Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

Easy, basic recipe for barbecue pork spare ribs

08/14/2014 6:00 AM

08/14/2014 11:00 AM

Quito McKenna says that his ribs are so good that God will call him instead of Adam if he wants another one.

Doug Halo told me his ribs are so good that my tongue will pat me on the back and thank me for the best ribs I ever tasted.

Ask any competition cook if his or her ribs are good and you’ll get creative replies like McKenna’s and Halo’s.

Everybody loves ribs. You dare not open a barbecue joint in Chow Town without ribs on the menu — and they’d better be good.

Ribs are the favorite category for judges at Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned contests, where most entries are spareribs — unlike the Memphis Barbecue Network, where baby backs dominate.

Baby back/loin ribs are from a pig’s upper rib cage. They are short, meaty ribs left over when the tenderloin is separated from the bones. Easy to grill or smoke, baby backs are perfect when you’re in a hurry.

Chow Towners love spareribs — longer, tougher, less meaty ribs from the pig’s lower rib cage. We don’t mind calling our favorite cut “St. Louis,” although everybody knows that St. Louis pitmasters copied the method from Kansas City pitmasters, or so the tongue-in-cheek story goes.

Chow Town Davis Rule No. 2: Do not boil ribs! Boiling extracts natural meat flavors. Barbecue makes ribs tender and packed with natural flavors: umami, smoke and pitmaster-added seasonings. During the slow and low cooking process, fat drips away. The remaining fat is a flavor enhancer.

(For Chow Town Davis Rule No. 1, see “Mastering backyard or contest barbecuing starts with chicken”)

Easy Basic BBQ Pork Spareribs

Serves 3-4 per slab

Two untrimmed slabs of pork spareribs — or pre-trimmed St. Louis cut slabs

Pepper and salt

1 cup hickory, pecan or applewood chips soaked in water and drained

1 chimney full of charcoal briquettes — more as needed

Slice untrimmed slabs into a rectangular shape. Set aside the meat trimmings to barbecue with the ribs for use in barbecue beans or dips. Pull the membrane off the bony side of each slab by inserting a teaspoon handle or flat-end screwdriver beneath the membrane on one end; use a piece of paper towel for gripping.

While the briquettes are firing, lightly sprinkle both sides of the slabs with pepper and salt. Dump hot briquettes on one end of the fire grate, leaving space for indirect heat opposite the coals. Use welding gloves for burn prevention. Put the grill grate in your cooker and place the slabs opposite the hot coals, bone side down, next to each other so that all surfaces are exposed to smoke, or place them upright in a rib rack opposite the coals.

Drain the wood chips and dump them on the hot coals. Lid the grill and smoke the ribs at 225 to 250 degrees for 4 to 6 hours until tender and easy to pull off the bone.

Optional: Slather ribs lightly with your favorite tomato-based barbecue sauce before serving. Sauce on the side is also optional. Most guests want it. A good sauce, lightly applied, can enhance the flavor.

For more rib recipes — pork, beef, bison, lamb and mutton — see the book chef Paul Kirk and I co-authored, America’s Best Ribs.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’ Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books. His most recent release is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”

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