Recipe: Dry Rubbed Spare Ribs Smoked on a Propane Grill
Before the torches and pitchforks come out, give me a chance to explain myself here. I know that barbecue pit-masters think having the word propane and smoked in the same sentence is blasphemous. You just don’t smoke meat unless you’re doing it on a charcoal grill or an offset smoker (this one is a great deal right now if you’re looking to invest), or…anything besides a propane grill. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have one of those “acceptable” items and, like me, may only have a propane grill. Using the method described in this recipe will allow you to produce some fantastically juicy ribs, and dip your feet into smoking meat when you only have a propane grill at your disposal.
For this recipe I used hickory wood chips, but you could customize the smoke flavor by switching up they type of wood chips you use. If you were looking for a stronger flavor you could use Mesquite, or if you’re looking for a lighter smoke flavor you could use cherry or apple wood. I happened to be poking around the clearance section of a local Target at the end of the grilling season a couple of years ago and I was lucky enough to stumble upon bags of hickory wood chips for something like $1.50. Needless to say, I stocked up. I recently purchased a variety pack of chips that has hickory, mesquite, and apple. I think hickory suits this recipe well because there are plenty of strong flavors in the rub, so using a type of wood chips that have a strong flavor will help the smoke shine through. Personally, I feel apple chips from the varity pack I purchased would be better suited for less seasoned dishes.
Many will say that strike two on this dish is using spare ribs instead of back ribs. It’s true that back ribs are better suited to achieve that fall-off-the-bone tenderness that most people target when smoking ribs, but it’s not like spare ribs taste like lima beans mixed with pig boogers. Spare ribs have loads more meat on them compared to their high class back rib brethren, even if the meat is a tad bit tougher. They are also generally cheaper per pound. This meal got started when I found a 6 lb. slab of ribs for about $7.00, which was a deal I couldn’t pass up.
- Rack of spare ribs – membrane removed (check tip #1 below)
- Wood chips – choose type based on your preference based on my description above
- 12 oz. of apple juice, cider, or beer
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. kosher salt
- 2 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tbsp. cumin powder
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
Prep: 10 minutes
- Dry rub – in a bowl, mix brown sugar, salt, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and cayenne
- Remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs (check tip #2 below)
Process: 3.5 hours
- Preheat and clean your grill using all available burners.
- Create two foil wood chip packet: Lay out about 16 inches of foil on a flat surface. Take a handful or two (precise measurements required *sarcasm*) of wood chips on half of the foil. Fold the tinfoil half without wood chips over the half with wood chips, then fold the edges a couple of times to seal the pouch. Take a toothpick and poke 10-15 holes in the top of the foil packet.
- Turn off all but one of the end burners (check tip #2 below), which should be left at medium low heat.
- Carefully lift the grill grate that is above the lit burner and place one of the foil wood chip packets on the burner heat shield.
- Thoroughly dry both sides of the ribs using paper towel, then generously apply about half of the rub to all sides of the ribs.
- Once the wood chips begin producing smoke place the ribs on the cool side of the grill.
- Smoke the ribs for one hour while keeping the wood chip packet smoking as much as possible (check tip #3 below). The grill should be around 225℉. If the foil packet stops producing smoke with sufficient heat, swap it for the second packet.
- Wrap the ribs in foil, pouring in approximately 6 oz. of apple juice, cider, or beer, and then seal (check tip #4 below).
- Return the ribs to the grill and light two or three burners, bringing the temperature up to 325℉ for about one hour. I have a five burner grill, so I generally light the two end burners to provide indirect heat, and the middle.
- Remove the ribs from the foil and return them to the grill.
- Add the remaining apple juice, cider, or beer to the remaining rub and combine.
- Cook the ribs using indirect heat for an additional hour at approximately 300℉. Flip and and apply the rub/liquid mixture using a basting brush every 15 minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and cover them in foil when ribs are tender (see tip #5 below). Allow them to rest for 10 minutes prior to serving.
- Removing the membrane – This might be my least favorite part of making ribs, but I feel it’s necessary. On the underside of the rack, use a knife to peel up an edge of the membrane that covers the ribs. Grab onto the membrane using paper towel to increase grip and prevent slipping. If you’re lucky, it’ll all come off in one pull, otherwise you’ll have to go through this process a couple of times. If there are some small difficult spots don’t stress out, if you leave a bit on, it isn’t going to ruin the dish.
- Place the wood chip packet on an end burner of your grill. If there is a breeze, try to place the packet on the end of the grill where the wind is blowing. This will draw the smoke into the meat, rather than away from it.
- Maximizing the smoke is a all about riding the thin line between smoke and fire. If your foil packet does catch fire, turn off the burner, carefully attempt to blow it out, and then re-light the burner and set it to a slightly low temperature. This process takes some babysitting, so set up camp by the grill with a cold one…or four, and bask in the glorious scent of the hickory smoke.
- When wrapping the ribs in foil, the bones have a nasty habit of poking holes in the foil. Use heavy duty foil for this step. I’ve made the mistake of buying the cheap stuff, which a slight breeze will shred. I also usually use two or three layers to avoid punctures. There is nothing worse then setting the ribs back on the grill to hear a loud sizzle as all the liquid drains out, forcing you to start over.
- The biggest visual cue that your ribs have reached their final state is the end of the bones will be significantly protruded from the meat. You’ll notice this begin to occur after you remove the ribs from the foil packet in step 10 above, and it will progress throughout the cooking process.