Grilling season is officially upon us and I could not be more excited. I am a warm weather girl through and through, and I just love being outdoors messing around with my little Weber. My latest grilling obsession? Ribs. Specifically, baby back ribs. Over the past year, I think I’ve prepared well over 15 racks—all in an effort to bring you a full-flavored, fail-proof recipe. So, without further ado, here it is. Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Chipotle-Cherry Barbecue Sauce.
Before I share my cooking tips with you, let me first say that naming this recipe was a challenge. That’s because if you choose to add the mesquite chips to the grill (per my ingredient list), you’re actually smoking the ribs. So at first I thought I should call them “Smoked Baby Back Ribs.” But I hesitated because I think the word “smoked” scares off home cooks who don’t do a lot of grilling or smoking. It certainly gave me anxiety for many years. And I don’t want anyone to be intimidated or anxious about this recipe because it’s really easy. Grilling, on the other hand, is what I view as a more approachable technique. And since the smoking component is optional, I went with “grilled.” However, I strongly, strongly, strong encourage you to take that extra step and add the wood chips. That smoky element, coupled with my fruity and slightly spicy barbecue sauce, sends these ribs over the top.
So when you’re ready to try out these ribs, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Plan ahead. Ideally, a day in advance so the ribs have plenty of time to hang out with the dry rub.
- Don’t forget the disposable aluminum pan. Without it, you’ll be fighting flareups which will cause the ribs to burn. And the water in the pan helps keep the meat moist. Oh, and refill it if it gets low.
- Remove the silverskin (connective tissue) from the backside of each rib rack. Everyone has their own opinion about this. And I’ve left it on a bunch of times myself. But at the end of the day, the ribs pick up more flavor without it and no one has to deal with the aftermath (unsightly brown, curled edges and chewy texture).
- Invest in a good, high temp thermometer. To monitor the heat, I take a meat thermometer and periodically stick it through one of the top vents. That may not win me any points with the grill masters, but it gets the job done. And don’t freak out if the temperature fluctuates a bit. Just try your best to keep it as close to 300 degrees F as possible. On average, my temp ranged from 265 to 335. Manage the heat with the top and bottom vents. If the temp’s too high, slightly close one or both vents. To raise the heat, open the vents to let in more air.
- A chimney starter is another great investment for charcoal grillers. Well worth the twenty-five bucks, especially when you need to add additional charcoal later in the cooking process.
- Keep the ribs meat side up so the meat doesn’t have a chance to stick to the grate.
- When you cover the grill, make sure the top vents are over the ribs (opposite the coals). This gives you the best ventilation and the cleanest smoke.
- Keep an eye on the smoke. White-gray smoke means the meat is cooking properly. The more smoke, the higher the temperature. Black smoke, on the other hand, is troublesome and typically means something is burning. I’ve never had this issue with the water-filled drip pan. But if you encounter it, try to starve the flame by closing the vents because tempering the flame with water could oversaturate the coals making it hard to get them back up to temp.
- Make sure you have extra charcoal on hand. They all burn at different rates and you may need to add more charcoal before the ribs are done.
- Be patient. These ribs do take a while to cook and they need lots of attention. But, trust me, they’re well worth the effort.
Here’s wishing you a great grilling season!
Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Chipotle-Cherry Barbecue Sauce
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground dark roast coffee
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 racks meaty baby back pork ribs (about 3 1/2 pounds each)
2 cups mesquite chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes (optional)
1 13x9x2-inch disposable aluminum pan (drip pan)
Chipotle-Cherry Barbecue Sauce, recipe follows
In a small bowl, make the dry rub by combining the brown sugar and next 8 ingredients (through cayenne pepper); set aside. Place ribs on a work surface meat side down. Remove the silverskin from the back of each rack. To do so, insert the tip of a butter knife under a section of the skin and wiggle loose, tightly grab it with a paper towel and peel off. Season ribs with dry rub. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. Remove ribs from fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare grill for indirect cooking.
CHARCOAL GRILL. Remove top rack and place drip pan on one side of bottom rack. Fill pan with 1-inch of water. Light charcoal with a chimney starter and pour on opposite side of drip pan. Drain wood chips and scatter over hot coals. At some point, you may need to replenish coals to maintain heat.
GAS GRILL. If using a 2-burner gas grill, light 1 burner and place drip pan under grate of unlit burner. If using a 3-burner gas grill, light outside 2 burners and place drip pan under center grate. Drain wood chips. Divide evenly between two 12×12-inch pieces of foil, wrap tightly and make slits in the top of each. Place smoke packets directly on flame. If using a 3-burner grill, place one packet on each lit side.
Place ribs, meat side up, on grill over drip pan. Cover grill and cook at 300 degrees F for 2 hours, rotating ribs every 30 minutes for even cooking (do not turn over). Remove ribs from grill and tightly wrap each rack in foil. Return rib packets to unlit side of grill and cook until meat is very tender and pulling away from ends of bones, about 1 hour more. Serve with Chipotle-Cherry Barbecue Sauce. Makes 4-6 servings.
Chipotle-Cherry Barbecue Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cherry preserves
2 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobo puree*
2 tablespoons Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the ketchup and next 11 ingredients (through cayenne pepper). Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups.
*To make chipotle chile puree, place 1 can of chipotle chiles in adobo in a blender and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 months or flash freeze by the tablespoonful for up to 6 months.