Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grill anymore. The leaves are beginning to change, the air is crisp and tailgating season is coming into swing—all good reasons to still be outside hovering over a fire with a spatula in one hand and perhaps a beer in the other.
But I’d like to suggest that, rather than grilling hamburgers and hot dogs this time of year, you opt for something a little more sumptuous: smoked ribs. Even if you don’t have a smoker – I don’t – it’s still possible. I smoked pork ribs in a gas grill for the first time this summer. That may sound like blasphemy to the purists out there, but I highly recommend it if it’s your only option.
Here’s a rough outline of how I did it—basing my recipe on a bunch of YouTube videos I watched the day before smoking. First, you have a few rib choices. I bought baby back ribs, which are lean and cook relatively fast. Then there are spare ribs, which come from the belly side of the rib cage. These are meatier, fattier, chewier and a bit juicier than baby back ribs. There are also St. Louis-style spare ribs, which are cut to form a rectangle rather than a tapered shape. Any of these will do.
I brought my ribs home, took them out and removed the thin membrane from the ribs’ underside with a knife. There is some debate as to whether this is necessary. One side says that the membrane is tough to chew on and that taking it off allows some of the rubs you’ll add to absorb better into the meat. The other side says the membrane isn’t much of a barrier to good chewing and that it keeps the ribs more moist by trapping fat inside. I am agnostic on this front, so I say do what you like.
Next, I slathered yellow mustard onto both sides of the ribs and rubbed it gently into the meat. You do this so the rub adheres to the ribs. You can also use oil, but I think yellow mustard gives the ribs a nice tangy base. Liberally apply your chosen rib rub to both sides of the ribs. There are countless rubs out there. I used a coffee rub as well as a salt blend, which was delicious, but that is just one option. Paprika-based dry rubs are also great. I’d recommend doing some research and figuring out which rub appeals to you.
Now you’re ready to smoke. Make sure you have some wood chips (hickory is a solid option), which you’ll wrap in a tin foil packet. Poke holes into the packet so the smoke can escape and place it at the bottom of the grill, on top of the one burner you’ll light.
You’re only lighting one burner because you want to slow-cook the ribs with indirect heat so they don’t smoke too quickly and dry out. Place your ribs on the side of the grill opposite the burner when the grill’s internal temperature has risen to around 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit and the chips are starting to fume.
This is where you have to be patient. Leave the ribs to smoke—try not to open the lid—for about two hours. Then, get a spray bottle and spritz the ribs with an acidic liquid such as orange juice. This adds another layer of tanginess and helps the ribs stay moist.
Let the ribs smoke for an hour or so longer, and then wrap them in tin foil with some butter (if you’re feeling decadent). Place them back in the grill and leave them for another hour. Take them out of the tin foil and place the ribs back on the grill, and sear them for a few more minutes on each side. And now you’re done; though, you should let the ribs sit for a bit (10-15 minutes) before you cut into them, so the meat can relax.
If you like barbecue sauce, then you can also apply that near the end, but I prefer dry ribs, so I left that step out. The result, I assure you, will be immensely satisfying, and I would bet that your guests won’t be at all disappointed that you didn’t use a smoker. Chances are, they’d never guess.