There are few American foods that elicit more passion than barbecue. Questions like pork vs. beef (even lamb), “wet” vs. “dry”, ribs, butt or brisket, mustard or vinegar in the sauce all make for dozen of varieties of barbecue. Depending on where you are from, passions can run very, very high. Particularly in the American south if you ask for the “wrong” thing in some areas you may get the “around here we serve “real” barbecue and we use…X”. The only thing most aficionados will agree on is that barbecue may be the perfect summer meal.
As a Californian, we don’t really have a regional style (unless you count Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip, which is more of a roast), so we get to “pick and choose” a bit. We will cop to a preference for Carolina-style pulled pork– the hot vinegar sauce variety, but mustard-based is good, too. But the kids and many of our friends prefer ribs, and they do take less time, so we make them pretty often. And when we barbecue ribs, we go for Memphis-style.
If you are unfamiliar with Memphis style ribs, they are ribs prepared using a dry spice rub and a vinegar-based “mop” during smoking. Unlike ribs from St. Louis or Mississippi / Alabama that feature a sweet, “wet” sauce, Memphis-style ribs develop a nice dry, spicy “bark” and a very light glaze from the “mop”. Sauce is usually tangy and served on the side, although like all barbecue, opinions on sauce vary. You can use either baby-back ribs or St. Louis-cut ribs (middle of the ribcage) and get good results. Memphis-style ribs are more like pulled pork than most ribs. Good stuff. Really good.
And relatively easy to make. One of the misconceptions about making barbecue is that it is difficult. In fact, it’s easy, and requires relatively few ingredients. But the main ingredient you need is time, and there is no substitute. It isn’t an accident that barbecue mostly gets made, and consumed, on weekends. If you need an excuse to laze about with friends for an afternoon (perhaps with a beer or cocktail), making ribs will certainly do the trick.
The steps are pretty basic. Get some baby-back or St. Louis-style ribs. Make or buy spice rub (recipe here and below) and rub into the ribs and let them rest in the fridge for at least 6 and up to 48 hours. Soak some wood chips or chunks- we like a mix of hickory and fruit woods like apple or cherry. Get you smoker or grill ready at a temperature about 210 degrees (follow the instructions for your grill or smoker). Set up your smoker with a drip pan, and it helps to put some liquid like beer or apple juice in the drip pan, and then start smoking the ribs. Meanwhile make the “mop” with some vinegar, salt, apple juice and a touch of your dry rub. Liberally “mop” the ribs with the sauce every 30 minutes or so.