Arriving at the perfect ribs recipe often depends on which part of America you’re in — and just how messy you want to get. Just a few ingredient changes can take you from the vinegar hills of the Carolinas to the brown sugar–rubbed streets of Memphis. When I asked you all for your input on this recipe, I had to first figure out where to land on the map as far as cooking style — and Kansas City took the lead! Your votes steered me toward using pork ribs over beef, and most of you opted for a rub and a sauce (my personal choice, too). I thought we should keep the ingredient count low, so this rub calls for just five pantry pulls — then the rub is repurposed into an ingredient in the sauce. As for the cooking technique, “slow and low” isn’t just the title of a fun Beastie Boys song from the ’80s, it is the mantra of all expert barbecuers. Make sure to plan ahead so you’re dining on time, and if you don’t already have a good temperature read on your grill, get an oven thermometer. It’s a great buy, usually under $10. To catch the next poll, follow me @SunnyAnderson on Twitter.
Prepare the ribs: Slide a butter knife between the bone and thin membrane on the bone side of the ribs to loosen. Grab the membrane with a paper towel, then pull it off and discard.
Make the rub: Mix the brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, mustard powder, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the rub for the sauce. Rub the rest all over both racks of ribs. Wrap well in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Soak 2 cups wood chips (such as cherry, apple or pecan) in cool water, about 30 minutes. Preheat a grill to medium low (250˚ F) and prepare for indirect grilling: For a charcoal grill, bank the coals to one side. For a gas grill, turn off half the burners. Cover the indirect side of the grill with foil (or position a drip pan underneath the grates). Drain the wood chips and scatter over the hot coals (for a charcoal grill), or place in a smoker box over direct heat (for a gas grill). Unwrap the ribs and place meat-side up on the indirect side of the grill. Close the lid and grill until the ribs are a rich brick red color, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. (For a charcoal grill, adjust the vents and add more coals as needed to maintain the temperature.)
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Combine the ketchup, shallot, brown sugar, vinegar, 1/2 cup water and the reserved 2 tablespoons rub in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, 25 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap each rack in heavy-duty foil. Return the ribs to the indirect side of the grill, meat-side down, and continue to grill until the meat has pulled back a bit from the bones, 2 to 2 1/2 more hours. (For a charcoal grill, adjust the vents and add more coals as needed.)
Carefully unwrap the ribs and return to the indirect side of the grill, meat-side up. Brush generously with about 2/3 cup of the sauce. Cover and grill until the sauce is cooked into the meat, 10 to 20 more minutes. Remove the ribs to a cutting board and let rest a few minutes, then cut into individual ribs. Serve with the remaining sauce.