Grilled Spicy Citrus Ribs

As any Southerner will tell you, the proper way to cook ribs is to barbecue them “low and slow” in a smoker built for that purpose. But not everyone has a smoker, and not all of us have the time or patience to watch over cooking ribs for several hours. The following is a recipe for spareribs that have been soaked in a spicy citrus brine and then grilled over indirect heat for about an hour. Brining is a useful technique in this case as it’s easy to overcook pork ribs on a grill, but because the brine plumps up the meat with extra moisture, the ribs are still tender and don’t get as dried out, even if you do end up overcooking them a little. This recipe is adapted from Andrew Schloss’ and David Joachim’s Mastering the Grill: The Owner’s Manual for Outdoor Cooking.
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Grilled Spicy Citrus Ribs Recipe

  • Yield: Serves four.

Ingredients

Ribs

  • 2 racks of ribs (about 4 pounds), St. Louis-cut spareribs or baby back ribs*
  • 2 1/2 cups spicy citrus brine
  • Oil for the grill grate
  • 1 cup spicy bourbon syrup

* St. Louis Style ribs are spareribs that have been trimmed of skirt meat and excess cartilage. More meaty than baby back ribs. Baby back ribs are smaller and leaner than St. Louis Style ribs and may cook more quickly (and dry out more easily).

Spicy Citrus Brine

  • 1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (1-2 limes)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes

Spicy Bourbon Glaze

  • 1 cup bourbon whiskey
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Method

1 Prepare the brine. Combine the juices and water and measure in a measuring cup. You should have exactly 2 1/2 cups liquid. If you have less, add enough water so that you have 2 1/2 cups of liquid, if you have more, discard the excess. The correct ratio of liquid to salt is important for the brine to work properly. Place liquids in a medium sized bowl, add other brine ingredients - salt, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Stir for half a minute until the salt has completely dissolved.

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2 Prepare the ribs. If you want, remove the thin membrane that lines the concave side of each rib rack. This will make it easier for the brine and spices to penetrate as well as easier to cut and eat when the ribs are done. Insert a dull knife edge between the membrane and ribs to loosen. Grip the loosened membrane and pull away to remove. Cut the racks in half. Put in a plastic ziplock freezer bag. Add the brine to the bag. Squeeze the excess air out of the bag and seal the bag. Massage the brine into the ribs. Place the bag of brine and ribs into a bowl (in case there is leakage) and place into the refrigerator. Refrigerate in the brine for 3-6 hours. Note that brining too long can over-saturate the meat with the brine. So stick within the 3-6 hour time frame.

3 Prepare bourbon glaze. Heat bourbon with sugar, peppers, and salt. Whisk in butter until melted. Set aside or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Warm before using. You can also prepare while the meat is cooking in the next step.

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4 Prepare the grill for indirect heat. On a gas grill, heat the grill to medium heat 300-325°F with the middle burners turned off (if a 3 or 4 burner grill) or one burner turned off (if a 2 burner grill). For a kettle grill with charcoal, use 3-4 pounds of briquets pushed to one side of the grill. An aluminum disposable drip pan set next to the briquets, underneath where the meat will be, will help keep your grill easier to clean. (I forgot this time, notice no drip pan in the photo, and now the grill's a mess.)

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5 Remove the ribs from the brining bag. Pat dry the ribs with paper towels. Brush grill grates with olive oil or canola oil. Place the ribs on the side of the grill away from the source of heat, either gas or briquets. Cover the grill. If you are using a gas grill, lower the burners so that you are maintaining a temperature of about 300°F-325°F in the grill. If you are charcoal grilling, cover the grill so that the air vent on the kettle top is directly over the ribs. This way smoke from the charcoal will waft its way over the ribs on the way out of the grill. Adjust the vents so that the air flow is much reduced. Reducing the size of the air vents is a way to help control the temperature in the grill and keep it low. Fire lives off of oxygen, so if you reduce the oxygen, you reduce the amount of burning and heat. If you close the vents too much, the charcoals will put out too little heat, so the trick is to maintain a balance - enough air flow to keep the coals alive, but not too much or the grill will run too hot and your ribs will overcook. Try to maintain a temperature of about 300°F-325°F in the grill. If you are using a charcoal grill that doesn't have a built-in thermometer, you can put a meat thermometer through the grill air vent to take a reading of the temp.

