Get your hands dirty with these sticky, smoky ribs

Both the sauce and the spice rub contribute to grilling succulent, deeply flavorful meat.

SHARE Get your hands dirty with these sticky, smoky ribs

When cooking ribs, save the basting for the last 10 minutes or so of grilling.

Lynda Balslev/TasteFood

Nothing says summer more than a platter of ribs hot off the grill. Experts say the key to good barbecue is the sauce. I will add that a spice rub is equally important. A dry rub infuses an extra layer of sweet and spicy flavor into the ribs while they cook. And if they’re left to marinate with the rub for several hours or overnight before grilling, you will be rewarded with succulent, deeply flavorful meat.

During the marinating process, the salt in the rub will pull out moisture from the meat, which will be reabsorbed, while the spices will stick to the exterior and form the coveted crispy bark during grilling. 

I make a salty-sweet rub for ribs. It can be as simple as sugar and salt, which act as a cure for the meat, ensuring that each morsel will hit that lip-smacking flavor balance and juicy succulence you want. To that simple combo, aromatic spices can be added, such as cumin and paprika, plus a shake of cayenne for a kick of heat. 

If you have the time, prep these ribs at least eight hours ahead or the night before grilling. Refrigerate them loosely covered. (They can also be rubbed just before grilling. Let them stand at room temperature while you prepare the sauce.) Then grill them low and slow, until the meat is tender and juicy. Use the sauce to baste the ribs only during the last 10 minutes or so of grilling. This will be just enough time to allow the sugars to caramelize without burning. Pass the remaining sauce for slathering and dunking to everyone’s taste. 

Sticky Smoky Baby Back Ribs

Yield: Serves 4 to 6



  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 racks baby back pork ribs, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, membrane trimmed


  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
  • 1/4 cup bourbon 
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, minced, with juices 
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced


1. Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Spread the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and coat on all sides with the rub. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. If you prefer to grill the ribs right away, coat the ribs with the rub and let stand for 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

2. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat (250 to 275 degrees). Arrange the ribs on the grill grates over indirect heat and grill until the meat is tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning once or twice. Remove, and using mitts to protect your hands, cut into individual ribs or pairs of ribs. 

Return the ribs to the grill and cook over direct medium heat until they begin to crisp, 8 to 10 minutes, basting with the sauce and turning as needed. Serve with the remaining sauce.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories.

Find more recipes online at our Taste section recipe page.

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