Competition-Style Ribs

Fact. The vast majority of Americans hold AppleBee's & Chili's as the gold-standard of "ribs" in this great country of ours.

Face-palm. Let's do this.

How To 'Que
Written by
Matt Dallman
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First things first, let's start with our rib spec.

For a lot of reasons I prefer smoking a "St. Louis Spare" Pork Rib, but also because it's the turn-in standard for KCBS BBQ Contests. There are several pork rib specs to choose from (country style, St. Louis spare, babyback) but the St. Louis spare offers a consistent meaty bite across the board, with an excellent uniform presentation.

I believe a good slab of ribs deserves at least 12-24-hours in rub before smoking. You can taste the difference when the rub has time to set it's flavor deep within the bone & really permeate the meat.

O.k, so let's start with the slab.

  • Super important, let's remove that silver-skin membrane. Only the most lazy of BBQ joints will leave this in place, but not you. Not today, not EVER.
  • Turn the ribs, bone-side UP. My suggestion is to take a kitchen towel, or a paper-towel (if you're married) and find the 2nd or 3rd rib in from the start of the slab. Start carefully, not to remove all layers of the membrane, but peel back the first layer with the edge of your towel.
  • Slowly lift under the rib membrane, peeling it back as you move length-wise along the slab.
  • It's rarely a perfect peel, but get as much as you can as you work the membrane off the slab (left to right). Take pride, ain't no McRib on your horizon.

Next step, apply the rub.

  • Let's make some rub!
  • The rub base I like to use combines Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) w/ butcher-grind black pepper, a base of brown sugar, chili powders, garlic & onion powders with celery seed. There are a million different rub recipes out there, a quick online search and you'll have more ingredients than you'll ever need. Check out some helpful tips from Meathead Goldwyn, I mean the guy runs a site called, c'mon.
  • Heads up though, too much sugar in your rub and the ribs char. So, let's talk Mustard Slather.

Mustard Slather

  • Not only is it a really fun word to say, but it's a key component in setting the bark on your "perfect" slab. We're talking good old yellow-French's mustard, with a little hot sauce, salt and pepper, brown sugar and I like to use a Dry Cider (gluten-free).
  • Apply a light coat of Mustard Slather to a well-rubbed slab of ribs, right before you throw that slab on the smoker.

Smoke on.

  • Let's get that slab on the smoker at roughly 225-250 degrees. Lots of woods to choose from, but with ribs, a base of fruitwood will add a depth of flavor. 99% of the time, (as long as it's available) I'll use Cherry wood for ribs. If you can't find a cherry or a mild fruitwood, use Oak as a base. Hickory and Mesquite woods can bitter the meat if you use too much.
  • Set those ribs in, and resist the urge to peek. Let them smoke for 3-hours, allowing the bark to set, and temperature of the smoker to stabilize.

Wrap 'em.

  • When the bark starts to set, you'll notice a beautiful dark red-ish hue on the top of the slab. You're going down the right road, but let's take some additional time to tenderize and add a cook-in a light glaze.
  • Don't hate, but I prefer a slight sweetness to my heat. There are lots of flavor combinations for you to play with when wrapping your ribs. I prefer a simple brown sugar, honey and apple juice blend. Feel free to deep dive into various flavored jellies, fruit juices and spices.
  • We're looking at 1.5 to 2 hours back on the smoker (wrapped)

Pull 'em.

  • You'll know your rib is ready and tender when the meat starts to pull back from the bone 'bout a thumbnail length.
  • Depending on the bark texture, I like to remove them from the foil and set back in the smoker. Especially if the bark has liquified and needs to reset.

Rest & Chill

  • Such an important part of smoking meat properly is allowing the meat to rest. Even 15-20 mins will make a difference, blending flavors together.
  • Take time for yourself, you've earned it huddled around the smoker all afternoon. Wash up, throw on a fresh shirt, grab a cold one and get ready to serve up some of the best ribs you've ever eaten.
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