Best Ribs Ever: A Barbecue Bible Cookbook

100 Killer Recipes


By Steven Raichlen

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Say it loud, say it proud: the Best Ribs Ever. The perfect single-subject cookbook for every meat-loving griller, this book, formerly titled Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs, and updated with a menu chapter’s worth of new recipes, delivers a match made in BBQ heaven: 100 lip-smackingest, mouth-wateringest, crowd-pleasingest, fall-off-the-bone recipes for every kind of rib, from the diminutive, succulent baby back to that two-hands-needed Dinosaur beef rib.Best Ribs Ever celebrates the ingredient that epitomizes barbecue and inspires passion, obsession, and almost primal lust in griller and eater alike. And there’s no one better than Steven Raichlen, America’s foremost and bestselling grilling author, to preside over the religion of the rib. Here’s a bone-by-bone guide to choosing, buying, and handling ribs. Eight essential techniques for prepping and cooking. The six great live-fire methods, beginning with direct grilling to spit-roasting. Plus rubbing, saucing, mopping, resting, serving. And then the recipes: Lone Star Barrel Staves. Tandoori Ribs. Buccaneer Baby Backs with Rumbullion Barbecue Sauce. Thai Sweet Chili Ribs. Maui-Style Short Ribs. Grilled Lamb Ribs with Garlic and Mint. Cousin Dave’s Chocolate Chipotle Ribs. Plus the sides—the beans, the slaws, the potatoes—and, new to this edition, menus, like: Grilled Corn Fritters with Maple Syrup followed by Oak-Grilled Country Style Ribs followed by Grilled Lemon Pie.



The rib is surely the most perfect morsel of meat known to man. Most of the world’s great food cultures back me on this. The Chinese have their lacquered sugar and soy spareribs. Argentineans prefer tira de asado, simply seasoned, crustily grilled, crosscut beef ribs. Koreans favor kalbi kui, slicing short ribs paper-thin, grilling them over charcoal, and serving them wrapped in lettuce leaves with a high-voltage array of panchan (pickled vegetables) and spicy condiments. Italians slow-cook pork spareribs with the age-old Mediterranean trinity of rosemary, garlic, and wine. Even lesser-known food cultures have their rib specialties, from Norway’s pinnekjøtt—salted lamb ribs served with mashed rutabagas—to Brazil, where they marinate baby backs and expertly cook them on a rotisserie.

This doesn’t begin to address the multiplicity of ribs enjoyed in the United States. If ribs are an article of faith in much of the world, in America they’ve evolved into a full-blown “religion.” There are “sects” (adherents of spareribs, baby back ribs, or beef ribs, for example). There are “dogmas,” including the best way to cook ribs, from smoking to indirect grilling to direct grilling. There are even “heresies,” such as boiling, braising, or microwaving ribs before putting them on the grill (for an overview of the great rib debates, see page 59). But there are two points on which just about every American barbecue buff can agree: No self-respecting cookout is complete without some sort of rib. And when it comes to flavor and the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of eating barbecue, ribs are hard to beat.

What accounts for the rib’s near universal popularity? I think there are a number of factors. First, meat that’s next to the bone tends to be the best marbled and the most flavorful, and no other cut offers a higher proportion of bone to meat. Second, the rib bones give the meat structure, presenting a broad surface to smoke and fire and keeping the meat from shriveling up on the grill. Third, there’s the sheer versatility of ribs, from the ubiquitous pork and beef to the more rarified lamb, veal, and bison. Fourth, ribs can be cooked using myriad methods, including smoking, indirect grilling, direct grilling, braising, stewing, and spit roasting. Many pit masters employ multiple methods, braising the ribs first, for example, then sizzling them on the grill to brown them. And portion sizes vary widely, ranging from the delicate single- or double-bone portions served by robatayaki (mixed grill) masters in Japan to the plate-burying slabs we’ve come to expect from pit masters in the United States.

Finally, ribs are just unabashedly fun to eat, evoking the memory of our cave-dwelling ancestors roasting meats over open fires and devouring them with no more finery than their bare hands. (Admit it: Part of the perennial pleasure of ribs is that you get to eat them with your fingers.) A rack of ribs—fragrant with spice, dark with smoke, glistening with fat and sauce—is the very embodiment of the spirit of barbecue.


