So check this out! Can you see the tender, smoky, falling-off-the bone deliciousness? These are my husband’s famous BBQ Baby Back Pork Ribs.
My husband Jimmer loves BBQ. If you come to my house for dinner, he will give you an enthusiastic tour of his smoking operation and school you on the difference between true BBQ and grilling. In summary, BBQ is cooked low and slow using indirect heat and smoke. Grilling is anything cooked straight over flame.
Jimmer’s passion for smoked meat is such that he imported all 800 lbs of his Tejas smoker from Houston, Texas. High quality Texas smokers are known for durability, quality and performance. A great smoker will hold an even consistent temperature over time.
Jimmer’s smoker has a round barrel smoke chamber with chimney (on the left) and an offset firebox (on the right). This creates indirect heat and causes the smoke to flow over the meat and out the chimney. It also has a thermostat which allows him to closely monitor the temperature which is controlled by the size of the fire and an adjustable air vent on the firebox.
Smoked BBQ is as much art as a science and it requires a certain amount of specialized equipment. There are smaller and cheaper smokers on the market, so if you want to give this a try, here is the formula that works consistently for Jimmer.
Jimmer’s Real BBQ Pork Ribs
Adapted from Smoke & Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison
3 full slabs of pork babyback ribs
- 1/3 cup freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 3/4 cup bourbon
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce (or whatever your favorite is)
BUYING RIBS: Jimmer likes the 3-pack from Costco. Ribs do not age well. Buy the freshest you can find right before you want to use them and give the sniff test. If they smell sour, don’t buy them.
To make these ribs, you start the day before.
Rinse and pat the ribs dry. Then remove the membrane that runs along the backside of the ribs. Here is a good tutorial on how that is done.
After you have removed the membrane, prepare your rub by mixing all of the rub ingredients together. Then coat the ribs thoroughly with the rub, making sure to cover the entire surface of the ribs.
To store overnight, either place them on a heavy sheet pan and cover with tin foil (sealing the edges) or place in a small clean garbage bag sealed with a twist-tie. Store the ribs in the refrigerator.
The next day, bring the ribs out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature while you are preparing the fire.
WOOD FOR THE SMOKER: In Texas, you might use mesquite or post oak, but in Virginia, Jim relies on seasoned split oak that he purchases by the half-cord. Jimmer also buys mesquite, hickory or fruitwood chunks and sometimes adds these to the firebox to impart a sweeter or smokier flavor.
Put 2-3 pieces of wood in the fire box.
Jimmer also includes a propane log starter, but you might use balled newspaper to encourage your wood to burn. Never use lighter fluid or other chemicals in the firebox.
Fill the water reservoir with 1-2 inches of water and light your fire.
Bring the barrel of the smoker to 200-225 degrees F. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour. When you have achieved the correct temperature, lay the ribs in the smoker meat side up. Close the smoker.
You have 5 hours of smoking ahead of you, all the while monitoring the temperature, and managing your fire, so make sure you have plenty of cold beer on hand for chef-hydration.
Once the ribs are in the smoker, make your mop. The mop is used to moisten the meat while it smokes. Simply put 3/4 cup bourbon and 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar in a sauce pan and warm on the stove right before you want to use it. Don’t let it boil because it will begin to evaporate. You will be applying the mop to the ribs twice…at the 1 1/2 hour mark and the 3 hour mark.
After the ribs have been in the smoker for 90 minutes, you literally mop on 1/2 of the liquid. Jimmer has this cute little BBQ mop that he got from Sur La Table. If you don’t have a “mop” for your mop, you can use a basting brush.
When you apply the mop, rotate the ribs to ensure even cooking. The ribs closest to the firebox tend to cook a little faster. Jim recommends using welders gloves for this for two reasons. First, they are heat resistant. Second, it is a cardinal sin to poke any BBQ meat with a sharp instrument as this will release precious juices and dry out the meat.
After 4 1/2 hours, you may choose to sauce your ribs. Jimmer typically sauces two racks of ribs and leaves one dry to accommodate those who prefer a dry rub rib (that’s me!). While you can make your own sauce, Jimmer favors commercial brands like Sweet Baby Rays. You can choose the sauce that you like. They range from tangy to sweet to spicy.
Leave the ribs in the smoker for an additional 20-30 minutes. Do not sauce your ribs earlier. If you do, the sugar will caramelize and burn giving your ribs a bitter flavor.
Personally, I like my ribs dry. The sauced ribs are in the back and the dry ribs are in the front. As you can see, dry ribs are not particularly dry, but actually tender, savory and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.