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6 After 20-25 minutes of cooking, use tongs to flip the rib racks over. If you are charcoal grilling, shift the ends of the ribs as well so that the end that was facing the coals now faces the edge of the grill. Check for doneness using a meat thermometer after 15-20 more minutes. They are done and ready to pull off at 155°F, but you want to get to them 10 minutes or so before they are done to apply the glaze. So at about 145°F start applying the spicy bourbon glaze. Brush the ribs with the glaze syrup, turning and basting the ribs until the syrup has been used up. When an instant read thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the ribs reads 155°F, the ribs are ready to take off the grill.

Note that depending on the amount of heat in the grill and the size of your ribs, the ribs could be done in as little as 45 minutes or as long as 1 1/2 hours. If the grill temperature stays more at about 350°F, then the ribs will be done faster. It's hard to maintain a charcoal grill lower than 350°F, though ideally for these ribs you do want the temp lower, closer to 300°F. Also note again that baby backs are smaller than St. Louis style and will cook faster.

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7 Remove the ribs to a large serving platter and cut into 1 or 2-rib sections.

28 Comments

  1. Helen

    Hi Elise – Just wondering whether you could do the ribs in the oven and then finsih them off on grill, if so at what temperature and how long for? Thanks, Helen

  2. Andy

    Looking really good! By the way you can smoke in that kettle grill you have. I actually prefer it my bigger, “real” smoker when I do smaller smokes.

  3. Jerry

    Elise, you really need to stop this! My cardiologist is going to kill me if you keep making stuff like this, because now I’ve just gotta make these!

  4. Elise

    Hi Helen – I have seen that technique of starting in the oven and finishing on the grill but don’t know much about it. This recipe is for grilling the entire time. The reason you brine is so that the ribs will be in better shape given that you are grilling the entire time. You might want to look up on Google other methods for preparing ribs.

    Hi David – Come on over, we’ll save you a rack!

    Hi Jonathan – A man of such like mind and consistent wit should have his own food blog, when are you getting yours? The “bacon” is all for you.

    Hi Andy – So I have heard. My neighbor down the street has 3 real smokers however, so if ever I do get the urge…

    Hi Jerry – It’s the summer salad backlash. ;-)

  5. Todd

    Elise,
    Absolutely love your blog. I’ve made a practice of lurking around, wantonly stealing your recipes, and claiming any associated victories as my own. I will definately have to try this glaze.
    I love grilling ribs. It seems that there are a wide array of methods and schools of though on this subject. Here are some of my observations.
    1) Never, ever par-boil or pre-cook them. It will shorten griling time, but who needs that? I’ve found beer quells the impatience nicely. Don’t sacrifice the charcoal flavor for the sake of ease.
    2)Smoking the ribs does not require a smoker. Use indirect heat, as above, and apply mesquite, hickory, or applewood chips that have been soaked for about two hours to the coals at whatever interval is required to keep smoke rolling out of the vents. The wet wood initially damps the coals, but ultimately ends up becoming more fuel for the fire. This leads into my next thought:
    3) The cooking time is normally about 3 hours for me. I keep the heat as slow and low as I can, reducing the heat with wet chips when necessary. I don’t have to add charcoal during the process, because the wood I add eventually contributes to the charcoal base.
    4) Keep the lid on! Continually checking the ribs causes heat loss. It’s a fine line between “low and slow” and “coals out, now what?” Open to add chips, and close it as fast as you can.
    5)I prefer to leave the membrane on. I do a dry rub, and don’t flip the ribs at all. The membrane helps retain the moisture, and can be removed once cooked if necesssary.
    6)My cooking times are normaly closer to three hours! Careful attention to the heat is key, and ensure there are not any coals under those ribs! You will end up with juicy, fall off the bone goodness if you are attentive. I’ve never had to brine ribs as an anti-drying method doing this, but I may do it just to check the flavor it imparts!

