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Sweet-and-Smoky Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Sweet-and-Smoky Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

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  • 6 baby back pork rib racks
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups hickory wood chips
  • Bourbon Barbecue Sauce (get recipe)

Recipe Preparation

  • Arrange ribs in large roasting pan. Pour bourbon over. Chill 30 minutes, turning ribs often. Pour off and discard bourbon.

  • Whisk salt and next 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Sprinkle spice mixture on both sides of ribs. Let stand 1 hour.

  • Place wood chips in medium bowl. Pour beer over; let stand 1 hour.

  • Place handful of torn newspaper in bottom of charcoal chimney. Top newspaper with 25 charcoal briquettes. Remove upper rack from barbecue. Place chimney on lower grill rack. Light newspaper and let charcoal burn until ash is gray, about 30 minutes.

  • Open 1 bottom grill vent. Turn out hot charcoal onto 1 side of lower rack. Using metal spatula, spread charcoal to cover approximately 1/3 of rack. Remove 1 cup wood chips from beer and drain (keep remaining chips in beer). Scatter drained chips over coals (avoid using too many wet chips, which may douse the fire). Fill foil loaf pan halfway with water and place opposite the coals on lower grill rack.

  • Place upper grill rack on barbecue. Arrange ribs on upper grill rack above loaf pan. Cover barbecue with lid, positioning top vent directly over ribs. Place stem of candy thermometer through top vent, with gauge on outside and tip near ribs (thermometer should not touch meat or grill rack); leave in place during cooking. Check temperature after 5 minutes. Use top and bottom vents to maintain temperature between 275°F and 325°F, opening vents wider to increase heat and closing to decrease heat. Leave any other vents closed.

  • After 45 minutes, use technique described earlier to light an additional 15 charcoal briquettes in same charcoal chimney set atop nonflammable surface.

  • When temperature of barbecue falls below 275°F, use oven mitts to lift off upper rack with ribs; place rack with ribs on heatproof surface. Using tongs, add hot gray charcoal from chimney to bottom rack. Drain remaining 1 cup wood chips; sprinkle over charcoal. Reposition upper rack on barbecue, placing ribs above loaf pan. Cover with lid. Grill until ribs are very tender and meat pulls away from bones, about 45 minutes longer, brushing with 3/4 cup Bourbon Barbecue Sauce the last 15 minutes of cooking.

  • Transfer ribs to platter. Brush with 3/4 cup more barbecue sauce. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately, if desired.

Recipe by Steven Raichlen,Reviews Section

Sweet and Smoky Homemade BBQ Sauce

This Sweet and Smoky BBQ Sauce is what dreams are made of.

With summertime here, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, bust out your basting brush, and get down to some serious grilling business.

My secret ingredient for homemade barbecue sauce is a touch of smoked paprika. It adds just enough of that earthy, smoky flavor without overwhelming the sweetness of the sauce.

Here’s a few ideas on ways to use this BBQ sauce:

Baste it on some pork ribs during the last thirty minutes on the smoker

Serve it as a dip for french fries or onion rings

Toss it with leftover chicken and make Southern-fusion tacos

Add some smoky flavor to your regular pulled pork recipe

Make a Tex-Mex inspired Tamale Pie (check out the recipe here and see the photo below)

Use it as a smoky BBQ marinade

This smoked BBQ sauce will keep in your fridge for about two weeks, but feel free to make a larger batch and freeze it in mason jars for convenient homemade deliciousness throughout the year.

I buy these half pint mason jars like they are going out of style. Some mason jars are labeled specifically for freezer use (like these ones), but I’ve had great success using the regular old canning ones, too.

I also use the half pint jars as drinking glasses when we have people over during the summer. They are so easy to store when not in use!

Spend 20 minutes making this homemade BBQ sauce this week and report back on all of the fun ways you used it!

Easy Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe

When it comes to summer grilling, BBQ Sauce is a staple! I think I use BBQ Sauce more in the summer than any other time of year. Think about it. You slather it on, BBQ Baby Back Ribs, Grilled Chicken, Burgers .. heck we even put it on grilled pizzas!

Have you ever made your own BBQ Sauce?

If you haven&rsquot, it&rsquos time we change that! It&rsquos way easier than you think it is! Just throw everything into a saucepan, stir, simmer for 15 minutes and voila. Homemade BBQ Sauce!

