My smoker has a firebox offset from the cooking chamber, so all of my hot smoking is with indirect heat. I use a combination of lump hardwood charcoal, and either dry soaked, or green hickory. I cook at a temperature of 210-220°F. I was taught that this makes for a much moister finished product, because the meat juices do not boil off. This also means brining isn't really necessary at these low temperatures. If I am cooking in an oven, I substitute Spanish smoked sweet paprika for sweet paprika, and Spanish smoked hot paprika for cayenne, and cook at 250°F, because most household ovens are notoriously inaccurate below 250°F.
The most famous spot for dry ribs in Memphis is Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, a deceptively huge restaurant with a little alley entrance (52 S. Second St. in Memphis). The Rendezvous does ribs differently, but they were the first to have theirs called dry ribs. They use loin back ribs, and the ribs there are cooked at higher temperatures, over direct heat, but on grills set so high above the coals that it is almost like indirect heat. Because they are cooking at higher temperatures, they also brine their ribs. They move over 4 tons (3.63 metric tons) of ribs per week, now, and as they've grown, they have had to adapt how they do their ribs in order to meet demand. They also don't use their seasoning as a rub, but in their brine and shaken on the ribs just before service. My grandfather knew Charlie from the earliest days of the Rendezvous predecessor, Wimpy's diner, and the Rendezvous used to mop the ribs and cook them a little slower than they do, now. I don't cook mine that fast, but the dry rub recipe that follows is a close approximation of the rib rub used at the Rendezvous, with my own additions.
1 tablespoon whole cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon thyme
4 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon whole mustard seed
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground bay leaf -- optional
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
Toast the cumin. Grind fine in a mortar. Transfer to mixing bowl. Grind salt and transfer to mixing bowl.
Add sugar, pepper, thyme, oregano, paprika, chili powder, mustard seed, mustard powder, coriander seed, ground coriander, bay leaf, celery seed, garlic, and cayenne. Mix thoroughly.
This is enough rub for three slabs of spareribs. For each slab of ribs, rub both sides using about 2 to 3 tablespoons of dry rub. Wrap and refrigerate overnight if possible.
Cook ribs uncovered -- on foil-lined pans -- in oven at 250°F. Allow 100-120 minutes per pound, calculated on the largest slab. Or cook over indirect heat in a smoker at 210-220°F for two hours per pound, calculated on the largest slab. The timing is only approximate. The ribs are done when the meat has drawn back from the ends of the bones by 1/4" to 3/8" all along the rack.
Half an hour to one hour before ribs are done, coat top surface with about 2 tablespoons of the dry rub. Continue cooking until done. I don't like ribs falling off the bone. I like for them to be tender and juicy, but with a little bite left. They still pull away from the bone, clean, but they aren't falling off.
- If you prefer fresh garlic, substitue a tablespoon of minced garlic for the granulated garlic. Place the minced garlic and the kosher salt in a mortar and grind together to make a paste. Mix the paste into the rub mixture until it is evenly distributed.
- If you are cooking in an oven, substitute smoked sweet and hot paprika for the sweet paprika and cayenne, to get a subtle smoky flavor on the ribs. You can always punch up the spice with some additional cayenne if you like more heat.
- Rendezvous-style means the inclusion of Greek seasonings like oregano and thyme, and the whole mustard and coriander seeds that are peculiar to the Rendezvous seasoning mixture.
- In one interview, Nick Vergos said that the ribs are soaked overnight in a proportion of 4 cups water, 4 cups cider vinegar, and 1/3 cup dry rub mixture. In another interview, he said that the liquid is a mop for use during cooking. Cooked over low, direct coals, and mopped again and dusted with dry rub at the end of cooking. The ribs are supposed to be done when 3/8" of rib bone is showing on the ribs. The published Vergos recipe doesn't include sugar or minced garlic, but the published version also doesn't include ingredients that I know are in the seasoning they use and serve at the table, either; and, the seasoning they use and serve at the table isn't the same as what they sell in the bottle in stores. The published version also calls for 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup black pepper - extremely salty.