September 4, 2012

My take on Kansas City Style Ribs and Sauce

finger-lickin' messy but good
K.C. inspired, 
Southern influenced

Not too many recipes come from my kitchen, or back yard in this case, that I don't put my own spin on, tweak the ingredients with local fare or throw my two-cents-worth of cookery in for good measure. I do it because I can but mainly I do it because I like to see our own local produce and foodstuff used in a fitting way in somehow honoring the given recipe.

As told, the honor of this famous barbecue creation belongs to an ex-steamboat cook named Henry Perry who smoked wild game and meats of the day as in beef over open pits in an alley and in downtown Kansas City. The original sauce consisted of vinegar and black pepper with just enough tomato to give it color. Tangy with a peppery kick, it was a low cost fare for the lower income populace. He later moved to an old trolly barn and there, produced slow-cooked smoked meats to the city's masses willing to afford his slightly progressed yet still meager prices. The sauce changed over the years to a more thick tomato-molasses sauce with the addition of more spices for a much improved flavoring.

I have made several attempts of cooking this style of barbecue and enjoyed many. The one today reflects more me, a K.C. style barbecue with Gulf Coast character. And as many of you may know, I normally prefer a mopping solution when cooking ribs to baste in keeping the meat moist and tender all while introducing additional flavor. Today I am doing it a bit different, a method used in smoking meats with a drip pan underneath the meat.The indirect heat method allows the ribs to cook slow and combined with the moisture from the pan of an apple based sweet tea produces very tender, self-basting and tasty slabs of ribs. Enjoy!

Kansas City Style Ribs and Sauce
Gulf Coast style, of course
serves 4 to 6

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1 small sweet onion, minced
3 garlic toes, minced
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 -14 oz can beef broth
1 -12 oz can tomato paste
2 tablespoons yellow prepared mustard
1/4 cup cane syrup or molasses
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and when melted, add onion. Cook about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to incorporate. Allow sauce to come to a simmer, then reduce heat to low heat. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes stirring frequently.

Use to baste the ribs toward the end of cooking and as a table sauce served on the side.

Place left-over sauce in a lidded jar and refrigerate for up to a month.

If you prefer, you may run the sauce through a blender for a really smooth texture.

For the ribs:
2 slabs of ribs - pork spare ribs, baby backs or St. Louis cut (Beef back ribs are good too)
2 cups hickory chips
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 to 4 cups apple based sweet tea (sweet tea infused with apples)

Trim the fat from the ribs and remove the membrane from the bone-side of the ribs. I always like to wash the ribs under running water and pat down with paper towels to dry completely. Place ribs on a shallow roasting pan and put aside.

Soak the wood chips about 1 hour before grilling in enough water to cover. Drain prior to using either in a chip box or a homemade foil pack (see here for directions).

In a bowl, combine remaining dry ingredients (excluding the sweet tea) to make the dry rub for the ribs.

Massage the rub into the meat on both sides of the ribs. Allow to rest for an hour covered with foil. Or you can wrap in plastic-wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hrs. I used about 1/2 cup total.

Sprinkle the wood chips over the coals for charcoal grilling, or place the chip box/package over the heat source for gas grilling.

For grill cooking, place the ribs as the wood chips begin producing smoke, meat side down, next to medium hot coals (about 225 degrees F.) for charcoal cookers. For gas grills, place indirectly away from the heat source (225 degrees F.). Keep lid closed until the chips stop producing or the first 30 to 45 minutes.

Move the ribs to a wire rack positioned in a shallow pan and place the pan off the heat to indirect cooking. Pour enough of the sweet tea to cover or fill the bottom of the pan but not touching the ribs.

Close the lid and turn ribs over every 30 minutes making sure the heat is just enough to slowly heat the pan's liquid. Check the pan liquid every time and add more if needed.

Cook ribs for about 4 to 5 hours until ribs are tender and bones are protruding from the end. Baste with the Kansas City BBQ Sauce the last hour of cooking.

Remove the ribs, tent with foil and serve within 30 minutes or wrap ribs in foil and allow to rest. Slice ribs and serve with the BBQ sauce on the side.

For indoor oven cooking, omit the wood chips and add liquid smoke to the sauce if desired. Place the ribs with the rub bone side down on a rack inside a roasting pan. Add about 1/2 cup of the sweet tea to the bottom of the pan or enough to completely cover the bottom and place in a preheated 350 degree F. oven. Cook for 30 minutes, turn ribs over and cook another 30 minutes. Do not let the sweet tea reduce from the pan; add more if needed. Slather the ribs (meaty side now up) with plenty of BBQ sauce. Cover with foil and continue cooking 2 1/2 hours. You can baste with more sauce about half-way through if desired. Remove the foil, baste again with more sauce, both sides this time and cook another 15 minutes to set the sauce. The ribs will be fork tender.


  1. You know, I have never cooked in the KC bbq style, but I am intrigued. I love that you added that touch of Drick to it - that's key!! And happy birthday back to you - aren't best people born on September 8? ; )

  2. Love those ribs Drick, and putting your spin on the recipe is a must! Hubby and I were just talking about buying a smoker next season.

    Have a great weekend.