Recipe courtesy of Melissa Cookston

Memphis-Style Baby Back Ribs

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 6 hr
  • Active: 1 hr
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
When she started dating her now husband, Melissa Cookston fell in love — with barbecue. “He took me to watch a competition and I was hooked,” she says. She signed up for her first cook-off a few months later and eventually became the first woman to win the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, TN, twice! These days, Melissa is the pitmaster at Mississippi’s Memphis Barbecue Co., where she’s much more serious about the quality of the meat than the table manners: “We give you permission to play with your food, stick it in your face and lick sauce off your hands,” she says.


For the Rub:

For the Ribs:

For the Barbecue Sauce and Glaze:

You’ll Also Need:


  1. Make the rub: Whisk the turbinado sugar, brown sugar, salt, paprika, ancho powder, granulated garlic, onion powder, mustard powder, cayenne, cumin and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl.
  2. Preheat a grill to medium low and prepare for indirect cooking: On a gas grill, preheat the grill, then turn off half the burners. On a charcoal grill, light the coals, then bank to one side; put a disposable aluminum drip pan on the unlit side of the grill under the grates. Meanwhile, soak the wood chips in water, 30 minutes; drain. 
  3. Make the ribs: Turn the ribs bone-side up. Slip a paring knife between the thin membrane and the bone to loosen, then pull off the membrane; trim any excess fat. Season both sides of the racks with the rub (about 1/2 tablespoon per side). Transfer to a roasting pan, bone-side down, and let sit 30 minutes.
  4. When the grill registers 250˚ F, add the wood chips: On a gas grill, fill a smoker box with the chips and use according to the manufacturer’s instructions; on a charcoal grill, sprinkle the chips over the coals. Place the ribs bone-side down on the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill and smoke the ribs for 2 hours (if using charcoal, adjust the air vents and add more coals as needed so the temperature stays around 250˚ F). 
  5. While the ribs are smoking, lay out 2 long sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil (or double pieces of regular foil). Spread 1/2 tablespoon each of the rub, brown sugar and maple syrup down the center of each piece of foil. 
  6. Place the ribs, meat-side down, on the prepared foil, then top each rack with another 1/2 tablespoon each of the rub, brown sugar and maple syrup. Fold the foil over the ribs and crimp the edges, leaving one side open; pour 2 tablespoons apple juice into each packet and crimp the final edge to seal. Return to the grill and cook until the meat is tender, 2 to 2 1/2 more hours. 
  7. Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce: Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the ketchup, 1/2 cup honey, the tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard powder, cayenne and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a low boil, whisking, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Whisk in 1/2 cup water and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup of the rub until dissolved; season with more of the rub, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. Let cool. 
  8. Make the glaze: Whisk 3/4 cup of the barbecue sauce with the remaining 1/4 cup honey. Set aside the rest of the barbecue sauce for serving. 
  9. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil; return to the grill, meat-side up. Brush with the glaze and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. For “muddy style,” sprinkle with more of the rub. Serve with the remaining barbecue sauce.