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Barbecued Pork 101

Barbecue is the traditional low-and-slow cooking method used in pork ribs and pulled pork recipes because it provides ample time for fatty, tough cuts to become tender and palatable. We’ve spent years developing indoor and outdoor barbecued pork recipes that turn out perfect every time. Here are the core techniques you’ll need to prepare our foolproof barbecued pork recipes.

Perfect Ribs in 12 Steps

For lip-smacking good ribs with juicy, fall-off-the-bone texture, master these simple steps.

1. LOOSEN MEMBRANE

Use the tip of a paring knife to loosen the edge of the membrane on each rack.

WHY? The papery membrane on the underside is chewy and unpleasant to eat.

2. REMOVE MEMBRANE

Pull the membrane off slowly, using a paper towel. It should come off in a single piece.

WHY? The paper towel will give you a good grip.

3. SEASON RIBS

Rub the ribs with a spice mixture, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 to 24 hours. 

WHY? To give the rub plenty of time to season the ribs.

4. PREPARE COALS

Pour the hot coals into a steeply banked pile on one side of the grill. 

WHY? By banking the coals, you’re transforming your grill into a slow, low oven, perfect for cooking ribs.

5. ADD WOOD CHIPS

Place a foil packet of soaked wood chips over the coals, cover the grill, and let them smoke for 5 minutes. 

WHY? If you start the meat immediately, it will taste acrid from too much harsh smoke.

6. PLACE RIBS

Clean and oil the cooking grate, unwrap the ribs, and set them on the cool side of the grill. 

WHY? So the ribs can cook low and slow without the exterior burning before the interior is tender.

7. COVER WITH FOIL

Cover the ribs loosely with aluminum foil, close the grill, and cook until the ribs are deep red, about 2 hours. 

WHY? The foil will trap steam to aid in tenderizing the ribs.

8. BRUSH WITH SAUCE

Remove the ribs from the grill, brush with 1 cup of barbecue sauce, and wrap tightly in foil.

WHY? The ribs will cook for several more hours in the oven, drinking up the smoky, sweet flavor.

9. BAKE RIBS

Lay the foil-wrapped ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and move them to a preheated oven. 

WHY? So the ribs can fully tenderize without your having to rebuild the charcoal fire.

10. FORK TEST

Insert a fork into the ribs and lift. If the fork pulls right out, the ribs are done. If not, the meat needs to cook longer. 

WHY? To check if the ribs are truly fork-tender.

11. LET REST

Remove the ribs from the oven and let them rest, wrapped in foil, for 30 minutes. 

WHY? The juice will redistribute. What does that mean? Moist ribs.

12. BRUSH, SLICE, EAT

Unwrap the ribs, brush with more barbecue sauce, slice between the bones, and eat. 

WHY? We sauce the ribs twice, but not on the grill, where the sauce would burn.

Types of Fires for Barbecued Pork Recipes

The biggest grilling mistake most people make happens before the food even hits the cooking grate: they set up the wrong type of fire. Here are the two grill setups we use in our barbecued pork recipes.

HALF-GRILL FIRE

A half-grill fire creates two cooking zones, but here the difference in heat level between the two zones is much more dramatic: one side is intensely hot since it has all the coals, and the other side is very cool because it has none. This type of fire if used for two reasons: to make a concentrated, super-hot fire for fast and vigorous searing; and to make the cooler cooking zone more controlled for very lean and easily overcooked cuts of pork. It is made by arranging the hot coals over half of the grill and leaving the other half of the grill empty. This is the type of fire we use most often.

BANKED FIRE

A banked fire has all of the coals in a small pile against one side of the grill, leaving a large, open cooking space without coals or flames. This setup is often used for grill-roasting and barbecuing, as it creates an oven-like environment where food can be placed opposite the coals or flames to cook low and slow (often with the lid down). It is often used for barbecued pork recipes that require hours on the grill, such as pulled pork and ribs.

Choosing the Right Cut for Barbecued Ribs

With three cuts of ribs to choose from, which will make the best ribs?

Butchers get three different cuts from the ribs of a pig (pigs can have anywhere from 13 to 17 sets of ribs). You can barbecue any of these cuts, but in the test kitchen, we usually reach for St. Louis cut spareribs. Because they’ve been trimmed of the brisket bone and surrounding meat, they fit nicely on a standard-size backyard grill and they give us consistent results. Ordinary spareribs, which come from near the pig’s belly, include that brisket bone and meat; their size and irregular shape make them unwieldy on a backyard grill. Among the three, baby back ribs are smallest and leanest; they come from nearest the pig’s back (and, despite the name, from an adult pig). Baby backs cook comparatively quickly, which means they tend to dry out more easily than the other cuts.

ST. LOUIS CUT SPARERIBS

Manageable size and consistent results.

SPARERIBS

Unwieldly on a backyard grill. 

BABY BACK RIBS

These smaller, leaner ribs can dry out quickly