Cooking competition-style baby back ribs.

This recipe is toned down from a real competition-style cook, and I use baby back ribs instead of a traditional St. Louis rib; however, either cut can be used. In the competition there is a lot more butter and spice used to catch a judge’s attention with one bite. This recipe hits the variety of flavors that competitors use to win competitions, but allows you to actually eat a meal of ribs without clogging all of your arteries.

1 rack baby back ribs

1 jar dry rub (or mix your favorite rubs)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup apple juice
BBQ sauce

Rib Prep
Unpack the ribs, rinse, and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay the ribs down, bones up.

With a paring knife, make a slit across the face of the bone —the silver membrane will separate. Pinch an upper corner of the separated membrane and pull it back, giving yourself a corner to grab onto, then fold a paper towel between your fingers (this helps grip the slippery skin) and peel away the entire membrane.

I like to score the ribs, which means making crisscross cuts across the bone side of the ribs. This allows the spice to penetrate the back side of the meat.

Now it’s time to spice the ribs. With this recipe, I used Byron’s Butt Rub and Traeger Perfect Pork Rub. If you like a little spice, a pinch or two of Montana Mex Jalapeno Rub is a great option. You’ll want to coat the entire rib with lots of spice in a large pan or clean sink. Shake the desired spice over the ribs generously. Cover the entire rack and pack it down with your hands. You cannot put too much spice on the ribs.

Once you have the ribs spiced, tap the ribs on their side to knock off any excess spice that is not sticking to the meat. Especially if the rub has a high salt content, you want to be careful not to add too much salt.

Smoking the Ribs
Preheat the grill to 275 degrees (this is the optimum temp to get the ribs cooked with a good bark and smoke flavor, without drying them out). This preheat is important because when preheating the grill, the initial ignition of the fuel—charcoal, pellet, or wood—creates a lot of white smoke. This smoke contains carbon that has a bitter taste, so avoid this type of smoke by establishing your fire.

Once the fire is established and your temperature is 275, you'll have a thin blue smoke that contains optimum flavor and taste. I lay my ribs on the top rack and cook them three hours, or until they reach 195-205 degrees internal temperature. Depending on your texture preference, at 205 the meat will fall off the bone without much resistance. I like a little pull on mine, so I take them off at 195 and they get to 200 while resting. It’s usually three hours exactly every time on the Traeger.

During the Cook
I’m pretty hands-off when it comes to ribs, but during the cook, I check them at one hour, then again and two-and-a-half hours.

When I check the ribs at one hour, I go through the following process: make a slurry with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of butter, and 1 cup of apple juice in a glass measuring cup. Put that mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds then stir it into a liquid slurry. Pour it out on the ribs and spread it with a mop.

At two-and-a-half hours, I’m just checking the temp. If we are close to 190 with a good bark, I'll add BBQ sauce at this point so it will caramelize during the last 30 minutes of the cook. If the bark isn’t established or the temp is less than 180, I’ll wait to caramelize the sauce on a hot grill after the ribs have rested.

Let the ribs rest for 30 minutes after pulling them off the grill, then cut the ribs and serve. Get some sauce on your face with this recipe. Have fun and add a little twist to make it yours!

With over 28 years in the food industry, Troy Heusel has a passion for creating new recipes. You will most likely find him talking to customers at Kenyon Noble about BBQs, visiting with them about a new recipe, or volunteering out in the community.