Tender baby backs get big flavor from a quartet of seasonings—a spice rub, a tangy mop that keeps the ribs moist on the grill, hickory wood smoke, and a sweet-tart glaze and dipping sauce.
For the spice rub
1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin seeds, coarsely ground (preferably in a mortar)
2 tsp. coriander seeds, coarsely ground (preferably in a mortar)
2 tsp. granulated garlic
2 tsp. granulated onion
For the mop
1/2 cup apple juice
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
For the ribs
6-1/2 lb. baby back pork ribs, membrane removed, cut between the ribs into 6 smaller slabs
2-1/2 cups hickory wood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes and drained
1/2 cup dry hickory wood chips (for a gas grill)
For the sauce
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup apricot preserves
1 cup Heinz chili sauce
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. bourbon
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. spicy brown mustard, such as Gulden’s
1/2 medium serrano or jalapeño chile, finely chopped
Make the rub and mop
Whisk the rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Whisk the mop ingredients together in another small bowl. Set both aside.
Season the ribs
Sprinkle the spice rub evenly over both sides of the ribs. Transfer the ribs to a large baking sheet and let stand while the grill heats.
Prepare the grill
Light a charcoal or gas grill fire and set it up for indirect cooking over medium-low (300°F) heat: If using a charcoal grill, bank the lit and ashed-over coals to one side of the grill. Cover the grill and adjust the vents as needed to reach 300°F.
Put an 8×11-inch foil drip pan on the charcoal grate next to the coals and fill it halfway with water. Sprinkle the soaked hickory chips over the coals. Replace the grill grate and clean it. If using a gas grill, turn off one or more of the burners and adjust the active burners to reach 300°F. Remove the grill grate, put an 8×11-inch foil drip pan directly on the inactive burner(s), and fill it halfway with water. Use two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil to make a V-shaped packet to hold the wood chips. Set the packet between the active burners. Sprinkle the dry chips into the packet. Once they are smoking, sprinkle a handful of the soaked chips over the dry chips to create even more smoke. Replace the grill grate and clean it.
Smoke the ribs
A rib rack is a handy tool for fitting several slabs of ribs on your grill, but you can also use an inverted V-shaped roasting rack—just slip the rib slabs between the bars of the upside-down rack so they stand vertically. Or, if your grill is large enough to hold all of the ribs horizontally, simply lay them on the grill grate.
If using a rib rack (see tip), put it on the grill grate over the drip pan and arrange the ribs in the rack. If not, put the ribs directly on the grill grate over the drip pan and inactive burners. Brush both sides of the ribs with some of the mop. Cover the grill and cook until the meat begins to pull back from the ends of the bones, about 45 minutes.
Transfer the ribs to a baking sheet, lift the grill grate, and if using a gas grill, add the remaining soaked hickory chips to the foil packet. If using a charcoal grill, add about 1/2 quart charcoal to the lit coals to maintain the temperature. Replace the grill grate and return the ribs to the grill, flipping them if not in a rib rack. Brush again with more of the mop. Grill about 45 minutes more.
Flip the ribs again, if necessary, moving the farthest slabs nearer the coals or burners (and adding about 1/2 quart more charcoal to the coals to maintain the temperature). Brush with more of the mop, cover, and continue to cook until the meat is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 1 hour more. Transfer the ribs to a platter. Discard any remaining mop.
Make the sauce
While the ribs are cooking, melt the butter in a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the preserves, chili sauce, 1/2 cup of the bourbon, the vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and chile; bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until reduced to about 3 cups, about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 Tbs. bourbon and remove from the heat.
Finish the ribs
Carefully remove the foil pan and water from the grill. For a charcoal grill, add 3 more quarts charcoal to the lit coals and let them burn until covered with white ash. Adjust the vents again so the grill temperature reaches about 350°F. Spread the coals in a single layer. Replace the grill grate and clean and oil it. For a gas grill, remove the foil packet, adjust the heat to 350°F by turning on all the burners. Replace the grill grate and clean and oil it.
Arrange the ribs on the grill grate and brush with some of the sauce. Cover and cook until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Flip and brush with more sauce. Cover and cook until sizzling, about 3 minutes more. Flip again and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, let rest for about 5 minutes, and then cut between the bones into individual ribs. Serve with the remaining sauce.
Make Ahead Tips
You can smoke the ribs and make the sauce up to 1-1/2 hours ahead. Loosely cover the ribs with foil, and keep them at cool room temperature. Brush them with sauce and finish them on the grill just before serving.
nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 760, Fat (kcal): 23, Fat Calories (g): 210, Saturated Fat (g): 9, Protein (g): 58, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 9, Carbohydrates (mg): 66, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 2.5, Sodium (g): 1890, Cholesterol (g): 155, Fiber (g): 2,