Pork chops with applesauce are a comfort meal from my youth. When my kids asked for ribs the other day, pork and apples went through my head, quickly followed by the memory of Mike Mills’ recipe for apple baby back ribs.
Mr. Mills layers the apple flavor into his award winning ribs – they’re smoked with apple wood, sprayed with apple juice, and the barbecue sauce contains grated apples. I’m not following the recipe faithfully – rotisserie ribs are sacrilegious in the world of low-and-slow barbecue.
Nor am I apologizing for my heresy. I love the bark I get with the rotisserie, slowly spinning the ribs, basting them in their own juices. I’m borrowing layers of apple flavor, that’s all.
I was surprised how easy it was to get two slabs of ribs onto the Weber kettle rotisserie spit. If you’re feeding a lot of big eaters, people who polish off a slab of ribs as an appetizer, this is not the recipe for you. But then, if you feed ribs to that kind of a crowd, I’m sure you already own a catering sized smoking rig.
2 fist sized chunks apple wood (or substitute another smoking wood - cherry, hickory, or whatever you have on hand)
2 (3 pound) slabs baby back ribs
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
Barbecue Sauce (Homemade, or your favorite brand)
2 cups apple juice in a spray bottle
Rub the ribs: Remove the membrane from the rib side of the slabs. Work the membrane loose from one of the end bones with a butter knife, grab the membrane with a paper towel, and peel it off the ribs. Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the ribs. Refrigerate the ribs for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.
Set up the grill for indirect medium-low heat: Set the grill up for indirect medium-low heat (300°F) with the drip pan in the middle of the grill. For a Weber kettle, light a half-full
chimney starter of charcoal, about 50 briquettes. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour the charcoal in two equal piles on the sides of the grill, and put the drip pan in the middle, between the piles. Charcoal baskets and the perfectly sized Weber Extra Large Drip Pans
are useful if you have a Weber kettle and rotisserie, but they’re not necessary. Just split the coals to both sides, and drop a 9 by 13 pan in the middle.
Skewer the ribs: While the grill is preheating, skewer the ribs. Attach the first spit fork to the spit. Take the first slab, and run the spit between the first and second bone, pushing the ribs onto the spit fork. . Bend the slab of ribs and run the skewer between the fifth or sixth bone. Bend the slab in the other direction, into an “S” shape, and run the skewer through after another five bones. Bend the slab the other way again, and run the skewer between the last two bones on the slab. Repeat with the second slab, pushing the ribs on tight. Make sure the ribs are centered on the spit, then secure the end of the second slab with the other spit fork.
Cook the ribs: Put the spit on the grill, start the motor spinning, and make sure the drip pan is centered beneath the ribs. Add the wood chunks to the coals. Close the lid, and keep the lid closed as much as possible while cooking. Let the ribs cook for an hour, then spray with the apple juice, and add 16 unlit briquettes to the lit coals if you are cooking with a charcoal grill. Continue to cook the ribs, spraying them with apple juice every 15 minutes. The ribs are cooked when the meat pulls back from the end of the bones pull back by 1/4 inch and the ribs are nicely browned. The total cooking time is about 3 hours; add another 16 unlit briquettes after the second hour. (With baby back ribs, a little extra cooking time never hurts, so err on the side of more cooking.) During the last 15 minutes of cooking, brush the ribs with barbecue sauce every 5 minutes.
Serve the ribs: Remove the ribs from the spit immediately, transfer to a platter, and cover with aluminum foil. Let the ribs rest for fifteen minutes. Cut the racks into serving size pieces - half slabs for big eaters, or between every second bone for smaller servings. Pass the ribs with extra barbecue sauce at the table.
What should you drink with this? Beer, of course. Or a dry French style Rose. If you really want to go all-in with the apple theme, try some hard apple cider.
Watch out for shiners on your baby back ribs – ribs where they were cut so close that all the meat is gone, and you can see the shiny ribs poking through. My local grocery store started carrying “extra meaty” baby back ribs a year or two back, and I love them.
No rotisserie? No worries. Set your grill up for indirect medium-low heat as directed, then put the grill grate back on the grill, and a rib rack on the grate, above the drip pan. Put the ribs in the rib rack, and cook as directed. It might take longer (2 to 3 hours) without the heat convection from the rotisserie, but the ribs will come out just about as good.
Apple juice in the spray bottle
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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