Hotdogs are easy and all-American, but ribs are where it's at on the Fourth of July. There's just something primal about sinking your teeth into tender meat and tearing it off the bone. We talked to some of the area's most popular pitmasters to see how they get their ribs just right.
We have to start with Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ. In the past year, Esquire readers voted their ribs the most life-changing while Southern Living deemed them the best rib-sticking joint in the South. Chef and co-owner Madison Ruckel attributes Home Team's success to the time and love each rack receives. "The key is putting love in your cooking," he says. Ruckel also stresses the importance of Home Team working as a cohesive unit. "Our cooking is a team effort. There's a bunch of people involved in our success," Ruckel adds. They start off by giving the ribs a thorough dry rub massage after which they spend six hours in a red oak smoker. Then, they're placed on a grill just long enough for the meat to build a crust. As the ribs rest on the grill, they are sprayed down by Home Team's own pepper vinegar and brown sugar solution. Ruckel says they do not sauce the meat, but provide several different kinds of classic barbecue sauces (red, pepper vinegar, mustard) on the side, the most popular of which is their Alabama White sauce.
While they might not have gotten praise nationwide, we've certainly given Coleman Public House's Asian-glazed baby back ribs some serious love. The ribs are first braised in a mixture of Coke, soy sauce, ginger, star anise, orange, and garlic for one hour until they are tender and then cooled overnight in the liquid, which helps the flavor penetrate, says chef and owner Brian Tanner. The ribs are cut into smaller individual servings and grilled before getting glazed in the oven with sweet, spicy Asian garlic sauce. "These aren't your typical ribs," Tanner says. "The braising and glaze really set them off." Coleman's two-step prep process tenderizes the ribs until they're falling off the bone and adds intense layers of flavors.
Over at Sticky Fingers, smoke is the key element to their ribs, according to Whitney Lybrand. The ribs are smoked over hickory for four hours in a rotisserie smoker. "We pull them off the pit and put them on the grill for five minutes until there's a little bit of crust on the meat," she says. Of course, the five signature sauces are what make the ribs here. Everyone has a favorite out of the Memphis, Carolina Sweet, Tennessee Whiskey, Carolina Classic, and Habañero. We prefer the kick of that last one. It'll put a fire in your mouth.
If you've ever walked down Society Street in the late afternoon, you can smell Jim 'N Nick's getting to work on their ribs. They use hickory wood to smoke them for four to five hours, but before the smoking even begins, the ribs are brined for 12 hours. They are then placed on a grill until the meat crisps on the outside.
The best advice for trying your hand at cooking ribs? Take it low and slow, baby.