A Memphis Rib Story

The words of C. B. Stubblefield adorn every bottle of Stubb’s barbecue products: “First of all, you have to have the taste and the time.”

Well, I didn’t have the time today, so I had to buy a bottle of someone else’s sauce.

Today was my extended family’s July and August birthday party and was the first chance for most of them to meet our new baby. Always on the lookout for a barbecue excuse, I offered to make ribs at my dad’s house where the party was being held. He and I have the exact same smoker configuration. For some reason, even though I only bought my kit after he did (and made some really awesome ribs) he thinks I have some magic power that he doesn’t, so he told me that he would pick up the charcoal and he would watch me do everything.

Anyway, since the party was on a Saturday, I wouldn’t have time to make my ribs the day before since I would be at work. Food was to be served at 1:00 P.M., so my options were limited. I decided to try my hand at Memphis dry ribs since this style only requires 1-2 hours to cook.

Friday night, I made some brief preparations. I put together a half-batch of my old standby, Mike Mills’ Magic Dust. While not strictly Memphis style, it is somewhat similar to the spicy version of this Memphis rub which I will try in the future. Notice that the Memphis Dust does not include ANY cayenne or chili powder by default!

What makes dry ribs dry is the lack of a sauce basted at the end of the smoke. You still can use a mop. I would recommend it for any barbecue, honestly. I improvised since I couldn’t find the recipe I used last time: 1 cup olive oil, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, a can of Miller Lite, and a few spoons of Phat Mike’s mysterious rub that appears to be equal portions paprika and espresso grinds.

This got packed up with a my actual mop and a few foil pans. I asked my dad to get a few oak logs handy.

This morning, I stopped at McKinnon’s, hoping to get some full slabs of the baby back ribs on sale starting Friday. They had three half slabs and when I asked at the counter they were otherwise out! Instead, I picked up two slabs of spare ribs. They were cut super thick: ten pounds each! I also picked up a bottle of Charlie Beigg’s Maine Apple barbecue sauce, and some ice for the trip. Upon arriving at my parents’, my dad presented me with yet another rack of ribs (baby backs!). To start the fire, he usually uses small pieces of pine wood that have been covered in wax. This is basically a homemade version of those fire log contraptions you get from the grocery store. It worked well enough. The cooker got up to temp pretty quickly. My dad went to run some errands, and told me to wait on the baby back ribs so he could watch the whole process.

Turns out that half a batch of Magic Dust is exactly enough for two slabs of untrimmed spare ribs (the meat flaps on the backs were mostly fat and the knife was getting slippery) and one side of baby backs. After scraping and oiling the cooking grates, I loaded the spares into the cooker, and waited for my father’s return.

Once he got back, I spiced the baby backs, and I placed that rack on the warming rack.

Now, the other thing about dry ribs is that they are smoked really hot for barbecue. I was shooting for a temperature of 350°F, so I actually started the fire in the main cooking chamber, not in the firebox. Guess what? Some of the spare ribs got a little burnt! Oh well.

After about two hours and much pestering by the family, I took the ribs to be sliced. I actually trimmed off the brisket bone and all the cartilage-y bits but served them anyway, warning people about the difference. Nobody seemed to mind. There were leftovers, but honestly, three racks of ribs for 15 people who were also eating dynamites is a little overkill. One comment made by my brother makes me want to explore some of the standard Char-Griller modifications to reduce the right-side hotspot, but that will be a long time from now, I’m sure.

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