    Long post… sorry. I’ll exit with this. Here’s a great general purpose dry rub:

    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup paprika
    2 tablespoon cumin
    1 tablespoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    1 tablespoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1 teaspoon cayenne

    Baste with sauce once you figure you’re 15 minutes from pulling them, and again once they are off the grill.

    The rub is also excellent on an indirect-cooked pork loin too!

  6. Gwen

    These look delish and I can’t wait to try them!!! However, I have always started ribs in the oven and finished on the grill or in the broiler. I start the ribs in a pan covered tightly in foil at 250-275F for 2.5-3 hours. When you are ready to serve put them on the grill for a few minutes or pop under the broiler being sure to discard all the excess fliuds that accumulate. Our family loves them! I can’t wait until they try them with citrus!! Yum!!!

  7. Sunny

    When I do bbr I usually do them in a slow cooker for about 6hrs in beer on low. But I can see doing them in the bourbon sauce as well.As that looks really really good. Then I would put them on the grill to get them crispy. We only have an electric Charbroil grill which cooks extremely well. Since we are in an upstairs condo, no gas grills allowed. We use the elec grill on our lanai.

  8. Carlos Lepe

    Hi Elise – Just wondering whether you could do the ribs in the oven and then finsih them off on grill, if so at what temperature and how long for? Thanks, Helen

    Hi there.

    If you are going to use this technique, I`ve found the following to work efficiently.

    I put the marinade in a plastic cling wrapper with a single piece of ribs and wrap it. Then I wrap it again in a small square of alluminum foil. I do this with each serving and let it marinade overnight.

    Next day I put these in the oven (without unwrapping) This will allow the meat to open pores and allow the marinade to penetrate while cooking at an aproximate 350 and 400. The timne depends on your oven, in mine which is pretty samll 2 hours aproximate. To check it open one of the bundles and if the meat is retracting from the bone they are ready.

    Retrive the ribs from the oven and afew minutes un the grill for the smoke falvor will give you an excellent final dish.

  9. Linda in the Evergreen State

    Elise, Great Looking Ribs you got there!!!!
    If David can come, we all come to dinner at your house too
    _______________________________________________
    Just wondering whether you could do the ribs in the oven and then finsih them off on grill, if so at what temperature and how long for? Thanks, Helen
    _____________________________________________
    How famous BBQ Resturants in Tennessee cook ribs is to slow cook them then heat the on a grill to finish them. True Southern BBQ Ribs have no added seasoning prior to slow cooking. Sauce (wet ribs) or dry rub (dry ribs) is added at the end as finishing touch for the favor otherwise the spices or sauce would burn during the long cooking process.

    My personal cooking method is to wrap in foil packets (easy to make with 2 sheets of foil and fold up 4 ends) one for wet ribs and one packet for dry. Cook in preheat over at 250 to but not higher than 300 degrees for 2 hours to render the fat which makes the meat tender) Open packets drain off the juices. Then add dry rub and BBQ sauce to the ribs and cook under broiler. Or finish on grill,turn the ribs a few times to impress but don’t over do it. Cook till the ribs looks good. I like my BBQ ribs carmel in color on the outside but some folks like their ribs a bit darker/crunchier?

