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Memphis BBQ Spare Ribs Photo: Keller + Keller

Memphis BBQ Spare Ribs

Presented by America's Test Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6

Why this recipe works:

Every Southern city seems to put its own spin on ribs. In Memphis, cooks season the ribs with a spicy dry rub both before grilling and just before the ribs come off the grill. For an easy-to-accomplish Memphis BBQ Spareribs recipe that captured the flavor and spirit of Memphis, spareribs worked fine, but St. Louis spareribs were an even better bet because they had much of the excess fat and cartilage already trimmed. Otherwise, we had to peel away the thick membrane that covered the bottom of each rack of ribs - it prevents the meat from fully absorbing the spice rub and can be tough to chew. Using more sugar than salt balanced the spiciness of the rub. Light brown sugar lent an earthiness to the rub that emphasized the pork flavor. Rubbing the ribs at least one hour before grilling gave the spices a chance to penetrate the meat. Soaking the wood chips for at least one hour in water assured that they smoked - rather than burned - when added to the heat. Finally, we simmered the remaining "mop" - the liquid used to baste the ribs as they cook - to concentrate it, then used it tableside as a sauce - it had too much flavor to let it go to waste.

NOTE: These ribs are moderately spicy - adjust the cayenne and Tabasco as you wish. To reheat leftovers, place the ribs in an ovenproof dish, add a few tablespoons of water, cover with foil, and place in a 250-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes.


Spice Rub

  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cider Mop

  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 cups wood chips, hickory or mesquite
  • 2 full racks pork spareribs, preferably St. Louis cut, trimmed of any large pieces of excess fat, membrane removed, and patted dry
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce


  1. For the spice rub and mop: Mix spice rub ingredients together in small bowl. Stir cider and vinegar together in small saucepan.
  2. One hour before cooking ribs: Place wood chips in bowl with enough water to cover. Reserve 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon spice rub. With fingers, work remaining rub into both sides of rib racks. Let ribs stand at room temperature until ready to cook.
  3. Fifteen minutes before cooking ribs: Transfer soaked wood chips to small disposable aluminum pan. Place pan directly on primary burner in grill, turn all burners to high, and preheat with lid down until chips are smoking heavily, 15 minutes.
  4. Turn primary burner down to medium and shut off other burners. Position ribs over cool part of grill. Cover grill, positioning lid so that vents are opposite wood chips to draw smoke through grill. Meanwhile, bring mop to simmer; cover and keep warm.
  5. Barbecue ribs until meat starts to pull away from bones and has rosy glow on exterior, 3 to 4 hours. You will need to flip ribs and baste them with mop. At all other times, keep grill covered.
  6. Before removing ribs from grill, sprinkle each rack with 1 tablespoon reserved spice rub. Remove pan with wood chips from grill. One at a time, place each rack of ribs on hot burner, cooking about 30 seconds on each side, then transfer to cutting board. Tent ribs with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. While ribs rest, add remaining 1 teaspoon spice rub to remaining mop and simmer, uncovered, until liquid has reduced to about 2 cups, 10 to 15 minutes. Add Tabasco and more salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Slice ribs between bones and serve with sauce on side.