Memphis-Style Barbecue Pork Ribs

4.92 from 37 votes
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Memphis-style barbecue pork ribs with a pomegranate vinegar mop and a savory dry rub. Intermittent basting and cooking at just the right temperature guarantees each bite will be flavorful and tender.

Barbecue Pork Ribs

Memphis-style bbq pork ribs are treated with a savory herb dry rub and vinegar mop instead of a sticky sugary barbecue sauce. The seasonings then combine with the baste to create a flavorful amber crust on the spare ribs.

Never cooked ribs before? No problem! It’s time to flex your grilling muscles. I’ll show you how to navigate the process and avoid overcooking them, or worse yet, undercooking them. Ready to fire up the grill?

The dry rub seasonings

A combination of paprika, brown sugar, chili powder, pepper, salt, garlic, onion, and dried thyme. Add to the meat and wait 1 hour before cooking so the spices can better stick to and season the surface.

The sugar will start to burn above 350ºF (177ºC), so make sure to keep the grill temperature regulated throughout the cooking process. Save some of the seasoning mix to serve just before eating to intensify the flavor.

sprinkling spice rub on top of a rack of ribs

St. Louis-style spare ribs vs. baby back ribs

St. Louis style spare ribs have more meat and fat, and the bones are flatter which makes it easier to get a nice sear. The tough cartilage and excess bones are trimmed to make them more uniform in shape. St. Louis style can typically serve up to four people.

Baby back ribs are smaller in size, about 3 to 6-inches per bone. They tend to be more curved and yield lean meat that falls off the bone and cooks faster. Baby back can typically serve two people.

How to cook barbecue pork ribs

  • Combine paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and thyme.
  • Dry the ribs with a paper towel.
  • Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of dry rub on each side of the rib.
  • Allow to sit for 1 hour at room temperature.
  • Combine pomegranate juice, apple cider vinegar, and some dry rub.
  • Preheat grill to 325ºF (163ºC), with an indirect heat area.
  • Add ribs to the indirect heat area and close the lid.
  • Every 15 minutes brush the vinegar mop over the ribs.
  • Cook until the thickest part reaches 190 to 200ºF (88 to 93ºC). At least 2 hours and up to 3 hours.
  • Loosely cover the ribs with aluminum foil and rest for 15 minutes.
  • Slice and then sprinkle with more dry rub before serving.

Rib preparation

Since we’re using St. Louis style spare ribs make sure to remove any excess fat on the surface, leaving just a thin layer. The ribs cook with the meat side facing up, so some of the fat will render, but not all of it because there’s no direct contact with the grill grates.

Pork ribs cooking on the grill

The mop mixture

The “mop” or thin vinegar-based sauce is used to baste the ribs multiple times as they cook. Brushing on the liquid every 15 minutes ensures that the meat stays juicy, tender, and flavorful.

I use pomegranate juice and apple cider vinegar to add extra flavor and keep the meat moist throughout the cooking. The deep red color of the pomegranate adds a stunning color, but cranberry, apple, pineapple, or orange juice can be substituted.

Grilling temperature

The temperature in the grill is crucial for tender pork. The target temperature is 325ºF (163ºF), but knowing that there will be fluctuations as the cover is lifted, between 300 and 350ºF (149 to 177ºC) is the sweet spot. Try not to go vastly above 350ºF (177ºC), otherwise, the sugars in the rub will begin to burn.

Indirect cooking

This is important! The ribs should be placed adjacent to the coals (or flame), not directly over it, hence the term indirect. I have a gas grill with three burners. I turn on only 1 burner (left) and leave the other two off. The ribs go on the right, away from the direct heat.

When the ribs are placed on the grill, they should not sizzle. Cooking in this zone requires a low and slow technique. This ensures that the tough connective tissues will soften, the fat will melt, and the sugar and spices do not burn.

Spare ribs cut into pieces on a cutting board

Cook time

It takes a minimum of two hours, and up to three for a texture that’s easy to chew yet maintains a nice surface bite. The time it takes can vary depending on how meaty the cut is and type. Monitoring the temperature is crucial for preventing excessively dry rib meat, especially with the dry rub.

