Do you want to know a secret? The key to succulent baby back ribs isn't just about tender meat and a hot grill — although those come in handy. What you really need is time, patience and an indulgent recipe. Let us help you with the latter: Start by making an apple butter barbecue sauce from scratch, and then slather it on juicy baby back ribs that have been coated in a sweet and smoky dry rub. Now that the secret's out, your upcoming feast is in motion. All you need now is a pile of napkins and a cold beer.
Things You'll Need
4 large Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into pieces
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons salt, divided
1/4 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
1-1/2 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1-1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 slices thick cut bacon
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 cups water
3-1/2 to 4-pound rack of baby back ribs
Step 1: Make the Apple Butter
Start by making the apple butter, which serves as the base for the barbecue sauce. Toss the apples with the lemon juice, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, allspice, thyme, bay leaf and salt. Then, place them in a large pan. Heat the apples over "medium" heat until the liquid starts to simmer, and then adjust the heat to "low." Let the apples cook for 60 minutes to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally until they have broken down and taken on a caramel color.
Short on time? Use your slow cooker to cook the apples. Combine the ingredients and cook on "low" for 9–10 hours, preferably overnight.
Now, remove the bay leaf and transfer the apples to a food processor. Puree until smooth. Store the apple butter in a covered container in the refrigerator. The apple butter can be made up to two days before you grill the ribs.
Step 2: Make the Spice Rub
In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of salt, black pepper, chili powder, dried minced onion, garlic powder, smoked paprika, dried oregano and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.
Step 3: Prep the Baby Back Ribs
Prep the ribs the night before grilling by patting them dry with paper towels. Using a small knife, carefully peel away the membrane on the back of the ribs and discard it.
Step 4: Coat the Ribs with the Spice Rub
Rub the spice mixture all over the ribs until they are well coated. Wrap the ribs loosely in foil and let them rest in the refrigerator for eight hours before grilling.
Step 5: Make the Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce
In a large pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and save it for sandwiches – or snack on it as you make the sauce.
Add the onion and garlic to the bacon fat and cook them until they're soft, or for about five minutes.
Then, add the apple cider vinegar to the pan and bring it to a simmer. Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the apple butter, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, yellow mustard and 1 teaspoon of salt to the pan and stir to combine. Pour in 2 cups of water and stir again. Bring the sauce to a boil, and then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Let the sauce cook for 60 to 90 minutes.
Make the barbecue sauce up to a day in advance to let all of the flavors fully develop.
Step 6: Grill the Ribs
Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes. Preheat a gas grill to 350 degrees. Once heated, turn off one set of burners so that one space has direct heat and the other does not. Adjust the heat so that it holds steady at 250 degrees. Place the wrapped ribs on the grates with the burners turned off. Close the lid and let the ribs cook for two to two-and-a-half hours. Monitor the heat and make adjustments to maintain a consistent 250 degrees.
Resist the urge to open the grill lid! The heat will escape requiring more time for the ribs to cook.
Step 7: Check the Ribs for Doneness
After two hours, check the ribs: open the grill, carefully unwrap the foil and cut into the middle. The ribs are done if there is no pink near the bone. If needed, rewrap the ribs and continue grilling for another 30 minutes or so. Check again. If they are done, carefully remove the ribs from the foil and place them on the grates above the flames.
Step 8: Grill the Ribs with the Sauce
Brush the tops of the ribs with a thin layer of the apple butter barbecue sauce. Carefully flip the ribs over, sauce-side down, and let them cook for about five minutes. Brush the other side with the sauce and flip them again. Repeat this process three or four times at five-minute intervals, adding a thin layer of sauce every time.
Step 9: Serve the Baby Back Ribs
Remove the ribs from the grill and let them rest on a platter or cutting board for five minutes. Slice the ribs between each bone and serve with extra barbecue sauce on the side. Once you take your first bite, you'll know that these ribs are totally worth the wait!