From America's Test Kitchen Season 7: Rainy Day Barbecue
When the craving for barbecued ribs strikes in the dead of winter, you’re out of luck unless you visit the local rib joint. There are recipes for oven barbecuing, but the smoke-flavored sauce they use is no substitute for actual smoke. We wanted the real thing, but prepared indoors.
St. Louis–style ribs, which have been trimmed of skirt meat and excess cartilage, work best here. We started with a spice rub as we would for grilling, but found that a thin coating of mustard, ketchup, and garlic helped the rub adhere. We tried wood chips in a stovetop smoker, but we had difficulty fitting the ribs in the pan, it’s hard to find wood chips in wintertime—and the smoke-filled kitchen was the clincher. We gave up on wood chips and instead borrowed a Chinese cooking method of smoking over tea leaves. Lapsang Souchong tea, which itself has a smoky flavor, worked perfectly when we ground it fine. Chilling the ribs first helped prevent toughening in the oven’s initial high heat. Apple juice, a common ingredient in barbecue “mops,” added moisture and more flavor. And running the ribs under the broiler at the end browned and crisped them. These tender, smoky, and spicy ribs taste amazingly like those barbecued on the grill, but can be made any time of the year.
To make this recipe, you will need a baking stone, a sturdy baking sheet with a 1-inch rim, and a wire cooling rack that fits inside it. It’s fine if the ribs overlap slightly on the rack. In step 1, removing the surface fat keeps the ribs from being too greasy. And, removing the membrane from the ribs allows the smoke to penetrate both sides of the racks and also makes the ribs easier to eat. Note that the ribs must be coated with the rub and refrigerated at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours ahead of cooking. Be careful when opening the crimped foil to add the juice, as hot steam and smoke will billow out.