The ribs that are prepared for the big cook-offs around the country are quite different than what you would normally cook at home or eat in a restaurant. Over years of competitive cooking, the barbecue pros have learned that making your ribs a little bit too tender and a little bit too sweet can get you a good score when they are judged.

This fantastic rib recipe from Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue will win over judges, your friends, and basically anyone who loves great barbecue.


Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 slabs St. Louis cut pork ribs (about 2 1/2 pounds each)
Ray’s Supersweet Rib Rub (see recipe below)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup Tiger Sauce or other pepper sauce that’s not too vinegary
Thick and Rich Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)

Prepare your cooker to cook indirectly at 235°F using medium pecan wood for smoke flavor.

Peel the membrane off the back of the ribs and trim any excess fat. Season the ribs liberally on both sides with the barbecue rub. Place the ribs in the smoker, meat-side up, and cook for 2 hours. Flip the ribs and cook for 45 minutes.

Lay out two double-thick sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Lay one slab on each piece of foil, meat-side up. Top each slab with half of the brown sugar. Drizzle each slab with half of the honey, butter, and Tiger Sauce. Close up the rib packages, pressing out as much air as possible. Do not seal the packages tightly; they need to breathe a little.

Return to the cooker for 30 minutes. Open the packages and check for doneness by pushing a toothpick into the meat. It should go in and out very easily. If you want the ribs more tender, just wrap them back up and cook a little longer. When they’re as you like them, transfer to a sheet pan. Remove the foil and return the ribs to the cooker meat-side down. Brush the bone side liberally with barbecue sauce and cook for 10 minutes. Flip the ribs and brush the meat side liberally with barbecue sauce. Cook for 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each rib individually and transfer to a platter to serve.

Ray’s Supersweet Rib Rub

Makes about 2 cups

This rub is extra-sweet and goes really well with ribs and other cuts of pork. It is a good choice if you like to serve your ribs dry. The sweetness will have the guests thinking you used barbecue sauce. This one isn’t recommended for hot grilling because all that sugar makes it burn pretty easily. I like to mix it in the food processor for a finer grind, but if you like it coarse just mix it in a bowl.

1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried grated orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle (or cayenne pepper)

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade. Process for 5 seconds, until the lumps are gone. The rub may be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 6 months.

Thick and Rich Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 1 quart

This is a big, thick, red barbecue sauce made with fresh ingredients and a lot of love in your kitchen. Every barbecue cook I have ever known has a mother sauce they’ve been working on for years and this would be a great place to start on yours. You can skip the liquid smoke if you like, but I think it adds a nice layer to barbecue sauce.

1/4 cup butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (leave the seeds in if you like it hot)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the celery seed and mix well. Cook for 1 minute. Add the ketchup, vinegar, honey, mustard, apple juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire, hot sauce, tomato paste, liquid smoke (if using), salt, and pepper. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, mixing often, until thickened. Remove from the heat and serve or cool and store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.