Recipe Summary

  • 1 rack baby back pork ribs, outer membrane removed
  • 4 ounces apple juice
  • Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ¼ tablespoon garlic powder
  • ¼ tablespoon onion powder
  • ¼ tablespoon ground coriander
  • ¼ tablespoon dry mustard
  • ⅛ tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup bourbon whiskey
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 pinch sea salt

Combine all the ingredients for the dry rub in a small bowl and mix together well.

Tear a large enough piece of Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil to place rack of ribs on it and be able to fully cover, meat side up. Evenly coat both sides of the ribs with the dry rub, pressing it in with your hands.

Fold up the sides of the foil to create a rim, and pour the apple juice in around the ribs. Fold the foil over the ribs and crimp it to create a tight seal. Tear off one more piece of large foil and wrap the whole thing again to ensure a tight seal.

Place the wrapped ribs in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F and cook ribs for about 4 hours. You should be able to easily pierce them with a fork, but they shouldn't be falling off the bone.

Combine all the BBQ sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and allow the sauce to thicken and reduce by about a third, stirring occasionally.

Preheat grill to high heat. Cover the grill rack with Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil. Place the cooked ribs meat side up on the grill and brush the top with a layer of sauce. Close grill until the sauce is mostly dried, about 5 minutes. Brush another layer of sauce on top and close grill for an additional 5 minutes. Remove ribs from grill and lightly brush with one more layer of sauce.


Preheat grill to medium-low heat. Rub ribs with Sweet & Smoky Rub. Wrap ribs with 2 to 3 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil, sealing ends tightly. Grill ribs over indirect heat 2 to 3 hours or until tender.

Meanwhile, microwave sweet potatoes on HIGH 7 minutes or until almost tender, turning sweet potatoes over halfway through cooking. Let stand 2 minutes. Cut sweet potatoes into wedges.

Remove foil from ribs. Transfer to lit side of grill over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes per side or until browned, brushing with some of the barbecue sauce. Grill sweet potatoes 2 minutes per side or until lightly browned, brushing with remaining barbecue sauce.

Cooking Tips:
&bullSee Grill Mates® Know Your Heat for how to grill over indirect heat.
&bullOven Cooking Method: Season ribs as directed. Place in single layer on foil-lined roasting pan. Cover with foil. Bake in preheated 350°F oven 1 1/2 hours or until meat starts to pull away from bones. Brush ribs with sauce. Broil 2 to 3 minutes or until browned. Prepare sweet potatoes as directed, broiling to brown.

How to Make Smoky Bourbon BBQ Sauce

The first step to this Bourbon BBQ sauce recipe is to chop the onions and throw them in a saucepan with the garlic and bourbon to cook down. Keep it on a low heat so the liquid is just simmering, not bubbling or boiling.

You can use any Bourbon you want. I tend to buy whatever cheap bottle of bourbon I can find. It doesn’t have to be an expensive brand. I really like Bulleit Bourbon and we always have that around, so it gets used often.

I like to use hickory liquid smoke in this bbq sauce recipe, but I do experiment with other types. The last time I made this sauce, I used pecan liquid smoke. You might start out with hickory, then try out a few others if you want.

You might be wondering why the onions in the recipe are cut into wedges instead of chopped. If you want a smooth sauce at the end, leaving the onions in chunks allows you to remove them easily. If you use chopped onions, you’ll have to strain them out or puree the sauce, unless you chop them very finely so they mix in.

After about 10 minutes, once the bourbon has dissipated by half, you can add the additional ingredients to the pan. Stir it well and leave it to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool. You can strain it to remove the onions, or just pick them out. Then the sauce is ready to use.

As you can imagine, this Bourbon BBQ sauce can be used on just about anything you want. I love it on BBQ chicken wings, easy oven-baked baby back ribs, and even as a dip for roasted cauliflower.

Try it out. I know you’re going to love it!

Other recipes to try

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Chef, cookbook author and television show host Katie Lee is dropping by the TODAY kitchen to share a few of her favorite cookout recipes just in time for the Fourth of July. She shows us how to make fall-off-the-bone tender baby back ribs and baked beans with peach preserves and bourbon.

Katie Lee's Fall-off-the-Bone Barbecue Ribs

My husband Ryan taught me this technique with the foil and I'll never make ribs any other way! It's so easy and foolproof. He and his brothers are super into barbecue and always trying out new methods.

