Kansas City-Style SpareribsSteven Raichlen
One of America’s barbecue icons, not to mention the dish that made Kansas City famous—spareribs rubbed with spices, sprayed with apple cider and whiskey, and sizzled with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.
Kansas City-Style Spareribs
- Advance Prep: 2 to 12 hours for curing the ribs (optional)
- Yield: Serves 4 exceedingly hungry eaters, 6 to 8 more modest appetites
- Equipment: A spray bottle and a funnel; 4½ to 5 cups of hickory or other hardwood chips or chunks if you are smoking the ribs, or 3 cups if you are grilling them using the indirect method. Soak the chips or chunks in water for 1 hour, then drain them; a rib rack (optional)
- 2 racks spareribs (each 3 to 4 pounds)
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
- 2 tablespoons lemon pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- Bourbon-Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce
Step 1: Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of each rack of ribs.
Step 2: Place the sugar, paprika, salt, lemon pepper, and granulated garlic in a bowl and stir with your fingers to mix. Generously sprinkle the rub on both sides of the ribs, rubbing the seasonings onto the meat. (This rub is called a 5-4-3-2-1 rub, making it easy to remember the proportions of the ingredients.) You can cook the ribs right away, but you’ll get a richer, more complex flavor if you let the ribs cure in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
Step 3: Using a funnel, pour the cider and bourbon into a spray bottle. Shake the bottle to mix.
Step 4: If you are using a smoker, set it up following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat it to low (225° to 250°F). When ready to cook, place the racks of ribs in the smoker bone side down. Smoke the ribs until cooked through, 4 to 5 hours. Add about 1 1/2 cups of wood chips or chunks every hour for the first 3 hours. Start spraying the ribs with the cider and bourbon mixture after 1 hour and spray them once an hour after that.
If you are grilling using the indirect method, set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium (325°F). When ready to cook, if you are using a charcoal grill, toss 1 1/2 cups of the wood chips or chunks on the coals. If you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips or chunks to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate. Place the racks of ribs, bone side down, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat and cover the grill. (If your grill has limited space, you can use a rib rack to stand the racks of ribs upright.) Cook the ribs until well browned and cooked through yet tender enough to pull apart with your fingers, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Start spraying the ribs with the cider and bourbon mixture after 30 minutes and spray them again every 30 minutes until they are done. After 1 hour, if you are using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals and add another 1 1/2 cups of wood chips or chunks.
Step 5: When the ribs are done, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by about 1/2 inch and will be tender enough to pull apart with your fingers. The exterior will be dark, almost black, but not burned.
Step 6: Transfer the racks of ribs to a large platter or cutting board and cut the racks in half or into 2 or 3 bone portions. Serve the ribs with the Bourbon-Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce on the side.
Note: Using a smoker is the true Kansas City way to cook barbecue low and slow, so that the meat acquires a remarkable tenderness and a deep flavor synonymous with smoke. However, grilling ribs using the indirect method is well suited to people who have a charcoal grill, not a smoker.