Summertime Sweet and Spicy Smoked Ribs

Summertime livin’ is easy these days. We experienced the 5th wettest May on record in Park City, but the sun is back and the season feels like it’s truly begun. The flower garden is vibrant and thriving with happy bees buzzing from bloom to bloom. The view from the porch is beautifully green. No shoes. Doors open wide. Happy hour on the patio. And- finally!– al fresco dining.

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What is it about eating outdoors that’s so blissful, whether it’s a picnic spread on a blanket in the grass or a candlelit feast at the table? A couple of weeks ago, after a dreamy lounge session on the couch with wine, we enjoyed our first meal outside, bare feet and all. And few things say, “summer grilling” more than a rack of smoky ribs. I’d never prepared ribs before, but it was a cinch. The day before, I plucked the majority the canisters out of my spice drawer to make a dry rub. I wanted lots of flavor on the ribs themselves (and BBQ sauce could be an option). In a bowl, I combined some chili powder, celery salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, dry mustard, white and black pepper, and brown sugar. On a whim, I added a dash of cinnamon, and also plenty of salt.

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After rinsing and patting my spare ribs dry with a paper towel, I laid out some aluminum foil and placed the rack on it. I poured half of the rub onto the ribs and, well, rubbed it into the meat. I did the same on the other side with the rest of the rub, making sure to cover every last section. Then I wrapped the foil tightly and let my spicy-sweet rub do its thing overnight in the fridge.

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Not only had I not made ribs before, but I’d never smoked anything on the grill, either. I’d picked up a bag of smoker chips at some point, which John soaked in some beer for half of Sunday. A couple of hours before dinnertime, I pulled the foil-wrapped rack of ribs out of the fridge and set it on a baking sheet. I popped it in the oven at 300 degrees for an hour and a half- we’d finish them up on the grill. Don’t they already look fabulous?

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John’s grill has a little compartment specifically for smoking chips, so in they went. (You could also just put them on a little bed of foil on the grill itself.) He kept the grill at relatively low heat and we waited until we could see the smoke coming from the smoker chips to put the ribs on. John tended the ribs, occasionally flipping the rack and basting it with a jazzed-up store-bought BBQ sauce. In between basting time, we enjoyed the beautiful evening and watched the smoke billowing up toward the rooftop. Ahhhh… the smell of summer.

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While John cut the ribs, I set the dining table outside. I served jalapeno-cheddar cornbread and a beautiful fresh salad with our smoked BBQ ribs. I set an extra roll of paper towels right next to the sticky sauce, just in case. We poured some good wine and dug into our al fresco feast, and Cholula alternated between chasing chipmunks and giving me the “pretty please drop something” eyes. I can’t imagine a more pleasant Sunday meal.

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Oh, and the ribs? They were fantastic! The spare ribs were meaty and tender, with just a hint of smoky flavor. The dry rub worked some magic- a combination of sweet and spicy with the unexpected cinnamon notes. Truthfully, I don’t think the ribs needed the BBQ sauce at all, and next time, I’ll skip the basting on the grill and just serve the sauce on the side. The ribs were flavorful enough without the sauce, but it’s not really RIBS unless you get stuff all over your face while you eat, right? Once we started eating, the photo-taking ceased: these ribs are truly finger-licking good.

P1210386 P1210387 P1210388 P1210389 P1210390 I know that part of why I love this time of year is because it doesn’t last long. A warm summer evening, when the sun takes forever to set and bellies are full of good food and wine, is hard to beat. Those are the nights I like to linger at the table, laughing with John, feet bare, until the wine is gone. Life is good.

Sweet and Spicy Smoky Ribs

You’ll need:

  • 1-2 racks of spare ribs, trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt

Rinse the ribs and pat dry. Lay the rack on a long piece of aluminum foil. In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients. Pour half of the spice mixture onto the ribs. Spread it evenly and rub it into the meat. Repeat on the other side with the rest of the rub. Wrap the rack tightly in aluminum foil and refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight). Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the foil-wrapped rack of ribs on a baking sheet and bake for 1.5 hours. In the meantime, soak some smoker chips in water or a bottle of beer. Heat the grill to about 250 degrees and add the soaked smoker chips (in the grill’s compartment or in an open bed of aluminum foil on the grill to the side). When the smoker chips have started to smoke, remove the ribs from the foil and grill them for about 45 minutes. (If you want saucy ribs, flip the rack and baste with BBQ sauce every 15 minutes or so.) Slice the rack into individual ribs. Serve outside with a bowl of BBQ sauce on the side and don’t forget extra napkins. Cheers to al fresco everything. YUM!

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