It never fails to amaze me how one simple idea can give birth to so many great regional variations. Consider ribs. The pork rib is one of the most perfect morsels ever to occupy a grill. The meat is generously marbled, which keeps it moist during prolonged cooking. As the fat melts, it crisps the meat fibers and bastes the meat naturally. The bones impart a rich meaty flavor (meat next to the bone always tastes best), while literally providing a physical support—a gnawable rack on which to cook the meat. Yet depending on whether you eat ribs in Birmingham or Kansas City, or Bangkok or Paris for that matter, you’ll get a completely different preparation.
I’ve always been partial to Memphis-style ribs. Memphians don’t mess around with a lot of sugary sauces. Instead, they favor dry rubs—full-flavored mixtures of paprika, black pepper, and cayenne, with just a touch of brown sugar for sweetness. The rub is massaged into the meat the night before grilling, and additional rub is sprinkled on the ribs at the end of cooking. This double application of spices creates incredible character and depth of flavor, while at the same time preserving the natural taste of the pork. Sometimes a vinegar and mustard based sauce—aptly called a mop sauce—is swabbed over the ribs (with said mop) during cooking; I’ve included one here, for you to use if you like.
You can choose any type of rib for this recipe: baby back ribs, long ends, short ends, rib tips—you name it (for more on these cuts see The Four Styles of American Barbecue). Cooking times are approximate. The ribs are done when the ends of the bones protrude and the meat is tender enough to pull apart with your fingers. I like my ribs served dry, in the style of Memphis’s legendary barbecue haunt, the Rendezvous. If you want to serve them with a sauce, you’ll find a number to choose from in this chapter.