This book has been “simmering” on my metaphorical back burner almost since the day I started writing about barbecue. But it really came into focus a few years ago when we ran a Lip-Smackin’ Rib Recipe Contest on the website. I expected dozens, maybe hundreds of responses. We received literally thousands. I anticipated the predictable pork and beef ribs. We got recipes for lamb ribs, veal ribs, even venison ribs. I thought I’d see the usual barbecue rub and/or red sauce ribs in the style of Memphis or Kansas City. There were recipes seasoned with everything from Dr Pepper soda to coffee, black tea, green tea, chai tea, cherry juice, and . . . gasp! . . . Hershey’s chocolate sauce.

The sheer number of entries and the ingenuity of the recipes led me to realize two things: Americans in general (and the community in particular) are even more obsessed with ribs than I knew. And, when it comes to mixing up rubs and concocting basting and barbecue sauces for ribs, no ingredient is off-limits, no flavor combination is too outlandish.

But, despite the popularity of these meaty staves, a surprising number of people are intimidated by the prospect of cooking ribs. (Granted, there is a lot of confusion surrounding ribs—how to season them, cook them, and serve them.) Whenever I teach a session of Barbecue University, I conduct an informal poll to see what dishes my students would most like to learn to make. Topping the list are how to grill fish and steak, and above all, how to grill the perfect ribs.

So, what will you find in this book? A complete crash course on the art of grilling and smoking ribs, including how to recognize the different cuts (and what to look for when buying them). A review of the various cooking methods, plus how and when to use each. And, of course, how to make rubs, the various spice pastes, marinades, mop and finishing sauces, basting mixtures and glazes, and all manner of barbecue sauces—and what they’re best for.

RIBS 101

This may seem like a small book on a single topic, but it covers a big and complex subject. You might think that a rib is a rib is a rib—throw enough spice and wood smoke in its general direction, and you’ll wind up with respectable bones. The fact is that, while cooking ribs is not complicated, there’s an enormous amount of technique, tradition, lore, and yes, science behind preparing the perfect bones. In this chapter you’ll learn about the various types of ribs and about rib anatomy. You’ll become acquainted with the different methods for cooking ribs and how to use a variety of grills and smokers, not to mention useful grilling accessories, tools, and fuels. You’ll get to know what constitutes a perfectly cooked rib (hint: it’s not fall-off-the-bone tender). You’ll learn such indispensable techniques as trimming ribs and recognizing when they’re done. And throughout this book you’ll find “rib tips”—ingenious rib cooking and serving advice from the pros.


All ribs are equal in their delectability, but not all ribs are alike. First, there’s the species. Best known, and perhaps best loved, in North America (not to mention China) are pork ribs. But dine out in Argentina or Korea and you’ll soon see that beef ribs are king. Lamb ribs may seem strange, or downright exotic, in Kansas City or Memphis, but they’re common culinary currency throughout the Mediterranean, Middle and Near East, Central Asia, and India.

These “big three” meats dominate the world’s barbecue scene, but a growing number of pit masters are serving bison (buffalo) ribs and veal ribs. A few years ago, one American chef and restaurateur, Rick Moonen, actually served fish ribs—the meaty bones of a giant Amazonian fish called the tambaqui. (Don’t laugh; there’s a developing commercial market for them in the United Kingdom.)

Even within a single animal, different cuts of ribs have remarkably different textures and flavors. The pork baby back rib is tender and well marbled—ideal for direct grilling or spit roasting. Spareribs are tougher, meatier, and more flavorful; they need a slower, gentler cooking method like indirect grilling or smoking. The rib tip is mostly connective tissue and cartilage, but gentle smoking transforms it into barbecue that has made at least one Kansas City rib emporium famous (you can read about it on page 156). The country-style rib is all about the meat; it cooks and tastes more like a pork chop than a rib.

Here are some common—and not so common—ribs that are available in the marketplace. As you work your way through this book and ascend the ladder of barbecue enlightenment, you’ll want to sample each one.

