Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue, by Paul Kirk (Harvard Common Press, 2004)

Memphis-Style Smoky Barbecue Ribs
From Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue, by Paul Kirk (Harvard Common Press, 2004)
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 4 Servings


  • Pecan, oak, maple or alder wood chunks (optional)
  • 3 slabs baby back ribs (each slab weighing between 1¾-2¼ pounds)
  • 3 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups barbeque sauce (recipe follows)
  • Small spray bottle with apple juice (for basting)
    Barbecue sauce:
  • 3 cups ketchup
  • ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons liquid smoke flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Special equipment: 1 metal rib rack (holds 3-4 slabs of ribs vertically)

For barbecue sauce:
Combine all sauce ingredients in large, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reserve for glazing and serving.

For ribs:
Prepare an indirect fire in a charcoal kettle grill 30 minutes prior to cooking. To do this, heat hardwood charcoal until coals start to ash over. Using a long grill spatula, push charcoal to one side of grill. Place a metal or disposable pan of water on the bottom of the grill next to the coals. For smokier flavor, add a couple of wood chunks to the charcoal. Replace grill rack. The portion of the grill over water is indirect heat. The portion over coals is direct heat. Allow the grill to come to 300°F, registered with a grill thermometer on the indirect side.

Prepare ribs by removing the membrane and trimming off excess fat. Leave a little fat on the ribs for self-basting. Season meat, rubbing all sides with salt and pepper.

Place rib rack on grill with the slots slanting away from the coals, so the slot closest to the coals has at least a 1-inch clearance from the coals. Carefully place each slab in a slot, meat side facing the heat. Cover grill. The ideal temperature for cooking ribs is between 230-250°F. If the temperature hasn’t dropped from 300°F 15 minutes after ribs are placed on grill, close air vents to cut air intake by half, until thermometer reads 250°F.

Baby back ribs will take 4-5 hours to cook. Check charcoal every 45 minutes to an hour if you’re using chunk charcoal. If you need to ignite briquettes, start them 20 minutes before you need to add fuel. Refuel accordingly to maintain 230-250°F for the cooking duration (about 3 times).

When it’s time for the second addition of fuel, check to see if the meat at the tops of the ribs has started to pull away from the bones. If it hasn’t, check again at the third addition of fuel. If the meat has pulled away, invert ribs and rotate slabs in the slots so that the slab furthest away from coals is now closest, etc. (Inverting ribs will help them cook evenly, the temperature at the top of the grill being greater than that at grill level.) Remember to keep meat side facing down.

About halfway through cooking time, the salt and pepper rub will have properly set on ribs. Begin basting ribs every 30 minutes using spray bottle of apple juice.

At around 4 to 4 ½ hours, check to see if the ribs are a medium-dark brown color, with bones exposed at top and bottom. About 30 minutes before the end of cooking, glaze the bone side of the slabs lightly with barbeque sauce. Turn and glaze the meaty side, and cook 10 to 15 minutes longer. Lightly glaze the meat side again, turn, and cook another 10 to 15 minutes.

Select a well-done slab and cut the 2 thickest end ribs to test doneness. If meat comes cleanly away from the bone, ribs are done. If not, replace slab and cook another 30 minutes, without increasing heat. Remove ribs from grill and let them rest 10 minutes before carving. Serve hot with remaining barbecue sauce on the side.

Wine Pairing:
A rich Zinfandel like the Ravenswood Amador County Zinfandel.

Excerpted from Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue, by Paul Kirk, Copyright © 2004, with permission from Harvard Common Press, 535 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118.