The challenge: Grilling baby back ribs so that the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender while having a smokey flavor and a crispy outer bark. Impossible? I thought so, until I tried the ol’ Texas Two Step
The Quest for Awesome Smoked Ribs
Each summer in Chicago, there are no shortage of local ribfests. For those in the suburbs, yhe Village of Naperville puts on a huge ribfest and concert series, and, increasingly, each Chicago neighborhood is getting into the act. We’re only 4 smoke filled blocks away from one of the biggest, Ribfest Chicago. At each, the 3-bone sampler is the standard menu item and allows one to try a good 4 or 5 vendors and then vote for a winner.
For years, I’ve tried to create my own competition worthy ribs. There are a couple of qualities that they all have:
- Moist, tender meat where the bone is easily pulled out
- A smooth, crispy bark on the top
- Sweet and smokey flavor that leads to “smokey meat mouth”
Though without a dedicated smoker, and 6-8 hours of careful tending, I’d found it to be super hard to pull off the trifecta.
Start with a Great Dry Rub for Ribs
Great ribs begin with a great rib rub. When applied ahead of time and allowed to absorb, they will tenderize and flavorize the meat. I usually put my rubs on a day ahead of time, wrap tightly and stick back in the fridge.
Now, if you’re following a low sodium diet, you may be horrified to find that most rib rub recipes have a 3:1 ratio of sugar to salt. If you put down half a rack or more, then you can easily find yourself feeling like a cured ham after dinner.
In the recipe below, I’ve done my best to create a low sodium rib rub that’s still quite flavorful. This way, you salt the ribs lightly first, then apply a liberal coating of the rib rub.
Texas Crutch for BBQ Ribs
In a dense, urban environment, owning a smoker, in addition to a gas grill, In my first recipe for grilled ribs, I tried cooking exclusively on the grill and used a smoker box. While this had the flavor right, the meat wasn’t as tender as I wanted.
Searching for answers, I came across the 3-2-1 Ribs method several times. 3 hours of smoking, 2 hours wrapped in foil, 1 hour more of high heat. I’m sure they’re great, but I don’t have 6 hours to tend to meat.
What I’ve tried cuts that in half.
The first step is cooking indoors in the oven wrapped tightly in heavy duty foil. This is the legendary Texas Crutch and is used for brisket and pulled pork as well. It will keep the meat moist while cooking and prevent drying out. However, I find the meat soggy to cook it only this way. So I take it out early and finish on the grill.
Finish by Grilling and Smoking the Ribs
After 2 hours in the oven, you’ll finish on the grill for 1 hour last hour of smoking. Carefully take the ribs out of the foil and place on the grill in an indirect cooking setup after your smoke is going nice and heavy. In the final 15 minutes, you can crank the heat up to high to really crisp off the exterior.
- 3 Racks Pork Ribs
- 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Mustard Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Italian Herb Mix Basil, Rosemary, Oregano, etc.
- Rinse and pat dry the ribs. If desired, remove the membrane from the back (or have your butcher do this)
- Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and mix well
- Apply a liberal layer of rib rub to the top side of each rack.
- Optional: Refrigerate for up to 24 hours before cooking.
- Wrap each rack individually in 2 layers of Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil and close securely.
- Cook on a sheet pan at 300 degrees for 2 hours
- Using a smoker, or a gas grill with a smoker box, smoke the ribs at 250 degrees for 1 hour
- Optional: Cook on high heat for the final 15 minutes, 450-500 degrees