To help orient you as to where on the animal a particular rib is located, imagine the cross section of the animal’s rib cage to be the face of a clock, with the spine at 12 o’clock. In each case, the “time” I’ve given indicates where on both sides of the animal that particular cut of ribs comes from.


For many pit masters (especially those from the American South) the sun rises and sets on pork ribs. With good reason! Pork ribs are widely available, mercifully affordable, easy to cook, and richly flavored. Their taste is robust and versatile enough to stand up to all manner of rubs, glazes, and mop and barbecue sauces. At the same time, they have enough innate flavor to be delicious seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. Although they come from the same animal, not all pork ribs are alike. Here are the players.


If pork is the preferred meat of barbecue in many parts of the country, top loin ribs (most often referred to as baby backs) are America’s favorite ribs. The reason is simple: They’re the most tender, succulent, and generously marbled ribs on the hog. The top loin starts just below the backbone and extends down 4 to 5 inches (on our porcine clock face from 1 to 3 o’clock on one side and from 9 to 11 o’clock on the other). In general, the meat closest to the backbone is the most choice and tender—hence the expression “eating high off the hog.” A full rack of top loin ribs consists of at least eight ribs and can have up to fourteen (most have twelve). Weighing between 2 and 2½ pounds, a rack will normally feed two people. Another advantage of top loin ribs is that the racks are rectangular—the ribs are all more or less the same length, so you eat well no matter which end you’re served.

How to cook top loin baby back ribs: By direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoking, grill-top braising, spit roasting—in short, any way you cook any rib.


Although the term baby back is used widely to refer to top loin ribs, it means something different to rib purists. For them it refers to a small (¾ to 1¼ pound), well-trimmed rack cut from the upper rib cage of a young hog. Sometimes, you see “true” baby backs at upscale butcher shops; Denmark is a major exporter. These racks are so small, you should allow one whole rack per person.

How to cook “true” baby back ribs: The way you would cook top loin ribs. They’re especially good for direct grilling.


Continue down along the sides of the hog and you come to a section of ribs that are bigger, fattier, and tougher than top loins: spareribs. (On our porcine clock face, the spareribs extend from 3 to 6 o’clock and from 6 to 9 o’clock.) Bigger, fatter, and tougher may seem like drawbacks, but these qualities actually make spareribs more flavorful than top loins. That’s why spareribs are frequently the bones of choice for skilled pit masters. A full rack of spareribs usually has thirteen ribs and, untrimmed, weighs 5 to 6 pounds, containing both the curved ribs from the side of the hog and a cartilaginous section located toward the belly and called the rib tips or brisket bone (see facing page). There’s a flap of tough meat on the inside called the skirt or flap or brisket; it’s almost always removed before cooking. The point, the small triangular end piece, is also usually cut off. A trimmed rack of spareribs typically weighs 3 to 4 pounds and will feed three or four people.

The bones at the shoulder end of a rack of spareribs can be as much as two to three inches longer than those at the loin end. This gives rise to the Kansas City expressions “long ends” and “short ends.” Long ends tend to be a little tougher and meatier, short ends are slightly fattier and more tender. Both have their partisans.

How to cook spareribs: Because they’re considerably tougher and fattier than top loin (baby back) ribs, spareribs are best cooked using the indirect method or smoked.


Combine the compact size, rectangular shape, and relative tenderness of a rack of baby backs with the rich flavor of spareribs, and you get the cut we like to serve at Barbecue University: the St. Louis cut. This handsome rack (it really is handsome) is cut from the flattest part of the spareribs (approximately 3 to 5 o’clock and 7 to 9 o’clock using our clock face guide). It has the long, slender shape of a rack of baby backs. The rib tips, skirt, and point are always removed. St. Louis–cut ribs weigh 2 to 2½ pounds or more per rack and will comfortably feed two or three.


