Minimalist Ribs

Every so often you just need to break a recipe down to the basics. I make some fine ribs (if I do say so myself), but I think I’m starting to get mired down in all the bells and whistles – mustard slather, spice rubs, misting, foiling, 3-2-1, saucing, blah, blah, blah…

In an attempt to pare down the ribs to their smoky/savory/tender essence, here’s my minimalist recipe:

3 racks of baby-back ribs
Fresh-ground sea salt
Fresh-ground back pepper

I set the Big Green Egg up for a raised direct cook at 300°F. I didn’t use a plate setter to diffuse the heat, but did use a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.

While the Egg was getting up to temp, I seasoned both sides of the ribs with the salt and pepper. Yep – nothing but salt and pepper. And just a moderate coating, as you can see, they weren’t caked with seasoning.

I put in a good sized chunk of apple wood for smoke, and when the smoke changed from white (bad) to blue (good), I put the ribs on bone side down for an hour, then flipped them and let them go for another hour.

I figured it would take about 3 hours at 300°F, but when I flipped them at the 2 hour mark they were already showing signs of being done – the slabs started to crack when I picked up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat had also started to pull back from the bones. I left them on, bone side down, for another 30 minutes. By the time they hit the 2 1/2 hour mark they were so done that it was tough to take them off the grate in one piece.

I let the ribs rest for 10 minutes and served them dry with some Honey Hog Sauce on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I gotta admit, I was surprised at how good these ribs tasted right off the bone – no sauce or anything. They were smoky and tender and very flavorful. They even had a pretty good bark (that crispy crust on the outside) from just the salt and pepper.

Would the ribs have been better if I had slathered/rubbed/basted/foiled/glazed them? Sure, but not necessarily a whole lot better. The ribs and smoke are bringing the majority of the flavor to the party all by themselves. The rest is mostly window dressing. Tasty window dressing, true, but simple recipes like this sometimes show you just how little tweaking and fussing the basic ingredients really need.

I knocked off half a point because the doneness across the ribs was a little uneven – the leaner flat end was pretty crispy while the fatter curved end could have used another 30 minutes on the grill. This might have been from using raised direct heat, but it also might have been from using smaller ribs that showed a big difference in thickness from one end to the other.

The Nutrition:
While ribs won’t ever be diet food, these weren’t that bad – 460 calories for 8 ounces of meat (4 to 6 bones worth), 12 Weight Watchers points. Leaving out the sugary rubs and serving them dry with the sauce on the side helped to cut a lot of carbs. Rather than the traditional sides, we lightened it up with corn (frozen from this summer) and cauliflower fauxtatos – look for a pre-Thanksgiving post on this great (borrowed) idea.

5 thoughts on “Minimalist Ribs”

  1. That is a very interesting experiment. I’ve been thinking about doing some ribs this weekend. I think I might go one salt and pepper and then do another slathered and rubbed and see which one turns out better. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great looking ribs Dave! Sometimes the simple method is the way to go. Lord knows I’ve used my share of complex flavoring agents, but if you have some really good protein, salt and pepper is all you really need! Nice job!

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