Over time browning occurs around 300ºF (149ºC) due to the Maillard reaction and picks up any smoky flavors from the grill. Wood chips or cedar planks can be added to intensify the smoke flavor. Substituting smoked paprika can also provide a smoldering flavor in the rub.

Can you make the recipe sugar free?

Yes! I also tested out a dry rub without any brown sugar. The pork will have a more savory flavor with less of a glaze on the surface. If your guests enjoy a little sweetness, mix 1 tablespoon of the dry rub with 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and let them add it on. See the notes section for the sugar-free recipe.

What should I serve with BBQ ribs?

I’m a fan of a little extra sweet and savory homemade bbq sauce, but it’s cooks choice! I like to serve ribs with creamy All-American potato salad and sweet cornbread as side dishes.

Barbecue pork ribs on a cutting board

More grilling recipes

When are the ribs done cooking?

Check the temperature of the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. When your digital thermometer reaches between 190 to 200°F/ 88 to 93ºC (195°F/ 91ºC is ideal), the ribs are done! However, the longer the meat can stay in this range while not drying out on the surface, the more collagen in the connective tissue is transformed to gelatin which will make the ribs extra juicy. 2 ½ to 3 hours if possible, 2 hours minimum.

Memphis-Style Barbecue Pork Ribs

Succulent Memphis-style barbecue pork ribs made at home! A pomegranate vinegar mop and savory dry rub keep these ribs moist and tasty!
4.92 from 37 votes
Prep Time1 hour
Cook Time3 hours
Total Time4 hours
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

Spice Rub

  • 2 tablespoons paprika, sweet or smoked
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Barbecue Pork Ribs

  • 3 pounds St. Louis-style spareribs, excess fat trimmed
  • ½ cup pomegranate juice, or apple, cranberry, pineapple, orange
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Instructions 

  • In a medium bowl combine paprika, brown sugar, salt, onion powder, chili powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, and thyme.
  • Rub each side of the rack with 2 tablespoons of the spice rub. Save additional spice rub for the mop and seasoning when serving. Let ribs sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • In a medium bowl combine pomegranate juice, apple cider vinegar, and 1 tablespoon (9g) dry rub.
  • Clean the grates. Dip a folded piece of paper towel in some olive oil. Holding it with tongs, use this to grease the cooking grates.
  • Preheat grill to 325ºF (163ºC), set up with an indirect heat area. For a gas grill with 3 burners, turn on only 1 burner (the one on the far left or right) and leave the other two off. Adjust heat as needed for your grill.
  • Place ribs meat side up on the indirect heat (cool side) of the grill.
  • Cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours, brushing the ribs 3 to 4 times with the vinegar mop every 15 minutes.
  • Grill the ribs until the meat is tender but not falling off the bone completely. The surface should be reddish brown in color. The internal temperature should reach 190 to 200°F (88 to 93ºC) at the meatiest part of the racks.
  • Transfer ribs to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
  • Slice ribs between the bones and serve with additional spice rub for extra seasoning, or barbecue sauce.

Notes

  • Sugar-free dry rub recipe: Paprika (2 tablespoons), kosher salt (1 tablespoon), black pepper (1 ½ teaspoons), garlic powder (2 teaspoons), onion powder (2 teaspoons), chili powder (1 teaspoon), dried thyme (1 teaspoon), cayenne pepper (½ teaspoon). Mix and rub 2 tablespoons on each side of the ribs.
  • Serving Size: 3 to 4 ribs 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 611kcal (31%)Carbohydrates 26g (9%)Protein 32g (64%)Fat 44g (68%)Saturated Fat 18g (90%)Polyunsaturated Fat 6gMonounsaturated Fat 19gCholesterol 97mg (32%)Sodium 1570mg (65%)Potassium 225mg (6%)Fiber 3g (12%)Sugar 21g (23%)Vitamin A 3400IU (68%)Vitamin C 6.6mg (8%)Calcium 100mg (10%)Iron 3.8mg (21%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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22 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Audrey Watkins says

    These look delicious! I am looking forward to honing my grilling skills this summer now that we’ve bought a home that we can have a backyard and grill in. I’m looking forward to adding these to my collection of recipes for the summer. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you Audrey! I’m so excited for you to get cooking in your new home 🙂 I can’t wait to hear what you think of this recipe!

