Wednesday July 10, 2013 | 01:00 AM

For the next several months, well beyond the first frost, most of what I cook is prepared on my gas or charcoal grill.  That means I either grill fast over high heat or barbecue, which is the long, slow process of creating a heat source that employs the smoke from fruit woods and the radiant heat from a bed of coals.

I’ve even taken to baking on my barbecue grill by setting up a bed of coals and fruit woods and using a cast iron pan to cook all sorts of preparations like corn bread, beans and  fruit cobblers, all of which gain from the inimitable flavors imparted by smoke and coal. Your cast iron pan becomes an essential piece of equipment. 

While there are infinite books that offer recipes for grilling,  two of the best ones that distill the essence of American barbecue are Peace Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, which chronicles the “secret” recipes and methods of some of America’s best pit masters.  The other is  Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book, by Chris Lilly, a renowned pit master who gives the recipes and secrets from a well known Decatur, Alabama, barbecue joint of the same name, which dates back to 1925.

Smoked barbecued ribs with Apple City Barbecue Sauce

Both these books take a much different view tham you might be used to.  They’re filled with incredible sauces, spice rubs and all kinds of barbecue dishes and techniques as well as recipes for down-home desserts and side dishes.

The other  books that should be part of a serious barbecue library is the three tomes by Adam Perry Lang, a restaurant chef with classical training who turned to barbecue as a specialty.  His methods, however,  are often complicated.  His most approachable book is BBQ 25, the 25 most basic methods.  His other book, Serious Barbecue,  goes more into depth with a range of methods and recipes that offer some incredible results.  His latest book, Charred and Scruffed, takes it to the next level, but one that I often find far too complex, if not unnecessary to achieve similar results more simply.  I use it,though,Generally for ideas. 

Generally, for real American style barbecue the first two books I mentioned are more of the real deal, exploring the world of flavors from pit masters from the Midwest to the Deep South.

What I’m sharing here is the method I learned for barbecuing the best ribs as outlined by the Mills book, Peace Love and Barbecue.  There are three essential elements: the coal-wood fire, the spice rub and the sauce. 

The rub is the most important element of barbecue gospel whether it’s for ribs, beef or chicken. Amd of course the sauce is the final touch,  which should be  slathered onto the meats in the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. 

You can do some of this on a gas grill but a charcoal grill gives the best flavor because of its use of slow burning coals and wood.  I use a combination of hardwood and briquettes, the best, most economical sources being the Whole Foods brand of hardwood and the natural briquettes sold by Trader Joe's.  I mix about half and half of each  And while the coals are being prepared I soak wood chunks, which I get mail order from Maine Grilling Woods.  If you use chips you’ll have to add a second batch during the smoking process.

Here is the  basic recipe for barbecued pork ribs.  You can use either St Louis style or baby backs. 

The Rub (Magic Dust)
This is adapted from Peace Love and Barbecue’s recipe called Magic Dust.  It makes a big batch, which is enough for four to five racks of ribs.  Keep it stored in a tightly sealed glass jar. 

1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/2 cup ancho chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup granulated garlic (I use Gryffon Ridge)
1 tablespoon (or less, according to taste) cayenne

Mix all of the spices together in a bowl, whisking until very well combined.  Transfer to a wide-mouth glass jar with screw lid.

The Sauce (Apple City Barbecue Sauce)
This comes from the legendary barbecue joint, Apple City’s 17th Street BBQ, with three locations in Murphysboro, Marion and O’Fallon, Illinois.  It’s an incredible sauce.  Remember mop your ribs no more than 15 minutes before they’re done. Since the sauce has sugar, cooking it for a long period would cause it to burn

1 cup ketchup
2/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
1 cup apple juice for a spray bottle
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard (not Dijon)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/3 cup jarred bacon bits, ground in a spice grinder
1 small tart apple, peeled and grated
1 small onion, peeled and grated
1/2 small green pepper, grated

Combine the ketchup, rice vinegar, apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic power, pepper, cayenne and bacon bits in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes or until it thickens slightly, stirring often.  You can store it in sterilized jars for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or store for several days in a storage container in the refrigerator

The Ribs
Depending on how many people you’re serving, use half, whole or several racks of ribs.  There’s enough sauce and rub for large servings.  For two people I used only a half a rack of St. Louis Style ribs.  Prepare a sprayer bottle with 1 cup apple juice.

Season the ribs with Magic Dust, about 1 heaping tablespoon (or more, according to taste) for each side, rubbing it well into the ribs.  Put in a covered dish and refrigerate for several hours before cooking.

Prepare the barbecue with a large chimney starter amount of mixed hardwood and natural coals. Place on one end of the grill so that you have grill space without coals for indirect cooking.  Let burn until glowing, white and hot and allow the heat to die down for about 5 minutes uncovered.  Meanwhile soak three or four chunks fruit wood or two handfuls of chips in a bowl filled with warm water for at least 30 minutes.  Use hickory, maple, apple or oak woods. 

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking.  When the coals are ready, add the drained soaked wood to the coal bed.   Put the ribs on the grill, fat side up, away from the heat.  Cover the grill.  Ideally you want a cooking temperature of about 350 degrees to start; partially close the air holes to lower the heat to a steady 275 to 300 degrees.  Smoke the ribs over low heat for about two hours, spraying the ribs every 10 to15 minutes with the apple juice.  After one hour you can turn the ribs over, though it’s not necessary, just make sure they’re not burning.  In the last 10 to 15 minutes slather the ribs with the sauce.

Remove to a wooden cutting board and cut the ribs into individual pieces. You don’t need additional sauce to serve on the side since the ribs will be well coated.

Local sources: Bisson's Meat Market for ribs; organic spices from Gryfffon Ridge; smoking woods from Maine Grilling Woods


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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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