    Linda in Washington State

  10. DSX

    I notice you mention cleaning the grill – that’s sort of a no-no in my back yard heh heh. I *like* a dirty grill; my webber grill hasn’t been clean since it was new, sometime around when Reagan was in the white-house. A good brisk fire combined with the heat will keep it sterile (I arrange coals after they’re ready), and to me at least, a dirty grill adds some flavor and nice striping to a piece of meat. One cook’s gunk is another’s seasoning, and one cook’s carbon scored meat is another’s cooks meat with flavor bars :)

  11. Elise

    Hi DSX –

    Did I mention cleaning the grill? I do mention brushing the grill grates with oil. The point of that is just to help keep the food from sticking to the grill grates. Standard grilling practice.

    That said, to each his own, truly. I do try to keep my grills, both of them, fairly clean.

  12. Jessica

    Oh yum, Elise. This looks delicious. I’ve got the ribs brining now and plans to cook those puppies up this afternoon. I’m not going to do the bourbon glaze, however. Instead, I’m going to do a glaze of 50% raspberry jam and 50% sweet chili sauce. Mmmmmm. Will let you know how it turns out. Thanks!

  13. Mari

    Hi Elise,
    I unfortunately didn’t get to use your recipe in it’s entirety, although I have ribs left in my freezer and that is my intention. I did, however, make your bourbon glaze, YUM! It was excellent and well worth shelling out 30-odd euro for a bottle of imported Maker’s Mark. Also a great way to introduce my British boyfriend to the goodness that is Kentucky hand-crafted bourbon whiskey. ;-)
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Mastering the Grill is going on my wishlist for Xmas!

    http://www.mevrouwcupcake.com/blog/2007/10/1/i-love-it-when-a-plan-comes-together.html

  14. Jen in Baltimore

    Mmmm…we just had these ribs for dinner last night. I toned down the spiciness by half because DH and kids won’t eat anything too spicy, so they had just a touch of heat. Even though we overcooked them a bit, the brine saved us – they were still juicy. (Our ribs cooked very quickly – about 50 min, even with keeping the grill temp at 300 degrees.) We loved the subtle citrus flavor. Delicious! Thanks, Elise!

  15. John.P.

    Hi Elise
    Just a couple of ideas you may or may not be aware of. When I cook Pork in the webber (my favorite) I soak Hickory overnight to make sure that the wood is saturated because if you don’t it will just burn and not smoke. Chips are better than chunks, two hand fulls either side is ample for each time you add. For a two or three kg roast I usually add about three times or when you notice the smoke not coming out of the vent. Also to the fat catching baking pan I add about one third water and this helps to keep the roast or whatever moist. Last of all
    what you save in that pan makes the best gravy you have ever had as it seems to hold the
    hickory flavour in it. To top it off I highly recommend a Clare Valley Riesling from South Australia to have with it.
    Enjoy.

  16. will

    These ribs, like every other Elise Recipe I have made, rock! One tip for all of you. When removing the membrane from the back of your rack of ribs(highly reccomended), use a paper towel to give you a much better grip on it.

  17. J Les

    For all you “smokers” out there, instead of soaking your wood, just ry wrapping your wood in heavy duty foil, up to four wraps, then poke a few small holes in the packet. It lets the smoke out slowly, converts the wood to charcoal, and will not cause that acrid, green wood smoke that kills the flavor of your food. For gas grills, use small wood pieces or chips. For larger smokers and charcoal grills, make a wood packet, or if you’re spreading out your charcoal with gaps, lay wood chunks between and touching the charcoal. I use a combination of mesquite and oak for read meats, a little mesquite and either oak or hickory for fish and chicken or pork.

  18. rose

    i really liked these ribs. i thought the brine really helped keep them juicy and the bourbon glaze was delish.
    however our cooking time got all messed up. our gas grill is great but…um…ahem…we grilled during winter, so go figure. our problem ended up being that some ribs were cooked and others were slightly still raw…i suppose different parts of the grill were hotter/cooler. oh well. still ended up tasty in the end.
    for those who like ribs in sauce though, these were not their favorites, just FYI.
    anyway, thanks elise – love the idea of brining more meats than just chicken/turkey!

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