It has been years since I learned to make competition-worthy barbecued baby back ribs. And I still consider myself lucky to have learned from some of the best in the business.
My first year at the barbecue competition in Memphis in May, the head cook from a team called Bubba’s Bunch befriended me and taught me to make ribs the same way barbecue great John Willingham did. Willingham was the creator of the amazing all-purpose barbecue rub known as W’ham Seasoning. And it is amazing stuff.
Following my rib tutorial, I made those ribs more times than I can count, and have taught them many times in my barbecue classes. I named the recipe after the team who taught me, and they are perfect for a first-timer. Or if you are like me, it may become your go-to recipe for ribs.
All you need are a love of great barbecue and three ingredients — meaty baby back ribs, lemons and my W’ham-inspired rib rub. You can make these on a gas or charcoal grill or a smoker.
If you have never made ribs before, you need to know a few things. Buy a meaty rack with no “bone-shine.” This means that you should inspect your ribs to see how close the butcher got to the bone when they were cutting the ribs. If you can see a bit of the top of the bone on the rack when it is raw, there isn’t enough meat on the ribs. When the ribs are cooked and the meat recedes from the bone, you will have a very bony rack. Make sure you buy racks of ribs that weigh 2 to 3 pounds each.
Most recipes will tell you to remove the membrane from the ribs (and I used to do it, too). But the more I cooked ribs, the more I liked leaving the membrane on the back. One reason is that it holds the ribs together — especially important if there is any bone-shine — and it also is a good indicator of when the ribs are done. When the membrane pulls away from the back of the rack and looks like translucent parchment paper, you know the ribs are done. If you want, you can remove the membrane before you cut and serve the ribs.