Rib tips (or brisket bone) are the cartilaginous lower part of a sparerib, often discarded on account of their abundant connective tissue and scant meat. But judiciously apply a rub and smoke the rib tips low and slow to soften the tough cartilage, as they do at BB’s Lawnside in Kansas City (see page 156), and they become a dish worthy of reverse snobbery. (Frugal and savvy barbecuers sometimes freeze the tips to save for pork stock, or they throw them into a pot of baked beans.) On our porcine clock face, rib tips would roughly correspond to 5 to 6 o’clock and 6 to 7 o’clock. Rib tips vary in weight from 6 to 16 ounces, depending on what’s been trimmed and where it’s been trimmed from. Figure on one pound per person.

How to cook rib tips: Low and slow in a smoker or on a charcoal grill; that’s what it takes to make the connective tissue edible—even delicious.

Note: In some circles the term rib tip is used to describe the point, the triangular end of a rack of spareribs. This point typically measures 3 to 4 inches across and has small bones or riblike strips of cartilage. You can cook the point as you would conventional rib tips.


This is a new cut that turns up at some mass-market restaurant chains, such as Applebee’s. It applies to top loin ribs cut lengthwise on a meat saw into 1- to 2-inch-wide strips. As far as I know, this kind of riblets is not widely available at the retail level, although you could certainly ask your butcher to cut some for you.

How to cook riblets: Any way you would cook top loin ribs, with the exception of spit roasting; they’re too slender to thread on a spit. But some butchers call the point—the triangular section of meat at the end of a rack of spareribs or baby backs—riblets. This sort of riblets can have bones or be boneless. Cook these riblets just like you would rib tips. Figure on ¾ to 1 pound of riblets per person.


The country-style rib is actually a sort of long, skinny pork chop cut from the upper shoulder, or blade, end of the loin. If left whole, it has three to six bones. Usually, however, country-style ribs are cut apart before being sold and are often deboned. Country-style ribs are meaty and generally weigh about a third of a pound each; two ribs will serve one person amply. Fastidious diners take note: This is one rib you’ll want to eat with a knife and fork.

How to cook country-style ribs: Country-style ribs taste best grilled directly over the fire, like pork chops. You can also use the indirect method.


Cattle also have ribs, of course—thirteen pairs, to be exact. These meaty staves can bring out the carnivore—and caveman—in just about all of us. Beef ribs combine the rich meaty flavor of steer with the bone-gnawing pleasure of pork ribs. Although some cuts possess an abundance of tough connective tissue, all can be rendered delicious by a savvy application of indirect heat and wood smoke.


Beef long ribs—also called beef spareribs, back ribs, or Texas ribs—are the racks that remain when the butcher bones a prime rib to make a tied rib roast or boneless rib eye steaks. A full rack will consist of seven bones (ribs six through twelve), with the bones varying in length from 6 to 8 inches. (On a bovine clock face, the long ribs would correspond to 1 to 3 o’clock and 9 to 11 o’clock.)

Generally, beef long ribs are not very meaty. Butchers have an economic incentive to trim as much meat as possible from the bones, as prime rib and related cuts sell for much higher prices than ribs. However, you can purchase a whole bone-in rib roast and request that the butcher debone it, leaving a generous portion of meat on the rib rack. A typical rack of beef back ribs weighs 2½ to 3 pounds and will feed two or three people. Meatier racks may feed four.

How to cook beef long ribs: Because they come from the prime rib, beef long ribs are relatively tender. I like to cook them at the higher temperature range of indirect grilling or smoke roast them, but you can also smoke them low and slow.


Cut from the chuck (front) end of the animal’s rib cage, individual beef ribs (sometimes poetically called “dinosaur bones”) have considerably more meat left on them than those cut to form a rack from the prime rib area farther down the back. (On the bovine clock face, the ribs would line up at 1 to 3 o’clock and 9 to 11 o’clock.) Of course, since they are cut from the chuck end, they’re a bit tougher, as they come from active muscle. Cooked right, this is no problem. The meaty single ribs are less common than racks; you may need to order them ahead from your butcher. One of these staves is almost a meal in itself, tipping the scale at 9 to 12 ounces.

How to cook individual beef long ribs: Individual beef long ribs give you plenty to gnaw on, but as the meat is a bit tough, you’ll need to cook them slowly using the indirect method and at a low temperature on a charcoal grill or a smoker.


