“Do you know how I know that Adam wasn’t from the South? Because no true Southerner would ever give up a rib.” – BBQ Pitmaster Myron Mixon

When we hit a barbecue joint, I never order ribs. Mostly because I don’t want to be covered in sauce, from hands to elbows, and have little kids pointing and laughing at me. So, Jeff and I have an understanding. He orders the ribs, I order something else (brisket or whole hog, if I can get it), and we trade a few bones for a few bites.

Actually, that sounds more like an episode of “True Blood,” but that’s the system that works for us.

Jeff gets some variety, and I get my rib fix without looking, as my Daddy likes to say, like I’ve been “sucking a sow.”

Well, first, I was taking one sweet, smoky rib. Then two. And then Jeff offered to smoke a slab at home so I could get caveman in total privacy, with an unlimited supply of paper towels.

Now, that’s living the dream.

We picked up a slab of spareribs, which are generally the cheapest ribs in the rib family. Ideally, you want to get them fresh, but if your grocery only carries ones that have been frozen, look for organic spareribs. We’ve tried both (organic and non-organic), cooked exactly the same way, and the organic spareribs are better.

When you get your ribs home, you’ll need to get rid of the thick membrane (or “silver”) that runs along the underside of the bones. Just think of it like a piece of duct tape on your meat – a silver shield that repels all spices and smoke – and rip that thing off.

Then your ribs will be ready for any rubs, marinades, sauces and smoke you send their way.

We used Martha Hall Foose’s recipe for Mustard-Rubbed Ribs, which are coated in a spicy dry rub overnight. The next day, you cook them low and slow, brushing them with a vinegar-based mopping sauce every 30 minutes, until your patience is rewarded with a sweet-and-spicy, smoke-infused, tender slab of spareribs.

Serve them dry, or make them “wet ribs” by warming up your favorite barbecue sauce and pouring it on the slab.

Then, you can grab a roll of paper towels, put your elbows on the table, and live the dream, too.

Mustard-Rubbed Ribs

Adapted from Martha Hall Foose’s “Screen Doors and Sweet Tea”

Serves 4

    Mopping Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    Dry Rub:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 slab spareribs (about 3.5 pounds) or 5 pounds beef short ribs, rinsed, cleaned and patted dry
  • Hickory chunks, for the grill or smoker
  1. To Make the Sauce: Combine the Mopping Sauce ingredients in a lidded jar. Shake like hell, and put the sauce in the fridge overnight.
  2. To Make the Dry Rub: Measure all of the Dry Rub ingredients into a small bowl. Stir them together with a fork, and set aside.
  3. To Prep the Ribs: Remove the thick membrane (or “silver”) from the undersides of the bones. Start at one corner of the slab, and using a sharp knife, loosen the translucent membrane by running the tip of the knife between it and the bones and meat. Once you’ve got a little loosened, grab hold and rip it the length of the slab, like pulling off duct tape.
  4. Using a spoon, sprinkle the rub onto the meat. Rub it in. (You can keep any leftover rub for future use.)
  5. Wrap the ribs in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.
  6. When you are ready to cook the ribs, set them out at room temperature, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
  7. If Using a Grill: Place coals into a chimney starter, and light them. When the top coals have a light ash coating, pour them on one side of the grill. Set a drip pan on the other side. Close the lid, and let the grill heat up for 10 minutes.
  8. Place the ribs on the grill over the drip pan. Toss 1 or 2 hickory chunks onto the coals, and immediately cover. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, keeping the temperature between 200 and 225 degrees F. After the first 20 minutes, use a barbecue mop to brush on the Mopping Sauce. Continue to mop every 30 minutes, adding 1 or 2 hickory chunks to the fire. The ribs are done when the internal temperature is 170 to 180 degrees F. (The bones in the middle of the slab should move slightly when twisted.)
  9. If Using a Smoker: Bring the smoker to 225 degrees F using the hickory chunks as your heat source (or as your smoke source if using a gas or electric smoker). Get the smoke going, put the ribs on a rack, and cook them for 3 to 4 hours. After the first 20 minutes of cooking, use a barbecue mop to brush on the Mopping Sauce. Continue to mop every 30 minutes, adding 1 or 2 hickory chunks to the fire. The ribs are done when the internal temperature is 170 to 180 degrees F. (The bones in the middle of the slab should move slightly when twisted.)
  10. To Serve: Let the ribs rest for at least 10 minutes, and serve with your favorite barbecue sauce, if using.