We were having guests recently and I wanted to prepare something a bit special for them. I decided on baby back ribs with a plan to spice them 2 different ways for a little excitement in the meal. One rack was prepared by my traditional method while another went close to the route a competition team might use for their ribs. The ribs cooked in the Traeger pellet-feed smoker leaving the BGE for baking a great loaf of Parmesan bread
The day before cooking, I gathered my spices, stripped the membrane off the back of 2 racks of baby back ribs and went to work. Obviously, one rack received a good dose of my own Rib Rub. Before I apply rubs to meats I like to give them a good massage with some olive oil – it relieves stress and gives a good moist base for the rubs to adhere and soak into the protein. My technique is to coat each side twice with rub. I shake on a generous amount then let the meat sit for 10 – 15 minutes before coating the other side. The competition style rack was rubbed with 2 of Ryan Lane’s spices. On the top (meaty side) of the rack I used Lane’s Signature Rub and on the back side for just a little bit of kick on the tongue I used their SPF53. Like the other rack each side received two coats of rub with a little rest along the way. I covered the pan and refrigerated them overnight.
I set up the pellet smoker for 275 degrees and let it get hot & smoky. (same would work in the BGE with plate setter) I’m using Hickory pellets. The two rack went on with the meat side up and we closed them in for about 2 ½ hours. Some folks like to spray, mop or just look a lot – I usually don’t disturb my ribs at all for this initial cook time.
Now it’s time to wrap! The Angry Man Style Rack received a light drizzle of my Sweet Vinegar Rib Sauce before being wrapped in butcher paper. This is plain, uncoated butcher paper. I have a large roll hanging in a closet so I can tear off just however much I need. Wrap like a butcher wraps – place the rack at the end of the paper and make one fold over to just cover the meat. Fold over the ends over the meat at a slight angle and then roll the meat up once or twice before folding the ends again. It’s really easy and creates a nice tight & sealed package. It goes back in the smoker continuing with the meat side up.
The competition style rack got a great sweetening – though not as much as a competition rack would receive. I sprinkled brown sugar across a large piece of foil (I was conservative where a completion team would use about ½ a box), then squirted in some liquid margarine and drizzled honey on the ribs. Put the ribs meat first into the sugars and wrap up the foil. These too go on the cooker with the meat up. Some like to go meat down so the meat sits in the melted sugar. I was trying to ad the flavor while not going to excess with sugar.
We let these run for another 2 hours. At that point they passed a bend test and were amazingly flexible – meaning done! Ribs are almost impossible to use a thermometer on so most of us like to pick them up and see if the rack bends easily to check for done. At this point I took the racks out of the wraps and give them about 15 minutes in the cooker to finish off. (sometimes I pass on this step).
I put the ribs in a baking pan and gave them a good 15-20 minute rest before we sliced them apart for serving.
Both styles were fantastic! Our guests were not rib fans but admitted afterwards that they were converts. While we all enjoyed the sweeter version we had a unanimous vote for the non-sugar style. I want to be plain that it was the sugar/honey/butter that made the real difference in our opinions. Ryan Lane’s spices were “on-target” for the ribs!!! The little bit of pop that the spicy rub gave to the backside of the rib was excellent. I will add that in on a rack without the sugar the next run of ribs we prepare.
Sugar is king on the competition circuit. However, remember that judges usually get just a few bites of any product entry so it’s got to grab the palate quickly and efficiently – hence, sugar! For most of us, trying to make a meal of such sweet treats just isn’t enjoyable. Keep in mind here that I used at best about ¼ of the sugar, honey and margarine that a competition team would add to a rack. Can you believe it?
BBQ too often has a reputation for not being a healthy way to eat – and with all this added sugar and fat that would be a most correct assumption. However, my style with just a little sugar and fat in the sauce, which is applied minimally, is a way to compliment the true flavor of the meat. I love judging at BBQ competitions – but I like even better to enjoy a meal of well prepared, simply seasoned baby back ribs! Let’s leave the smoked lollipops for someone else.