Barbecue ribs are one of the most popular meats for barbecue cooking. Some cooks, though, hesitate to try to make them because they feel that making good ribs is too difficult. Making good barbecue ribs is actually not difficult, and keeping a few basics in mind can ensure that your ribs turn out tender and flavorful.
For many people, the word barbecue has more to do with the sauce used with many barbecue dishes, but in fact, the term refers to the cooking method. Barbecue is simply grilling food over heat — traditionally, hot coals. Today, charcoal or gas grills are used for barbecue, although many cooks insist that real wood provides the best flavor. To barbecue ribs, you need one of these heat sources.
If you are cooking with wood, seasoned hardwood, such as hickory, apple, maple or cherry, is a must. Oak and mesquite are also possible choices but can impart an overpowering flavor of smoke to the ribs, so be careful if using these woods. Too much smoke can ruin the flavor of the ribs.
With either wood or charcoal, you will need a good bed of hot coals. Be prepared to add more wood or charcoal during cooking to keep the heat up. If you are using a gas grill, set the heat to a fairly low level. Ribs need to cook slowly and for a long time for tenderness. Hot coals and charcoal lack the mechanism for fine control of heat, so if using one of these heat sources, you will most likely need to cook the ribs a little higher above the coals than over gas heat.
The most popular kind of ribs and the type that most people think of when someone mentions barbecue ribs are baby back pork ribs, although other pork and beef rib cuts are good for barbecuing. Ribs may be seasoned but don't have to be. Many cooks like to rub their ribs with a spice rub before cooking, and while many of these are homemade, good commercial rubs can be found at any supermarket. Some cooks also like to marinate the ribs overnight before cooking.
To cook the ribs, place them on the grill. The key is to cook them slowly over low heat, or they will burn. If necessary, push the coals to one side of the grill or turn off the one half of a gas grill and cook the ribs, indirectly, on the other side of the grill. Many cooks like smoke flavor for their ribs, so hardwood chips soaked in water can be added to the coals occasionally, a handful at a time, during cooking. For gas grills, place the wood chips in a tin foil pan on the grill.
Cook ribs with the grill cover on, gently turning them over every 30 minutes or so. The ribs will require four hours or so to cook and perhaps longer to achieve fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Add additional charcoal or chunks of wood as necessary to maintain cooking heat.
Some cooks prefer to cook their ribs without sauce, but many like to use a sauce to baste the ribs. If you want sauce on your barbecue ribs, baste them during the last half hour of cooking. Apply the sauce with a basting brush, clean rag, or sauce mop.