Katie Lee's Peach-Bourbon Bacon Baked Beans

I love how the fruity sweetness of the brown sugar and peach preserves compliments the smokiness of the bacon and bourbon. These beans are sure to be the first side dish to go at your barbecue.

If you like those barbecue recipes, you should also try these:

Sweet and smoky oven spareribs

On the kind of clear-skied, warm summer evening when people without sleepless, feverish babies to tend to were drinking beers outside and grilling on rooftop decks, we stayed in last night and, for once, did not feel the eensiest bit jealous. We were eating ribs for dinner and we hadn’t even needed to leave our apartment to get them.

I never knew I could make ribs in the oven. I hadn’t even considered it. Ribs were the jurisdiction of trophy-winning Southeastern barbecue gurus, with trademarked rubs and secret mops. They were my friend Molly’s thing, and so we left them to her even though our summer has been woefully short of them since she left us for the mountains again, sniffle. They were not the “thing” of New Yorkers who live in small balcony-less apartments with smaller ovens and absolutely no barbecue tradition or rib religion to draw from, but Harold McGee changed all that. I am giving him a standing ovation as we speak.

McGee found that he preferred ribs cooked in an indoor oven over an outdoor grill and chalked the it up to real estate: there wasn’t enough surface area for large amounts of ribs (estimating 5 pounds for 4 people, or “a couple hundred square inches” of ribs) to keep the cooking temperature even on most home grills. In an oven, he could cook ribs gently and evenly for many hours. And it turned out, so could I. Just shy of six hours after I put them in the oven, these ribs were everything people standing over grills for hours hope them to be: falling-off-the-bone tender, with deeply caramelized crusty edges. We spilled the juices into a saucepan and reduced them until they were a syrupy, intensely flavored sauce and draped it over the ribs and served them with slaw and some porch swings. And sure, we were inside watching Jersey Shore Pillars of the Earth and not out gallivanting but really, the only thing missing was the ruckus.

Sweet and Smoky Oven Spareribs
Adapted from Harold McGee, via The New York Times 6/30/10

My only nitpicking about this recipe is that I found them a little sweet for my tastes. Sugar plays an important part in barbecue, in both flavor and caramelization, so I might be hesitant to dial it back by more than 1/4, but I would increase the salt, and possibly double it. Honestly, you can tweak the rub any which way (add cumin, black pepper or red pepper flakes, more paprike, more chile powder), there’s no way these can come out badly. Last thought: If you’ve got an oven thermometer, watch it instead of your temperature dial. I find that oven temperatures seem to be the most off at the lowest settings (my oven’s �” was pushing past 250 on the thermometer) and while you can cook these ribs at a higher temperature, you certainly wouldn’t want to accidentally for 6 hours.

5 pounds should serve four people, we halved this and found 2 1/2 pounds to be generous for 2 people and might estimate 1 pound per person next time

1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder (ancho is recommended) or paprika
2 teaspoons salt (see Note above about increasing it)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 pounds spareribs, cut into 4 slabs, rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons mild or hot pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or red or white vinegar

Heat oven to 200°F. In a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, chili powder or paprika, salt, garlic powder, cloves and cinnamon you can do this easily with a fork. Place each slab of ribs on a piece of foil large enough to fold into a packet. Sprinkle spice rub over the ribs, patting it in generously on all sides — you’ll be glad you did. Turn the ribs meat side down and tightly fold the foil to make sealed packets.

Put a rack on a baking sheet (I needed two racks and two sheets a cookie cooling rack works for this) and place it in the oven. Bake for 4 hours at 200°F, then reduce the temperature to 175°F for another two hours or until a fork easily penetrates the meat. Open each packet carefully and pour the accumulated juices into a saucepan. Boil the juices and reduce them by half, at which point you will have a syrupy sauce that easily coats a spoon. Stir in paprika and vinegar.

Remove the ribs from the foil and either coat them with the sauce or serve the sauce alongside the ribs. (I have friends who consider barbecue sauce on ribs heretic, thus would give them the choice.) For extra caramelization, the ribs can be finished for a few minutes under the broiler, before being coated with sauce.


