a few handfuls hickory chips, soaked at least 1 hour
For the ribs: Combine 12 cups water, the salt, molasses, cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until the salt is dissolved. Remove and let cool.
Put the ribs in a plastic container, pour the cooled brine over, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours, turning the ribs several times.
Remove the ribs from the brine, rinse, pat dry and put on baking racks set over baking sheets. Refrigerate for several hours until the surface dries and forms a film.
For the root beer BBQ sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the onions and cook until soft. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the paprika and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the root beer and cook until reduced by half. Add the ketchup, brown sugar and molasses and cook over low heat until the flavors meld and the sauce reduces, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest and season with salt and pepper.
If using the kamado-style ceramic charcoal cooker: Remove the grill grate and ceramic plate from the cooker. Add the hot hardwood charcoal and scatter the soaked hickory chips over the top. Adjust the cooker to maintain a temperature of 225 to 250 degrees F. This temperature should be maintained throughout the entire smoke. Put on the ceramic plate. Put a disposable pan with some steaming liquid on the plate, and then put on the grill grate. Brush the ribs with some canola oil. Put the ribs on the grill, cover and cook until the ribs are tender and juicy, about 2 hours. Brush with the root beer BBQ sauce, turning occasionally, during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
If using charcoal, set up the grill for direct and indirect heat. Brush the ribs with some canola oil. Start the ribs as above over indirect heat. Finish the ribs by moving them back over the hot coals and turning and basting with the root beer BBQ sauce for 15 to 20 minutes.