If you’ve always wanted to make ribs like a pro—falling-off-the-bone tender, with a satisfyingly crackly crust—this is your recipe. Make this a weekend project because you’ll be brining, basting, confiting, pickling, and smoking your heart out. It’s a labor of love, but worth every minute!
Brine ribs: In a large pot, add water and bring to just below boiling. Add salt, bay leaves, honey, and lemons. Simmer 5–6 minutes, until the salt and honey dissolve. Chill completely, about 2 hours. Pour brine into 4-gallon container; submerge short ribs. Seal container and brine for 24–36 hours in the refrigerator.
Make the Garlic Confit: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a small saucepan over medium to low heat, add garlic cloves, olive oil, lemon peel, and bay leaf. Cover and bake until the garlic is tender and golden, 1–1½ hours.
Light smoker: Place bunched-up newspaper on the grate of a charcoal smoker. Place chimney starter over the newspaper, then fill with charcoal. Light newspaper, which will in turn light the charcoal. When charcoal is mature, with ashed-over gray embers—this will take 30–45 minutes—remove chimney and pour charcoal into lower grill. Place smoker over base. Remove lid and position grill rack in the middle position of the smoker.
Begin smoking ribs: Remove ribs from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with freshly ground pepper and kosher salt, using hands to adhere seasoning to meat. Place ribs meat-side down on middle rack of smoker. Cover smoker with lid and cook for 35-45 minutes. (Note: You will be checking the ribs 4 or 5 times during the cooking process, at 35–45 minute intervals.)
For pickled peppers: Place whole onion in top of smoker and cook until it has a “molten” interior, about 3½ hours. Meanwhile, toast spices in saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, 2–3 minutes. Add vinegar, water, salt, and sugar, bring to a boil, and cook just until sugar and salt dissolve, 2–3 minutes; then turn off heat. In the meantime, cut a slit down each pepper and pull out the seeds and veins. Place the whole peppers into warm brine. Set aside.
Check smoker temperature: Thermometer on lid should consistently read 325–350 degrees F during first 1½ hours of smoking. Adjust airflow by opening or closing channel of chimney; more air produces a higher temperature. Keep vents open for smoking short ribs (except on very windy days, when you want to partially open vents to avoid blowing out flames). Smoke should be white and clean with a sweet perfume. If it smells sour or acrid, the fire is too hot. Remove lid and check ribs. Bones should have begun to slightly pull away from flesh. Flesh should show some browning and start of caramelization. Replace lid and continue cooking, another 35–45 minutes.
For the butter mop: Heat small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ¾ cup of the Garlic Confit. (The rest can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.) Using a whisk, break confit into a chunky paste. Allow to sizzle, 2–3 minutes. Add the lemon peel, then the vinegar, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes a thick paste and vinegar has mostly evaporated, 2 minutes. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, whisking with each addition. Bring butter just to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Whisk in mustard and a few grinds of black pepper, and set aside.
Check temperature and baste ribs: Smoker thermometer should now read 250–275 degrees F. Remove lid and check ribs. At this point, the meat should be very clearly pulling away from the bones, with caramelization all over. To keep bones from burning, place heavy-duty foil directly on the grill and flip ribs so they’re lying bone-side down on foil. Baste the meat on top and sides: first with butter mop, then with a layer of Worcestershire sauce. Replace lid of smoker and continue cooking, another 35–45 minutes.
Check temperature and baste ribs: Ribs have now been smoking for about 2 hours. Smoker temperature should remain at 250-275 degrees F; add more coal to the smoker if necessary. Remove lid and check meat by poking and prodding: the ribs should still feel tense, with a “spongy” texture. Baste liberally with butter mop, then more of the Worcestershire. Turn onion and, using tongs, poke to see if interior is cooked through. (It should feel molten.) Replace lid of smoker and continue cooking, 35-45 more minutes. Repeat step again, checking temperature and basting ribs. Cook another 35-45 minutes.
Check the ribs and baste: Stick a small knife onto the fattest part of the meat between the bones. The meat should be approaching "fork-tender" status, and developing a mahogany exterior. Baste ribs with butter mop, then more Worcestershire. Vents in the smoker should be fully open, allowing temperature to stay at a high and steady heat. Turn onion and place lid back on smoker. Continue cooking, another 1½ hours.
Finish ribs and serve: After ribs have been smoking for about 5½ hours, check them by sticking a small knife into fattiest part of the meat, between bones. They should be “barbecue tender,” not “braising tender,” the interior soft and chewy, with a bark-like exterior. Remove onion. Give cooked ribs one final sear at a high heat, either by placing ribs meat side down on hot grill for 35–45 seconds or by raising temperature of smoker. Then remove ribs from heat. To serve, slice along bone in big pieces and place on a large platter. Scatter olives, hand-torn strips of pickled peppers, and parsley over ribs. Cut onion in half and place alongside ribs. Drizzle olive oil over the dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of the pickling liquid, and serve.