This is a catchall category that includes ribs from the chuck end and from the middle rib (the plate section) of a steer’s lower rib cage. On a bovine clock face, the short ribs would be between 3 and 4 o’clock and 8 to 9 o’clock. Their rich flavor—not to mention relatively modest price—has endeared them to chefs high and low (you’ll sometimes find them featured on the menus of tony New York restaurants like Per Se and Café Gray). Bone-in short ribs are roughly 2-inch-long pieces of rib bone topped by a thick layer of flavorful, well-marbled, but tough meat (you can also buy them boneless). They are sold both as individual bones and in strips of three or four ribs. Short ribs are often sold by the pound. Depending on the length of the bone and the amount of meat on it, a single short rib can weigh 4 to 7 ounces; figure on ¾ to 1 pound per person.

How to cook short ribs: Pit masters and chefs have devised multiple strategies for making these tough but tasty ribs palatable. The short list includes tenderizing short ribs by smoking, stewing, braising, and even by cutting the meat off the bone in paper-thin sheets to be grilled directly over a charcoal fire (that’s the technique used to make one of Korea’s national dishes, kalbi kui, see page 191). I often wrap short ribs in aluminum foil during the grilling process for a modified braise; the steam and juices that are trapped in the foil penetrate and soften the connective tissue.


A traditional Argentinean cut, crosscut beef ribs have started to appear in meat markets in Miami and other American cities with large Latino communities. Called tira de asado in Spanish, they’re made by cutting short ribs crosswise with a meat saw into long, plate-overhanging strips that are ¼ to ½ inch wide (for a recipe see page 199). The “official” name of this cut in the United States is beef flanken–style ribs; on our bovine clock face, they’d line up between 2 to 4 o’clock and 8 and 10 o’clock. You may find crosscut beef ribs labeled flanken. These can be as wide as 2 inches; to make tira de asado make sure the ribs you buy are no more than ½ inch wide. One serving is about 12 ounces.

How to cook crosscut beef ribs: Grill them using the direct method, just as you would grill a steak.


Lamb ribs aren’t what you’d call commonplace in the United States. I first tasted them in the 1980s at an infamous Boston rib joint called Hoodoo Barbecue (more on page 238). But lamb ribs are widely enjoyed in Europe, North Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, where they’re grilled directly over the fire or roasted on a spit. Lamb breast ribs are as popular in Australia as pork baby backs are in the United States.

When it comes to the various cuts of lamb ribs, the nomenclature is somewhat fuzzy. All lamb rib cuts come from the breast, a roughly 6-pound section of the lower rib cage loaded with meat, fat, and connective tissue. Hormel Foods’ glossary divides lamb ribs into three categories: spareribs, Denver ribs, and riblets. Lamb spareribs, large slabs of ribs with more bone and fat than meat, are sometimes seen in butcher shops. On an ovine clock face, the spareribs would correspond to 4 to 5 o’clock and 7 to 8 o’clock. They’re best cooked by an indirect method, such as indirect grilling, smoke roasting, or smoking.


Lamb spareribs that have been trimmed of most of the fat and connective tissue are frequently referred to as Denver ribs (you may also see the trimmed ribs sold as lamb breast). A rack of Denver ribs usually consists of seven or eight ribs. Typically, they weigh around a pound, although some are as small as 10 ounces and others are as large as a pound and a half. A rack of Denver ribs will serve one person.

How to cook Denver ribs: Thanks to their tenderness, Denver ribs can be cooked by any method—direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoke roasting, smoking, spit roasting, or even braising with a little liquid in an aluminum foil–covered roasting pan away from direct heat.


Lamb riblets are individual rib bones cut from a rack of spareribs. Typically there are five riblets to a pound; you can count on five or six riblets as a serving.

How to cook lamb riblets: Lamb riblets tend to be somewhat tougher than Denver ribs, but they can be cooked using the same methods.


When most people think of veal and bones, they picture veal chops, but calves possess ribs, just as steers do. Veal ribs aren’t nearly as widely available as beef ribs, but persistence will reward you some of the sweetest, tenderest meat and bones on the planet. You may get lucky and find them at your local supermarket. Or on page 305, you’ll find Mail-Order Sources.


