• Photography by Mark Roper (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Want to make deliciously messy, tender pork ribs? Melbourne chef Lance Rosen, a pioneer of American-style “low and slow” BBQ in Australia, shows us how.
Lance Rosen

21 Jan 2016 - 4:32 PM  UPDATED 22 Jan 2016 - 1:28 PM

I love ribs, all of ’em. Beef ribs are great, lamb ribs are tasty; however, pork ribs are the only ribs that are judged in a Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned competition (the KCBS is a heavyweight of the competition BBQ arena, with more than 15,000 members). And Kansas City BBQ was my first BBQ love. BBQ may not have been invented here, but some think it was perfected here (although Texas beef brisket, whole hog in the Carolinas, and pork sandwiches in Memphis are pretty close to BBQ perfection too!).

The flavours of Kansas City are like coming home for me, and I ate some excellent pork ribs there.

Kansas City is home to more than 100 BBQ restaurants and has more BBQ restaurants per capita than any other city, making it the BBQ capital of America. The city straddles two states – Kansas and Missouri; it’s also a railway hub and sits at the meeting point of the Kansas and Missouri rivers. All of which makes it a central distribution point, and means Kansas City does not want for a variety of livestock. There, they love pork as well as brisket, ribs, sausage links, turkey, chicken and saucy beef brisket.

I ate a lot of BBQ in Kansas City, when I roadtripped through the southern parts of America with my family in 2014. (A quick note here on terminology – by “BBQ” I mean the “low and slow” style of American BBQ. You can read more about the difference between barbecue and BBQ in my guide to making the ultimate BBQ pulled pork).

The flavours of Kansas City are like coming home for me, and I ate some excellent pork ribs there. 

This Kansas City rib recipe would have to be my favourite of all the rib recipes out there. Dry-rubbed, big- flavoured, sweet and sticky, it ticks every box! Here are my top tips, and recipe, for making outstanding ribs:

Ultimate Kansas City BBQ ribs

• When shopping for pork ribs, look for ribs that don’t have ‘shiners’ i.e. the shiny bones from the ribs where the butcher has cut too close to the bone. Meaty ribs are great, but not when the meat has been cut from the loin and has no fat. 

• Pork ribs can be purchased in several forms. The loin ribs, from “high on the hog”, are known as baby back ribs and can be identified by the C-shaped curve of the bone. The spare ribs are from lower down, towards the belly, and might have the feathery bacon bones in them. When these feathery bones are trimmed and the spare ribs are in a more rectangle shape, this is referred to as the St Louis cut (top left). The feathery bones can be cooked alongside the other ribs and are known as rib tips.

• Before cooking, trim off any excess fats that may not render and remove the silver skin membrane from the rear of the ribs.

•Brush the ribs with American mustard (that’s a sweeter style of mustard, the sort you’d put on a hot dog). When I think of pork, some of the obvious combinations come to mind like mustard and apples. They complement the pork flavour without changing it. A lot of people would spritz the ribs whilst they are cooking with apple juice.

• Next, sprinkle liberally with the rub mixture. The use of spice rubs that usually have a little kick of pepper or chilli and celery seed in the flavourings is typical of Kansas City BBQ. Consider rubs as seasonings for the meats. Fresh spices are essential when making rubs (I go to an Indian grocer as I know their spices are fresh).

• Adding sweet elements (my rub recipe uses brown sugar and white sugar) is important to help caramelisation while cooking your ribs. Sweetness is used in small quantities in larger cuts of meat. This is due to the longer cooking times and the potential for the sugars to burn over a long cook and taint the flavour of the meat.

• To get layers of flavour in your ribs, seasoned salts are good to use. Lawry’s seasoned salt or a garlic salt can help build the flavour profile.

• Spicy heat can be added in many forms from chilli in all its guises to pepper and even dried ginger powder. Paprika can add a base for many of the other spices and aromatics such oregano and celery seed should be used in small quantities so as not to dominate. 

• Place on the smoker (no smoker? no problem. Read my tips on alternatives here) and cook at 110ºC for around 3 hours or until the spices have set. Check the spices by doing a scratch test. When you scratch the rub with a fingernail, the rub should have set and not come off. If the rub is still wet and comes off, the meat needs to stay in the smoker longer before wrapping.

• Remove the ribs and place them meat side up on a large piece of silver foil. Sprinkle with brown sugar, apple juice and agave syrup. Flip the rib over with the meat side down and repeat the sprinkling process. Wrap the ribs up tight in foil and continue to wrap until all the ribs are well covered. Place the ribs back on the smoker for another hour for baby backs and two hours for spare ribs. I use this technique to ensure the ribs are tender throughout. If you cook them without wrapping and the meat is lean, it will dry out and not have the tenderness that most people associate with eating ribs.

• After 4 hours, use a toothpick to check the tenderness of your ribs by inserting the toothpick in the thickest part of the meat, between the bones.

• Remove the ribs from the smoker, retain all the meat juices and place the unwrapped ribs back on the smoker for 45 minutes to an hour. Continue to glaze them with the juices. I finish them out of the foil to dry the surface a bit and then give them the glaze to create a sticky sweet BBQ finish.

Barbecue sauce

• Another key element if you’re cooking BBQ Kansas City-style is the sauce. This is probably the most recognised style of barbecue sauce in the world: tomatoey, thick, sweet and often with a hint of spice. Just the thing to serve with these ribs. My recipe – find it here – will keep for about three weeks in the fridge. 


As well as my Kansas City BBQ ribs (get the detailed recipe here) and that kicking sauce, I’ve also got two recipes for things to serve with the ribs:

Mmmmm… ribs and onion rings. It’s a classic combination and people LOVE fried onion rings. Here’s what to look out for to cook great rings. Freshly cut onions will give you the best product and the thicker the onions are cut, the lower the oil temperature should be to ensure that the onions are cooked at the same time as the coating. However, remember that the hotter the oil, the less greasy the finished product will be. When you’ve finished making your onion rings, the onion-flavoured oil is fantastic to drizzle over steamed fish. 

I’ve also included my iced tea recipe, a refreshing and sweet match to the luscious ribs and punch of the onion rings. While we were travelling I developed quite an addiction to the sweet tea, we found in every venue. It is served very sweet but I figured it’s a Southern thing and went with it. It gets really addictive and I couldn’t get enough of it! There, I’ve said it, I’m Lance and I’m addicted to sugar (and iced tea!). 


This is part three of our Ultimate BBQ series. In part one, Lance shares everything you need to know to make the ultimate BBQ pulled pork and in part two, amazing BBQ chickenFor all the recipes, including sides, desserts and drinks, our guide to American BBQ and tips on smoking, head here.


Photography by Mark Roper. Styling by Vicki Valsamis. Food preparation by Lance Rosen and Merryl Batlle. 

A pioneer of American BBQ in Australia, Lance Rosen is the founder of Melbourne's Big Boy BBQ restaurant, and the author of  the award-winning book Temples Of BBQ ($49, hb). Buy it here and see our review here. This article was co-written by Hilary McNevin. 


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