Chili-spiced Dry Rubbed Ribs
I made the decision recently to slow down on my recipe development for this site going forward. This is not due to any scaling back of cooking, but I've been writing a recipe a week for over twelve years now and coming up with new ideas has been the most difficult part of keeping up that pace and that can dampen the enjoyment I get out of grilling and smoking. For example, I wanted to make ribs for my Memorial Day cookout this year, and as the date approached, nothing novel was coming to mind since I've already amassed 20-plus recipes on the subject. It was only when I stopped trying to think hard about a new idea and decided to go with a tried-and-true recipe that something different finally worked its way into my brain, and that's how I got to these chili-spiced dry rubbed ribs.
My Memphis Dry Ribs recipe was one that was in contention for the holiday cookout and the first inclination that led me to something new was to try transitioning those ribs from being cooked hot-and-fast to low-and-slow. Once I was on that path, I decided to also change up the rub to have a pretty different flavor profile and the creation of that began with toasting four different chile varieties—anchos, guajillos, pasillas, and puyas.
The chile quartet created an incredibly deep and complex base with smoky, fruity, spicy, and earthy notes that I built some standard barbecue flavors into by adding cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and sugar. The spice mixture was still tasting a bit too heavy handed at first, and I only found the right balance when I upped the sugar content. I was then happy with what I had, but made one last minute addition of cinnamon, and then I thought it finally tasted full realized.
Traditional dry rubbed ribs follow a pretty different process starting with not even being seasoned before cooking—they go into the smoker bare and the rub is brushed on via a mop multiple times during the cooking process. I wasn't going for traditional here though, so I opted to apply a light seasoning to these St. Louis cut racks to start them off.
I did still utilize a mop though for most of the rub delivery. This mixture is simply vinegar, water, and dry rub, but when brushed on over-and-over again while smoking, the rubs builds up quite nicely and ribs also get embedded with a mellow tang.
I applied the mop about about every hour during the six hours these ribs took to be done. There was a point that I worried the rub was starting to look a little too dark, but the reapplication of the mop kept it from venturing into burnt territory since that new moisture introduced in each brushing first needed to evaporate before the spices began darkening.
I almost always judge rib doneness by lifting one end of the ribs with tongs. If the ribs have a good bend to them, they're done. If they still feel a bit stiff, they get more time, and if they fall apart, they're technically overdone. Overdone usually still tastes great, the meat just falls off the bone too easily and that can make it difficult to transport and slice the ribs.
After removing the ribs from the smoker, each rack got one final brushing with the mop and then a generous sprinkling with the dry rub. While there's a lot of similarities between this recipe and my Memphis dry ribs one, you would never mistake the two for each other. The rub is the main reason for this—these ribs had a really unique flavor to them with that rich and complex chile profile being right upfront, but also with enough sweetness to temper the intensity and allow the ribs to live in familiar American barbecue territory. The other defining factor was the texture of the meat, with these ribs having soft, melt in your mouth quality, while the Memphis ribs that were cooked hot-and-fast had more of a chew to them, although both ribs were plenty juicy. So we get yet another new rib recipe on this site for this summer, and I'm excited about that, but I'm also equally excited about slowing down and having the ability to return to old recipes too, because one thing about churning out a new recipe each week is that it didn't often afford time to return to some of my favorites.
Chili-spiced Dry Rubbed Ribs
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Cook 5 Hours
- Total 5 Hours 30 Minutes
- For the Rub
- 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder (about 3 medium chiles)
- 2 tablespoons guajillo chile powder (about 4 medium chiles)
- 2 tablespoons pasilla chile powder (about 2 medium chiles)
- 2 teaspoons puya chile powder (about 3 chiles)
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons oregano, preferably Mexican
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- For the Mop
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup dry rub
- 2 racks St. Louis-cut spare ribs
- 2-3 fist size chunks of a medium wood, such as pecan or oak
- To make the rub: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place ancho, guajillo, pasilla, and puva chiles on a baking sheet and place in oven. Roast chiles until they are fragrant and skins start to darken slightly. Remove chiles from oven and let cool completely, Remove stems and seeds from chiles. Working in batches, break chiles into small pieces into the bowl of a spice grinder. Grind chiles into a fine powder and transfer to a medium bowl.
- Add in brown sugar, salt, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and cinnamon into bowl with chile powder and mix to combine. Remove membrane from back of each rack of ribs and trim meat of excess fat. Lightly season ribs all over with rub mixture.
- To make the mop: Whisk together vinegar, water, and dry rub in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place the ribs in smoker or grill, meaty side up, and cover. Smok ribs, brushing with the mop every hour, until they bend slightly when lifted from one end, about 5-6 hours total.
- Transfer ribs to a cutting board and brush with mop. Liberally coat ribs with rub and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice ribs and serve immediately.