Combine the sweet, delicate flavor of veal with the tenderness of pork baby backs and you get one of the most appealing racks on the barbecue trail: veal ribs. A veal rack can range from six to twelve bones and weigh 1¼ to 1½ pounds. (They are located between 1 and 4 o’clock and 8 and 11 o’clock on a bovine clock face.) But like beef long bones, veal long ribs are difficult to find in the retail marketplace because they usually come attached to higher-priced chops or rib roasts. (As with beef ribs, you can buy a whole bone-in roast from the butcher and ask that it be deboned, leaving more meat than is customary on the bones.) One rack of veal ribs serves one or two people.

How to cook veal long ribs: Indirect grilling, smoke roasting, smoking, and spit roasting are all good methods for cooking veal long ribs. They’re certainly tender enough to be grilled directly.


Veal short ribs are also relatively elusive in the marketplace. I suspect restaurant chefs have a corner on the market, as they are appearing on more and more menus. Cut from the chuck, veal short ribs are meaty and much more tender than short ribs of fully grown cattle. Each weighs about a quarter of a pound. Two ribs will make a serving—three for more robust appetites.

How to cook veal short ribs: Veal short ribs are theoretically tender enough to grill using the direct method but are best, I think, when slowly indirect grilled or smoke roasted over low heat. Braising is an option, too.


Most consumers want their veal breasts boned, making the veal breast ribs relatively easy to find, particularly if you order them in advance. (On the clock face, they are between 4 and 5 o’clock and 7 and 8 o’clock.) Veal riblets are small and come in racks of about nine ribs; sometimes they are cut into single rib pieces. Figure on at least four to six ribs per person.

How to cook veal breast riblets: Low and slow using the indirect method, smoke roasting, smoking, or braising—you want the fat to break down and the connective tissue to soften, rendering veal breast riblets delectable.


Bison (aka buffalo) was the red meat of choice in North America for 10,000 years or so prior to the arrival of the first European settlers. Within three hundred years, this regal beast was hunted almost to extinction. Leaner and a bit sweeter than beef, bison has begun to return to the range and the barbecue pit. (CNN founder Ted Turner owns the world’s largest private bison herd, approximately 40,000 heads.) Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll find bison ribs, either long or short, in the meat section of your local supermarket—at least not yet. But you can purchase them through specialty butchers or order them online or by mail (see Mail-Order Sources on page 305). A typical rack of bison long ribs contains eight to ten ribs, each 6 to 8 inches long, and weighs 5 to 6 pounds; it will serve two or three people. One bison short rib makes a meaty feast as each weighs about three quarters of a pound.

How to cook bison ribs: I cook bison long ribs just like I cook beef long ribs. Using marinades and basting or mop sauces and/or wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil can all help keep them from drying out. You’ll find a recipe for bison long ribs on page 215.

As for bison short ribs, again, I’d use the same methods as for beef short ribs: Tenderize them by smoking, stewing, braising, low and slow indirect grilling, or smoke roasting.


Yes, if you look hard enough, you can even find fish ribs (no, this isn’t a fish story). The Amazonian fish tambaqui can grow to be up to a yard long and weigh 66 pounds. It has teeth like a horse, which it uses to chew nuts and seeds. And its bones are strong enough that its ribs can be cooked and served just like, well, ribs. Keep that in mind the next time you pull a Harrison Ford on the Amazon.


On Sale
Apr 25, 2012
Page Count
320 pages


Steven Raichlen

About the Author

Steven Raichlen is the author of the New York Times bestselling Barbecue! Bible® cookbook series, which includes the new Brisket Chronicles; Project Fire; Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades; Project Smoke; The Barbecue Bible; and How to Grill. Winners of 5 James Beard awards and 3 IACP awards, his books have been translated into 17 languages. His TV shows include the public television series Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire, Project Smoke; Primal Grill; and Barbecue University; the French language series Le Maitre du Grill, and the Italian series Steven Raichlen Grills Italy. Raichlen has written for the New York Times, Esquire, and all the food magazines; and is the founder and dean of Barbecue University. In 2015, he was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. His website is

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