Memphis-Style Pork Ribs

Memphis-style dry rubbed pork ribs barbecued slowly to perfection!

Memphis-style Pork Ribs
Elise Bauer

There are wet ribs, sticky with a succulent, spicy barbecue sauce, and there are dry ribs, where the flavor is all in the dried mixture of herbs and spices, melded into something greater than the sum of their parts by time, smoke and pork fat.

This is what they do in Memphis, Tennessee, and it's why Memphis-style ribs are some of the best in the world.

What goes into a Memphis rib rub is up to you, but most recipes rely on paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne, garlic and onion powder.

All sorts of other ingredients find their way into everyone's "secret recipe," but the most common are cumin, dry mustard, celery salt or celery seed, dried oregano or rosemary, chili powder, ginger, allspice or even white pepper.

Serious pit masters spend years perfecting the exact ratio of spices for their own personal styles.

Cooking these ribs is simple: Rub the spice mix all over the ribs and cook them slowly over low heat until they're done. Sounds easy, right? It is, sorta.

Memphis-style Pork Ribs
Elise Bauer

We prefer to let the spice mix sit on the ribs overnight before we cook them, but you don't have to. We also prefer to cook our ribs over a hardwood fire, but you can use charcoal or even a gas grill if you need to. Just don't use an oven.

In all cases, cook the ribs away from the heat source. If you use a grill, have the fire going slowly on one side of the grill and cook the ribs on the other side.

Again, slow is good. I've cooked ribs for 12 hours before, and I've never had good ribs cooked less than 3 hours.

Use our rib rub as a guide, and play with it to your own taste. What are your favorite ingredients in your barbecue rubs?

Updated from the recipe archive, first published 2011

Memphis-Style Pork Ribs

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 5 hrs
Total Time 5 hrs 10 mins
Servings 4 servings

Try to get St. Louis-cut ribs for this recipe, not baby back ribs. Regular spare ribs are fine, too.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 2 teaspoons cumin

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons cayenne

  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 2 St. Louis-cut or spare rib racks

Method

  1. Make the dry rub, rub all over ribs:

    Mix all the dry ingredients together. Rub them all over the ribs and, if you have time, set them in the fridge overnight.

  2. Grill over low, indirect heat initially for one hour:

    Get your grill or smoker going. You want pretty low heat, about 200-220°F if you can measure it. Make sure you have a spot to put the ribs that is not directly over the heat source. Lay the ribs down. They should not sizzle. If they do, cool the grill down until the ribs no longer sizzle when placed down. Cover the grill or smoker and walk away for an hour.

  3. Every hour or so after that, turn and rotate the ribs:

    so they cook evenly. You should not have to baste them if you do this: The fat in the ribs will do the basting for you. Depending on how hot your set-up is and at what stage of doneness you like your ribs, they will be done in 4-8 hours.

Links:

Memphis-style Dry Ribs from Barefeet in the Kitchen

12 Recipes for Smoky, Tender Ribs from Serious Eats

Memphis-style Pork Ribs
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
700 Calories
45g Fat
47g Carbs
31g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 700
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 45g 57%
Saturated Fat 13g 65%
Cholesterol 145mg 48%
Sodium 1625mg 71%
Total Carbohydrate 47g 17%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 37g
Protein 31g
Vitamin C 1mg 6%
Calcium 104mg 8%
Iron 5mg 29%
Potassium 748mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.