My love for a good root beer goes back to my childhood when we would pull into the only drive-in diner in town and the carhop would bring out a big tray of frosty root beer floats.
2 racks baby back ribs
1 (12-ounce) bottle root beer (get the good stuff without any ingredients that you can’t pronounce)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring the root beer to a boil and cook until the volume is reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Add the vinegar, paste, sugar, honey, salt, and Worcestershire. Wisk to combine. Return to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 minute. Taste and adjust for sweetness, acid, umami, and salt.
Turn the heat off and add the paprika, pepper, onion, garlic, chili powder, pepper, and cayenne. Wisk to combine. Bring to a boil again then reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. Reduce heat to lowest setting and let sauce cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Bottle and store in the fridge.
Set your grill up for a raised direct cook at low (300°F) heat. I set the Big Green Egg with a Woo2 extender to raise the cooking grid up about 4 inches further from the heat.
While the grill is getting up to temp, season both sides of the ribs with your rub of choice. Toss in a chunk of smoking wood (sassafras this time), and when the smoke changes from white (bad) to blue (good), put the ribs on bone side down for an hour.
Flip the ribs bone side down and let them go for another hour. After 2 hours total, start checking for doneness. The slabs should bend and crack when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs and the meat should have also started to pull back from the bones.
When the ribs are showing signs of being done, sauce the meat side with the Root Beer Barbecue Sauce and let them cook for another 10 minutes. Flip them and sauce the bone side and let them go for another 10 minutes. Flip them meat side up and give them a final coat of sauce and let them cook for a final 10 minutes.
Remove the ribs from the grill and let them rest for about 10 minutes before serving with more sauce on the side.
The sauce is a winner and I really like the way the sassafras added to the anise flavor. The end result was very rich, sweet, and spicy. The bark ended up being a little too thick and dry for my tastes, probably from flare ups caused by cooking directly over the coals.