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Two of our favorite flavors inspire a sweet-and-spicy rub and rich, whiskey-spiked sauce that bring out the best in smoked spare ribs.
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 racks St. Louis-style spare ribs (about 4¼ pounds), trimmed
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon pure ground chile pepper (such as Ancho, New Mexico or Piment D'espelette)
Coffee & Whiskey BBQ Sauce:
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
- ½ cup whiskey
- 1/4 cup dark molasses
- 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons The Usual
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pat both sides of slabs dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, remove thin membrane from back of each by slicing into it and pulling it off with a paper towel. Place the racks on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Combine the ingredients for the dry rub in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the rub over both sides of each rack and use your hands to evenly coat the meat. Let the ribs marinate at room temperature while you prepare the grill, or wrap them tightly in plastic up to a day in advance (remove from the fridge an hour before smoking).
Make the Coffee & Whiskey Sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a medium heavy saucepan and bring to a lively simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by about ⅓ and the flavors taste concentrated and balanced, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to smoke, prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking and build a medium-high fire. When the coals are glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash, use tongs to remove the cooking grate and place a drip pan with 1 inch of water on the side with no coals, and add your smoke source. Carefully wipe the preheated grill grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again.
When the fire begins to release a steady stream of smoke, place the ribs over indirect heat (a portion of the rack will likely stretch over the coals, that’s okay as it will all even out) close the grill, vent the grill for smoking and smoke for 30 minutes, using the vents to maintain a temperature of 275 F to 300 F. Use tongs to flip and rotate the ribs, so the opposite side is stretching over the coals. Close the grill and smoke for 1 ½ hours more, flipping and rotating the ribs every 30 minutes, adding more coals and wood as needed to maintain a steady temperature and smoke flow, until the ribs are deeply fragrant and have a nice crisp crust. Brush the ribs generously with the Coffee & Whisky Sauce during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Preheat the oven to 225 F. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and top the foil with two layers of butcher paper or parchment. Stack the racks on top of each other on the baking sheet, drizzling each rack with approximately ¼ cup of sauce. Wrap the racks tightly in the paper and foil packet, and cook for 1½ to 2 hours, until the meat just pulls away from the bone (it should still have a little “tug” to it). Remove from the oven, let rest in the packe for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
To serve, unwrap the racks, slice into individual ribs, and serve with the remaining sauce on the side. (Note: Leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
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Grill-side banter provided by food writer, cookbook author and grilling enthusiast, Paula Disbrowe.