  2. Cara says

    I’ve never successfully made ribs until tonight!!! They came out great. Soft and tender and cooked perfectly with a flavor we had never experienced before. Husband was quite happy. NO bbq sauce was necessary. Yum yum yum.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      This comment made my day Cara! I’m SO happy to hear that you had success with the ribs recipe 🙂 Happy eating!

  3. A S Kennedy says

    This recipe looks so tasty. I followed your steps verbatim. But my ribs seemed to cook much faster and unfortunately were dried out.
    The flavors were great however next time I will adjust the cooking time. My grill was set to the temperature that was recommended so I’m not sure what the difference would be. Any ideas?

  4. Judy says

    I appreciate all the good extra tips and science ALWAYS. We do love ribs and since I don’t have a grill I generally slow cook a rack of baby backs for 2 1/2 hours then push it up from 250 degrees to 300 degrees for the last half hour. I hope to someday have a grill and make all these wonderful grilling recipes Jessica. Thank you for the info on not having to use the brown sugar too since I am doing Keto.

  5. Pamela White says

    Hi Jessica,

    What if you don’t own a grill, can you cook the rib in the oven and and just go through the steps as follows, what do you think?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Pamela, yes you can make the ribs in the oven as well following the temperature, basting and time directions. Place the ribs on a rack placed on a foil-lined sheet pan.

  6. Esther Mower says

    We tried this recipe yesterday and loved every bite! Thank you for sharing your rub and basting recipe Jessica!

  7. Esther says

    We made these ribs yesterday with excellent and delicious results! I didn’t have pomegranate juice so I used cranberry juice. I will definitely use this recipe again and make sure I have pomegranate juice on hand. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Alex Coleman says

    Hi Jessica Gavin,
    Hope you are doing well. Great effort. You have described perfectly the every single tips and tricks to make the recipe easier for your reader. I like your “Sugar-free dry rub”” note most. Thanks for the tips.

  9. Suzanne leclerc says

    Thank you very much for all the information. We learn a lot with you and I make a lot of your recipes. And it’s very good.
    Suzanne

  10. JACK GRAY says

    We prepared the ribs for the 4th of July. They were very good. We will prepare them again. I cooked with a charcoal grill for almost 5hours . I tried to keep the grill below 300 degrees.

  11. Tiernan says

    I want to make this recipe, but I don’t have a grill. It looks like it should work in the oven. I plan to put the ribs on a baking sheet with a rim to catch juices. 325 degrees. Any tips?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I think 325 will work great to slow roast the ribs. Do you have a rack you can set inside the baking sheet to elevate the ribs for better circulation of the air? Also, at the very end you can broil the ribs to get a nice browned crust, but keep a close eye on the color change!

  12. david shanklin says

    Jessica, I recently tried your memphis-style pork ribs, but with mixed results and I would like to know why. I followed your recipe carefully, although I substituted a 5 lb pork spare ribs for the 3 lb baby back ribs. I doubled the mop sauce, and grilled at exactly 325 degrees. The instant read thermometer indicated that the ribs were cooked after about 1.5 hours (instead of 2-3 hrs), so I removed them. Although very tasty, the meat was tough and chewy. I wonder if there was something about the shorter cooking time, or the cut of meat. I have never had a problem with my thermometer, so the meat was defintely about 200 degrees when I removed it. I would love to try this again, but would like to avoid this problem. Thanks in advance for your response.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Dave- Tough cuts of meat like ribs definitely benefits from low temperature and longer cook time. This gives the tough connective tissue time to soften so the meat doesn’t taste so tough. I would let it cook longer, even though it reached the doneness temperature in less time. Let me know how it goes!

      • david shanklin says

        I have retried this recipe twice since your response to me. First, I think the rub and mopping sauce are delicious! I had much better luck by setting my gas grill to 275 degrees. I did NOT use my instant read thermometer, and I grilled the meat for 3.5 to 4 hours. I doubled the mopping recipe and used all of it over the course of grilling. Your seventh instruction in this recipe calls for “brushing the ribs 3 to 4 times with the vinegar mop every 15 minutes.” I find that instruction a little confusing; I mopped the ribs about every 20 minutes. This worked for me, and I now (finally) have a ribs recipe that I can count on. Thanks!