Memphis Barbecue Ribs
(American Southern-Soul slow-cooked pork ribs)
Nothing says Southern-style barbecue like a big, juicy, fork-tender side of slow-cooked pork ribs. There are as many variations on barbecue ribs as there are boll weevils in a cotton patch. But mostly you just need a good rack of ribs, a nice, smoky fire and a free afternoon to sit watch over your creation.
This recipe is for the Memphis version of barbecue pork ribs, rubbed with a simple mix of spices and heated for several hours over a hickory fire. Memphians don't typically serve their ribs with a barbecue sauce, but they do give them an occasional mop while cooking with an acidic, tomato-based sauce, adding moisture and flavor.
10 to 12 servings
For the Ribs
- Pork spare ribs -- 4 sides, about 10 pounds
- Sweet or smoked paprika -- 1/2 cup
- Brown sugar -- 1/4 cup
- Granulated garlic -- 2 tablespoons
- Ground coriander -- 2 tablespoons
- Ground cumin -- 1 tablespoon
- Kosher salt -- 1 tablespoon
- Pepper -- 2 teaspoons
- Cayenne pepper -- 1 teaspoon
- Tomato sauce -- 1 cup
- Cider vinegar -- 1/2 cup
- Brown sugar -- 1/2 cup
- Yellow mustard -- 3 tablespoons
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Use a knife to score a cross-hatch pattern in the thin membrane on the inner side of the ribs. Mix together your dry rub spice mixture and rub it in all over each side of ribs, reserving a little bit of the spice rub for later. Chill for at least 3 hours or, better yet, overnight.
- Soak some hickory smoking chips in fresh water for at least an hour before you start barbecuing, then drain. In a large grill, or in two regular-sized grills, start your grill fire and set the grill up for indirect cooking, with hot coals on one side and a pan under the grill rack on the other side to catch any drippings. You want the heat on the side of the grill where you are grilling the ribs to be around 225 to 250°F.
- Place the ribs, meat side up, over the dripping pan and give them a good baste with the mopping sauce. Cover the grill and cook the ribs gently for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Give the ribs another good mop, then flip them over, cover again and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour.
- Flip the ribs back over, give them a final basting with the mop sauce and cover again for a final 45 minutes to an hour of cooking. Finished ribs should be tender, moist and fully cooked through. They should be almost — but not quite — falling off the bone.
- Remove the ribs to a large cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Let the ribs rest for around 15 minutes.
- Uncover the ribs and sprinkle them with the reserved dry rub. Cut each side into sections between the ribs. Memphis ribs are traditionally served without barbecue sauce, but if you want, Texas-style barbecue sauce is probably best.
Memphis Barbecue Rib Variations
- Oven-Baked Ribs: In a pinch you can oven-bake ribs in a 250°F oven. Place them on a rack in a roasting pan and roast covered with aluminum foil for the first hour and a half to two hours. Then remove the foil for the final 45 minutes to help them caramelize and crisp a bit. Add a little liquid smoke to the mop sauce for that fresh-from-the-smoker flavor if you like.