Barbecued Baby Back Pork Ribs

It’s easy to tell the difference between good barbecued ribs and bad ones. But there’s a fine line between the good ones and the great ones. What it really gets down to is appearance, taste and texture. One thing that goes a long ways toward accomplishing this goal is a good rub.

And there wasn’t any shortage of ribs with rubs at today’s Sioux Tailgate Cook-off Challenge in the Alerus Center parking lot. More than a dozen restaurants and food vendors competed in a burger and rib competition, which had judges raving when all was said and done.

I helped judge the ribs, sitting at a table with Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown, UND athletic director Brian Faison and former UND and Minnesota Vikings star running back Dave Osborn. Along with four others, including Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty and sports editor Wayne Nelson, we were asked to pick the best ribs from 10 rib entries, all of which stood out in one way or another.

Appearance-wise, all of the ribs looked pretty good, so what it got down to was taste and texture. Osborn, who was to be one of the guest coaches for the annual UND spring football game that followed the cook-off challenge and huge parking lot party, said he was pretty impressed with all five entries but that two did stand out for taste and texture. He did qualify that by saying ribs were his favorite food.

I sampled the same ribs as the former gridder and agreed. And to me, it appeared the better ones had been prepared with a dry rub.

I was so impressed with the contest that upon returning home had to go through my rib recipes to find one that was made with a dry rub so we might have a meal of some nice barbecued baby backs in the next week or so.

Here’s the one I found most interesting, which a friend gave me years ago.

Barbecued Baby Back Pork Ribs
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
3 racks of baby back ribs (4 to 4½ pounds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Soak 2 to 3 handfuls of hickory chips in a pan of water for 45 minutes. Arrange a thick layer of charcoal briquets over the bottom of an outdoor grill, ignite, and when the coals turn gray, sprinkle the soaked chips evenly over the coals.
Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the dry rub in a bowl and mix until well-blended. In another bowl, combine all the ingredients for the mop sauce and whisk briskly till well-blended. Cut and pull off the membrane from the back of each rack of ribs. Season the ribs with salt and pepper, then rub each with about 2 tablespoons of the dry-rub mixture.
When ready to barbecue, position the grate of the grill 4 to 5 inches from the heat, brush the grate with oil, place the ribs on the grate bone side down, and grill for about 15 minutes. Turn the ribs over with tongs and grill for 15 minutes longer. Brush with some mop sauce, turn the ribs over, and grill for 15 minutes more. Brush again with the sauce, turn, and grill for 15 minutes longer or till very tender and glossy. Add more coals and chips if necessary.
Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, brush them with more sauce, and then sprinkle enough dry rub over the surfaces to form a crust. Serve as whole racks or cut into sections, with extra dry rub on the side.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.

2 thoughts on “Barbecued Baby Back Pork Ribs

  1. Jeff,
    Sounds dee-lish, however, as a barbeque fanatic, I can say a slight improvement here would be to snuff your fire down to about 225 to 250 degrees, and to let those babies sit bone side down for a good couple hours, then start mopping. LOW and SLOW will make ’em fall right off the bone! Another ingredient to your mop sauce could be a tablespoon or two of good Kentucky Bourbon…marries SO well with the smoke and seasonings…

    • I’d be adding Woodford Reserve–not just in the mop sauce but some on ice to soothe the chef who is also bathed in all that grill smoke. Ah, take one for the team!

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