  1. Remove the ribs and pat dry with paper towels. If your ribs have the silvery membrane or skin on the underneath side, use a sharp knife to lift a portion of it away from the meat and bones. Then use paper towel to grip the silver skin and pull it back away from the ribs, and then discard.
  2. And if you're working with full slabs, you may want to cut them into half slabs, making them easier to manage.
  3. Sprinkle 2/3 of the rub over top, meaty side of the ribs and massage it into the meat. Turn the ribs over and season with the remaining rub mixture, massaging it into the second side as well.
  4. Preheat your oven to 300°.
  5. If working with long slabs, cut in half. Then wrap each half slab in 2 layers of aluminum foil, crimping at the top and folding up the ends. Place the wrapped ribs onto a foil-lined, rimmed, metal baking sheet.
  6. Bake on the middle rack of your preheated oven for 2-1/2 hours. Check by inserting a cake tester, metal skewer or fork into the top of the foil until you enter the thickest part of the rib meat (try again if you hit bone 😉). If it glides through, the ribs are done. If not, return back to the oven for another 30 minutes. Check and repeat if necessary.
  7. Once baked, make the sauce. (jump down to find the instructions for making the sauce).
  8. Brush a portion of the homemade sauce on the meaty side of the ribs.
  9. Preheat your grill to 400-425°. Place the ribs (saucey side down) onto your preheated grill. Brush the underneath side with sauce and continue to grill with the lid open. Repeat brushing and turning the ribs until the sauce and ribs have caramelized. Repeat as desired.
  1. After the ribs have baked, slip on some oven mitts and carefully pick up one of the wrapped ribs. Over a bowl, make a small tear in the foil to drain the rib liquids. Repeat with the remaining foil wrapped ribs until all liquds have been drained into the bowl.
  2. Once the cooking liquid has been drained (and saved!), you can unwrap the ribs and place them on a clean rimmed metal baking sheet.
  3. Pour the cooking liquids into a gravy separator (linked below) and pour only the cooking liquids in to a medium saucepan, leaving the fat behind and discard.
  4. Next measure and add in the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often. (now you can jump back up for grilling instructions).

Sweet-and-Smoky Baby Back Ribs

Serves: 8 / Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus chilling time) / Total time: 2 hours

Remove the thin membrane on the back of the ribs, starting at one end of the rack and pulling toward the other. Unless you are using a rib rack, cut the ribs into four or five portions so that they will fit nicely on the grill. Place the ribs in a large roasting pan and pour the bourbon over them. Chill them for about an hour, turning the ribs often. Pour off and discard the bourbon.

Whisk together all the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle the rub mixture over both sides of the ribs.

Refrigerate 1 hour. Meanwhile, place the wood chips in a medium bowl and pour the beer over them. Let stand 1 hour.

Preheat or prepare the grill for indirect cooking, meaning you will cook the ribs away from the heat source.

Remove 1 cup of the wood chips from the beer and drain. Scatter the chips over the coals. Fill a foil loaf pan halfway with water and place opposite the coals. Place grill grate on grill. If using a gas grill, put the soaked chips in a foil packet with holes poked in it or use a smoker box.

Arrange ribs on the grate above the loaf pan and away from the direct heat.

Close the lid, positioning the top vent directly over the ribs. Check the temperature by placing the stem of an instant-read thermometer through the vent with the gauge on the outside, it should register about 325 degrees. After about 40 minutes, the temperature will start dipping down but don't let it fall below 275 degrees. Adjust vents if needed by opening them wider to increase the heat or closing to decrease the heat.

You can heat more charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney starter to have ready in case the temperature dips below 275 degrees. Use tongs to add briquettes.

If you need to add more wood chips, drain the remaining 1 cup of wood chips and sprinkle over the charcoal. Place the grate with the ribs back on the grill, cover and continue cooking until the ribs are very tender and the meat pulls away from the bones, about 45 minutes longer.

During the last 15 minutes of grilling, brush on the sauce.

To make the Bourbon Barbecue Sauce: In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk together 2 cups ketchup, ½ cup mild-flavored molasses, ⅓ cup bourbon, ¼ cup Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of your favorite hot pepper sauce, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and the flavors blend, about 15 minutes.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2000 issue, and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

443 calories (53% from fat), 26 grams fat (10 grams sat. fat), 26 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 1,035 mg sodium, 103 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber

It's time to Barbeque:Ribs: Caribbean Pineapple Baby Back Ribs with Chile Rub. (Photo: Regina H. Boone, Detroit Free Press)

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