When I was a kid, "summertime" was just another way of saying "ribs." Whenever we had a party, my dad would buy racks and racks of ribs—a hilarious amount, really—and throw them on the grill. (We always joked that he didn't know how to cook for fewer than 20 people.)
More recently, though, I've decided to look beyond the quick-and-dirty grilled ribs of my father and explore more traditional slow-cooked barbecue. Fortunately, we have no shortage of recipes to choose from, whether you've got the equipment and time for true low-and-slow smoking, or simply an oven and a powerful desire for tender meat with a crusty bark. This collection of 11 recipes includes iconic regional barbecue styles from Memphis and Kansas City, Cajun- and Chinese-inspired versions, and sous vide and oven-baked ribs that turn out as smoky as anything cooked over wood—honest. In short, there's something for everyone's Labor Day cookout.
Competition-Style Barbecue Ribs
In the barbecue competition circuit, this style of sweet and smoky ribs is the way to go. Brushing the racks with mustard and misting them with apple juice will help them develop a crisp crust. The apple juice also lends a touch of sweetness, but to intensify the effect, finish the ribs in an agave bath, too.
Memphis-Style Dry Ribs
The merits of various regional barbecue styles inspire strong opinions, to put it mildly, but we can see the good in all of them. Typical Memphis ribs are brushed with vinegar as they cook over a medium-heat charcoal fire, then given a dry rub. Our version of the rub starts with paprika and adds brown sugar, salt, granulated garlic and onion, celery salt and seed, chili powder, and more, for a combination that's hot, sweet, earthy, and herbal.
Kansas City-Style Barbecue Ribs
Kansas City–style barbecue is characterized by a thick, sweet, and tangy tomato-based sauce, one that resembles what most Americans probably think of when they think "barbecue sauce." The spice rub we apply to these ribs leans sweet as well, but there's enough chili powder and pepper in the mix to keep it balanced. Let 'em smoke for several hours, then brush on the sauce toward the end to create a thick glaze.
Cajun-Spiced Barbecue Ribs
Swap out your usual sweet and spicy rub for something more herbal and earthy (but retaining a good bit of heat), and you've got the makings of ribs with a distinctly southern Louisiana flavor. While the ribs smoke, they also soak up a liquid seasoning of beer, butter, Worcestershire, liquid crab boil, and hot sauce, to give them some extra Cajun-ness.
Smoky and Spicy Apricot-Glazed Barbecue Ribs
If you're more interested in delicious ribs than competition-worthy ones, we're right there with you. A simpler method is to just slowly smoke those ribs and glaze them with a flavorful sauce in the last half hour. In this recipe, we use a sauce made from ketchup and fruity apricot preserves, plus jalapeño jam and chipotles in adobo for a touch of heat and a faint smokiness.
Balsamic-Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Far from your ordinary barbecue glaze, this intensely tangy sauce is made with a heavy dose of balsamic vinegar, reduced down to a third of its original volume and cooked with ingredients like Dijon mustard, molasses, and Worcestershire sauce. The distinctive acidity in the vinegar melds well with the sugars in the sauce and a spice rub of white, black, and Sichuan peppercorns, which we use to coat the ribs before smoking.
Hoisin Barbecue Ribs
Sweet, glossy hoisin is already more or less Chinese barbecue sauce, so it's not much of a stretch to combine it with American barbecue staples, like ketchup, vinegar, honey, and onion, to make a complete cross-cultural mashup. We combine the sauce for these ribs with a spice rub of five-spice powder and tingly-hot Sichuan peppercorns.
Sous Vide Barbecue Pork Ribs
The major advantage of sous vide cooking is that you can hold foods at a very specific temperature for exactly as long as you want—a level of precision you can't get with other methods. Cook ribs at 165°F for 12 hours with a little liquid smoke in the bag (nothing artificial about it—good liquid smoke is really made from smoke!) to get them as tender and flavorful as any "real" barbecue out there. By adding pink curing salt, you can even mimic the classic smoke ring.
Oven Barbecue Pork Ribs
What if you're dying for barbecue ribs, but don't have a smoker or a sous vide setup? Don't give up! Thanks to the magic of high-quality liquid smoke, you, too, can tear into delicious barbecue-style pork ribs from your very own oven. Here, we use a rub that's equal parts salt and brown sugar, plus spices like paprika, mustard seed, and cumin and coriander seed. Feel free to brush on your favorite sauce before cranking up the heat to finish them.
Texas-Style Beef Short Ribs
Texas-style barbecued beef ribs are easy—start by seasoning the ribs simply, with salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder, then smoke them at 225°F until they hit 165°F inside. For a deep, crusty bark, you'll then wrap the ribs in butcher paper and return them to the heat.
Colombian-Style Barbecued Beef Ribs
We North Americans aren't the only ones who enjoy our barbecue—it's huge in Colombia (among many other places), where it's usually made with beef. Start with a couple of six-bone rib racks, with plenty of fatty bits near the bones. Then season them with salt and pepper, cook them until they're tender and the crust is well developed, and serve them with a refreshing ají. It's the closest you'll get to Colombian barbecue without a plane ticket.