How to Cook Ribs: To Sauce or Not to Sauce?

how to cook ribs

Slab of Ribs

Ribs are one of those outdoor cooking food items that characterize the summertime.  When learning how to cook ribs the question of putting barbeque sauce on them always generates a debate.  Depending on what part of the country you hail from may generate a heated debate on which is better.

Now the people from the Memphis, Tennessee area will probably come online to tell you that a true ribs aficionado would always have their sauce on the side.  This means you have the option of eating your ribs without sauce or brushing on just a little as to not hide the taste of the meat.  These Memphis folks will insist that the true flavor of the meat must come through first and to use the sauce only to enhance that rib flavor.  I have been to Memphis for the sole reason of checking out their barbeque and I’m here to tell you that they have a point.

People that love ribs (from other areas of the country) will say that it a good idea to sauce you ribs while they cook or to do it at the end of the cooking cycle.  You can sauce them as they cook but you have to remember that barbeque sauce generally has a lot of sugar in it.  If you are cooking over high heat (grilling) then you are subject to burning.   If you are slow cooking over low heat you can add in the last 20-30 minutes.  This technique produces sweet tasting ribs.

I have eaten plenty of ribs over the years in many different parts of the country.  I have also eaten plenty as a KCBS barbeque judge.  The trend I see in judging in the eastern part of the country is that competitors are putting more and more sauce on their ribs resulting in them getting sweeter and sweeter.  This is not a bad thing as I find ribs like this very enjoyable.

When I do my own ribs, however , I find myself not using sauce.  I enjoy the flavor of the smoked meat using a light fruit wood cooked to perfection without sauce.  I don’t even put sauce on the side (although I make it available).  My guests, made up of family and friends, know that the meat will be served without sauce and they have all become converts to the “no sauce” approach.  I get a lot of raves about the flavor of the meat.

So if you are learning how to cook ribs don’t slather them in sauce.  Let the flavor come through. You will enjoy them much more.


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