They boast about their barbecue pretty loudly in Chicago, where baby back ribs are slow- smoked to fall-apart tenderness and slathered with a spicy sauce. To understand what makes Chicago ribs the source of so much pride, we visited some of the Windy City’s finest rib joints, learning that Chicago ribs are typically smoked at about 200 degrees for at least eight hours. This slow-and-low cooking method delivers the moist, tender meat that defines Chicago ribs. Could we replicate the same method in our test kitchen?
Test Kitchen Discoveries
# To shorten cooking time, we started the ribs on the grill—where they picked up good color and smoke flavor—and finished them in the oven. Placing pans of water on the grill and in the oven steamed the ribs, making them extra moist and tender.
# Our Chicago-Style Barbecue Sauce gets its unique flavor from celery salt and allspice and its legendary heat from plenty of cayenne.
The dry spices are used to flavor both the rub and the barbecue sauce. When removing the ribs from the oven, be careful to not spill the hot water in the bottom of the baking sheet.
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 racks baby back ribs (about 1 1/2 pounds each), membrane removed (see related photo)
1 cup hickory wood chips , soaked for 15 minutes
1 1/4 cups ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke
1. For the ribs: Combine mustard, paprika, sugar, garlic and onion powders, celery salt, cayenne, and allspice. Reserve 2 tablespoons for sauce. Pat ribs dry with paper towels and massage remaining spice rub into both sides of ribs. (Ribs can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
2. Open bottom vent on grill. Light 100 coals. Arrange 13 by 9-inch disposable aluminum pan filled with 2 cups water on one side of grill. When coals are covered in fine gray ash, arrange in pile on opposite side. Scatter chips over coals and set cooking grate in place. (For gas grill, place chips in small disposable aluminum pan and place directly on primary burner of grill. Place another disposable aluminum pan filled with 2 cups water on secondary burner(s) and set cooking grate in place. Turn all burners to high and heat, covered, until chips are smoking heavily, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and shut other burner(s) off.) Position ribs over water-filled pan and cook, covered (open charcoal grill lid vent halfway), rotating and flipping racks once, until ribs are deep red and smoky, about 1 1/2 hours.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet and add just enough water to cover pan bottom. Arrange ribs on wire rack, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and cook until ribs are completely tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer to serving platter, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes.
4. For the sauce: Meanwhile, whisk ketchup, molasses, vinegar, water, liquid smoke, and reserved spice rub in bowl. Brush ribs with 1 cup barbecue sauce. Serve, passing remaining sauce at table.