When we think Kansas City, we think ribs. Not barbeque or smoked meats generally, but ribs specifically. We’re not sure why, since we’ve never been there. Maybe it’s because Kansas City is renowned for slow-smoked meats finished with a tangy/sweet sauce, and ribs in particular are at their best when cooked via those methods. No matter the reason, we knew we would be cooking ribs in the smoker for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge when the Steelers played the Kansas City Chiefs. And since Dan prefers to go Flintstones-style with quantity on the rare occasions we have ribs, we made them when my parents were in town for a weekend visit so we could share the smoky BBQ goodness. And my parents were gracious enough to don some Steeler garb for that weekend’s game and the S.O.C.C. feature photo (thanks guys!) While they are not die-hard Steeler fans per se, my parents are definitely big fans of their son-in-law (as he is of them) and were happy to support the team. And we were all super-fans of the delicious, mouth-melting Kansas City ribs. We didn’t as much enjoy the tough game the Steelers had against the Chiefs (even less so after Big Ben got hurt), but they managed a win nonetheless (in overtime, which is so not my favorite), bringing the current S.O.C.C. record to: Steelers 6-3, Foodie Lawyer 8-1
The first step to any good BBQ ribs recipe is the dry rub. We make ours with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup paprika, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Mix all the rub ingredients together in a small bowl.
If the butcher hasn’t already done it (thank goodness ours had), remove the silverskin from the bone side of the ribs. (Why yes, we did indeed purchase 3 racks of ribs for 4 people. I told you Dan goes all Flintstone when he busts out the smoker.)
Generously coat the ribs with the rub. Don’t be afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty.
Place the ribs on the smoker (in whatever creative way you can make them fit, spaced out to cook evenly — in our case, skewered with bamboo sticks and curled up together on the top rack.) We used oak chunks and hickory chips (because we couldn’t find hickory chunks) for the smoke. Cook the ribs in the smoker at 225 degrees (or as close as you can get) for about 6 hours.
This is what the ribs look like about halfway through the cooking time.
Based on our research, Kansas City BBQ sauce is a little sweet for our taste, so we adapted a recipe more tangy to our liking: 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil, 1/2 an onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup yellow mustard, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons steak sauce, 2 tablespoons molasses, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce and 1/2 cup brown sugar.
Heat the oil in a small pot or saucepan over medium-high heat, add the onion and cook until the onion begins to soften — about 5-6 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant — about 30 seconds.
Add the chili powder, salt and pepper to the onions and garlic and cook for about a minute.
Add the remaining ingredients (mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire, lemon juice, steak sauce, molasses, honey, hot sauce and brown sugar.)
Turn the heat to low and simmer the sauce for about an hour. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed (more hot sauce, more salt, or even a little cider vinegar for a bit more tang.)
We prefer a more smooth BBQ sauce (much like we prefer more smooth Steeler wins than the KC game), so we used the immersion blender to get a better consistency.
Slather the sauce on both sides of the ribs for the final 20 minutes of cooking time.
Wrap the ribs in heavy-duty foil and place them in an empty cooler to rest for at least half an hour before serving. (The insulated cooler will keep the ribs warm for about 4 hours.)
The ribs will practically fall apart on their own when you unwrap the foil. So good. And my mom will be happy to know that we put the leftover rib meat to work in a winning “overtime” version of our pork fried rice.
Kansas City BBQ Rub & Sauce
Ingredients for the Rub (amount is for 3 racks baby back ribs, plus leftover rub):
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
Ingredients for the Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- ½ an onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup ketchup
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons steak sauce
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ½ teaspoon hot sauce
- ½ cup brown sugar
- Heat the oil in a small pot or saucepan over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook until they begin to soften — about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Add the chili powder, salt & pepper and cook for about a minute.
- Add the remaining ingredients, turn the heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Taste and add seasonings as needed. Use an immersion blender to smooth out the sauce if desired.