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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
Barbecue Pork Ribs
- 3 pounds St. Louis-style spareribs, excess fat trimmed
- ½ cup (120 ml) pomegranate juice, or apple, cranberry, pineapple, orange
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 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.
- Sugar-free dry rub recipe: Paprika (2 tablespoons), kosher salt (1 tablespoon), black pepper (1 1/2 teaspoons), garlic powder (2 teaspoons), onion powder (2 teaspoons), chili powder (1 teaspoon), dried thyme (1 teaspoon), cayenne pepper (1/2 teaspoon). Mix and rub 2 tablespoons on each side of the ribs.
- Serving Size: 3 to 4 ribs