baked beans, collard greens, and freshly baked cornbread.
Naturally, the first time I attempted making BBQ ribs for Aaron, I was a bit nervous, seeing as he's from Texas. I know many people have their own idea of what BBQ sauce should be depending on where they're from. Generally, they don't take this lightly; I think some people feel as strongly about a particular style of BBQ sauce as they do politics or religion. As I did a bit of recipe searching, I soon found myself completely overwhelmed by the vastly different styles of regional BBQ sauce (there are four recognized types of BBQ sauce in Texas alone, which include: East Texas, Central Texas, South Texas, and West Texas). I had opened a giant can of worms! To make things more confusing, hard and fast "rules" for each type of regional BBQ sauce were often broken in "authentic" recipes I came across, or the lines were continuously blurred. The solution? I came up with my own version for a rub and settled on Pat and Gina Neely's BBQ sauce from their family's original restaurant in Memphis and their cookbook, Down Home with the Neelys, which isn't Texan at all.
Since many Texas style BBQ dishes are heavier on beef rather than pork, such as beef brisket or beef ribs, I thought Aaron would prefer beef ribs. It turns out, he's more fond of pork ribs, as that's what he predominantly grew up on. I love pork ribs too, so I've appeased us both and used them here (although this sauce would be great with beef ribs as well). The tomato-based Memphis style BBQ sauce provided below is thick, sweet, and slightly tangy. I like my BBQ sauce this way, as I'm not a big fan of the overly vinegary based sauces. They're a bit too tangy for my taste (I know, now someone has a personal vendetta against me). I've barely adjusted this recipe, and I find it's well balanced and doesn't overpower that heavenly pork flavor. At the end of the day we know what we like (we're the ones eating it after all), and for us, this BBQ sauce is just the ticket. Did I mention, these ribs are fall off the bone, finger lickin' good?
BBQ BABY BACK RIBS
2 slabs pork baby back ribs (about 4 lbs. total) see notes below
For the Rib Rub:
¼ cup paprika
1½ tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. garlic powder
1½ tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tbsp. smoked sea salt
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1½ tsp. dried oregano
1½ tbsp. dried thyme
2 oz. white sugar (about ¼ cup) or 2 oz. dark brown sugar (about ½ cup packed)
For the Barbeque Sauce:
Slightly adapted from Patrick & Gina Neely, Down Home with the Neelys
2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
3 oz. brown sugar (about ¼ cup plus 3 tbsp.)
3½ oz. white sugar (about ½ cup)
1½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp. onion powder
1½ tsp. dry mustard powder
1 oz. smoked paprika (¼ cup plus 1 tbsp.)
1 oz. lemon juice (about 3 tbsp.)
1 oz. Worcestershire sauce (about 2 tbsp.)
4 oz. apple cider vinegar (about ½ cup)
1 oz. light corn syrup (about 2 tbsp.)
Season with smoked salt and cayenne to taste
Rinse the ribs in cold water and dry using paper towels. Place the ribs on a cutting board and using your fingers, remove the silver-skin (the thick white membrane) on the bone side of the ribs and discard (you can also have your butcher do this for you).
In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly whisk all of the rib rub ingredients together. Generously season both sides of the slabs with rib rub. Place ribs side by side on a drying rack placed over a baking sheet (double lined with aluminum foil on the bottom) “curl” side up, meaty side down. Cover tops of ribs with two sheets of aluminum foil and seal well all around the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove ribs from refrigerator and allow to rest for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature. Bake undisturbed for 2½ to 3 hours (switching the position of the pan halfway through cooking), or until ribs are very tender. Meanwhile, prepare your BBQ sauce.
Combine all of the sauce ingredients (except for the smoked salt and cayenne) in a 4 qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Reduce temperature to low and simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours. After 2 hours, taste to adjust seasonings, adding a little smoked salt or cayenne if desired (remember there's cayenne in your rub, so easy does it).
After about 2 hours, remove the ribs from oven and peel off the foil so the ribs are exposed. Carefully flip the ribs, using tongs, so that the "curl" side is down, and the meaty side is facing up. Using a pastry brush, coat the meaty side of the ribs with BBQ sauce. Return to the oven uncovered (meaty side up), until the sauce is thickened and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Check to see that the meat easily pulls away from the bone. Remove the ribs from the oven and set aside to cool briefly before cutting into 4-bone sections and plating. Serve with more barbecue sauce on the side, if desired.
Yield: about 6 servings of ribs (a serving equals about 4 or 5 ribs) and about 1 qt. of BBQ sauce
- Freeze any leftover BBQ sauce for later use.
- If you prefer a slightly less sweet BBQ sauce, reduce both the brown and white sugars by 1 oz.
- Living in a 4th floor apartment I don't have access to an outdoor grill, but I've had excellent results cooking ribs in the oven. To achieve that coveted smoky flavor, I love using smoked salt in the rib rub, and a bit in the BBQ sauce too. It's a great salt to have on hand, which I like using on everything from fish to beans, or any place where you want some smokiness. You can find smoked sea salt, such as black smoked or applewood smoked at specialty spice stores or online.
- Baby back ribs are also known as back ribs, loin ribs, or Canadian back ribs. This particular cut is taken from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle (see diagram below).
- There are a few different cuts of pork ribs, which can often be a bit confusing. I find it's easier to understand various cuts of meat by looking at them visually on a diagram, such as the one below: