If you’re looking for a pit master this weekend, chances are they’re in Chicago cooking at the great Windy City Smokeout. From July 10-12, barbecue pros will be grilling and smoking up a meaty storm, while country music stars serenade the craft beer-swigging festivalgoers gnaw on sticky, messy ribs. Can’t make it? Don’t worry. You can still enjoy some seriously incredible barbecued ribs this weekend by following these great tidbits of expert rib advice from some of the fest’s brilliant guest pit masters.
Choose the right rack of ribs. “Perfect BBQ ribs begin with a great slab of meat,” says Barry Sorkin of Smoque BBQ in Chcago. “There should be no exposed bones.” Scott Roberts of Texas’s The Salt Lick adds: “They should be red in color, not dingy.”
Season the meat—but not too much. “Seasoning is everything, but don’t go too far with flavors,” Roberts says. “Pork ribs should taste like pork. Remember, the more flavors you add the less pork you will taste.”
Use seasonings for more than just flavor. Doug Psaltis of Chicago’s Bub City seasons his ribs with a rub of salt, sugar and spices, lets the rack sweat, then seasons it again about 30 minutes before smoking the meat. The rub not only adds flavor but crunch. “The salt, sugar and spices on the outside of the meat provide great coarse texture after cooking—this is also know as the bark,” he says.
No fire shortcuts. “The number one cardinal rule when grilling ribs: Don’t use lighter fluid,” says Skip Steele of Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, MO.
Give your ribs a spritz. “I like to spray any kind of meat I’m smoking with apple juice or white grape juice,” says Lee Ann Whippen of Chicago Q. “When combined with a dry rub, it creates a beautiful mahogany color while ensuring moistness and caramelization.”
Know when your ribs are done. “When your ribs are done, about one-half inch of the bone should be sticking out on the ends,” Roberts says. If you’re still unsure, don’t be afraid to get physical. “Ribs are done when you can tear them apart with your bare hands,” says Steele.