Ribs Made Simple

By Bill Turner

Summertime is upon us — women look better, beer tastes colder and, for some reason, we’re drawn like a magnet to the outside grill.

In past issues of At The Lake, we’ve talked about some great grilling ideas. In the summer 2013 issue, our Cuisine article was entitled “Summer Grilling Surprises” and we highlighted:

  • Argentinean flank steak
  • Six-pack chicken
  • Smoked brisket

In the Autumn 2016 issue we presented:

We invite you to check out the Cuisine section of our website, where you’ll find all these recipes. Check them out and then print them to create a mini-cookbook.

This summer, let’s talk about ribs on the grill. They are inexpensive, healthier than you think, and easy to prepare, especially with our KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) recipe.

When we talk about ribs on the grill, we are talking about pork ribs. We are not talking about beef ribs such as a standing rib roast, which is a wonderful dish, generally roasted in the oven, and typically a wintertime favorite. The other rib cut from beef is the short rib which is cut from any part along the length of the cow’s ribs and can come from anywhere from the lower belly section to the shoulder (or chuck) area. These tend to be fatty but they can be rendered with slow cooking in the oven. Again, this is not really a summer dish and almost never done on the grill.


There are two types of pork ribs — spare ribs or back ribs. Spare ribs come from the lower portion of the rib cage. Often they are trimmed into a neat rectangular shape and called St. Louis-style ribs. Spare ribs are generally larger than back ribs, have more meat and fat, but are also tougher. You can often find them on sale for about $2.50 a pound.

Back ribs, or baby back ribs as they are commonly called, are generally the preferred cut. They come from the upper portion of the rib and are generally smaller than spare ribs, and they are less fatty and more tender. They are also more expensive, usually about $5 a pound.


Pork ribs are surprisingly good for you. They have a 30 percent protein content. Even the fat is relatively healthy. Fifty percent of the fat is monounsaturated, which is the same as olive oil and avocados. The remainder is mostly saturated fat, which, in moderate amounts, is now considered beneficial by many nutritionists. In any case, a good portion of the fat is rendered away during cooking. Pork has no trans fat, but it does have tons of vitamins, especially the B vitamins, including thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin and riboflavin. They are also loaded with minerals, such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium.

Probably no subject has more recipe variations than ribs. Everyone has their favorite seasonings, sauces and rubs. We have more than 500 rib contests all across the country every summer; one has a $75,000 prize. The arguments about best recipes and techniques are endless and about as interesting as most of the hunting, fishing and other stories men tend to tell when beer is involved. It’s all too complicated — we need something SIMPLE!

In the summer 2014 issue of At The Lake we presented a “Wandering Foodie” article about restaurants in the Geneva Lakes area and we talked to some of the best known rib makers. Those conversations and my own experience have convinced me that there is a simple way to prepare ribs that will still wow the crowd. I call them KISS Ribs.


To start, we have to remember that ribs are very tough and have a lot of connective tissue. The best way to “melt” the connective tissue is to bake the ribs at a medium heat for about two hours for back ribs and a little longer for spare ribs. You can do the baking any time, even the day before. When ready to serve, take the cooked ribs, add your favorite BBQ sauce and put them on a very hot grill for about 10 minutes. You will have perfect ribs that fall off the bone.

For the smokers in the crowd, we know that it is almost sacrilegious to cook the ribs first in the oven, but we urge you to give this technique a chance. Bake the ribs first, get your favorite wood chips and put the cooked ribs in the smoker for about one hour and 30 minutes. You’ll love the result and you don’t have to man the smoker all day or all night.


If you don’t have a smoker, you can set up a gas or charcoal grill for smoking. Here’s how you do it. Buy a small aluminum foil pan and some wood chips; both are usually available at the supermarket. Punch about 10 holes in the bottom of the pan with a pen or screwdriver. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 15 minutes, drain and put them in the foil pan. Set your grill for indirect cooking, which means most of the charcoal on one side or, for gas grills, one burner is on high and two are on low. Place the pan with the chips over the hottest part of the coals or over the gas burner set to high. While cooking, keep the lid closed and refrain from checking how things are going.


Servings: 4-6


  • 2 racks of back ribs or spare ribs
  • 1 can of Coca-Cola
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 16 oz. jar of Heinz Original BBQ sauce (You can use any BBQ sauce. I just think it is difficult to beat Heinz original)

The Gear:

  • 1 lb. wood chips (If you are smoking.)
  • 1 aluminum foil pan (If you’re smoking on a grill.)


  1. Put the ribs in a large roasting pan with a wire rack on the bottom.
  2. Pour the Coca-Cola over the ribs and then sprinkle salt and pepper on top.
  3. Cover the roasting pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for two hours for back ribs and two hours and 30 minutes for spare ribs.
  4. When finished, set aside covered, until ready to finish on the grill or smoker.

Grilling Method:

  1. Get grill to a high heat (at least 400 degrees).
  2. Brush a thick coat of BBQ sauce on the ribs and place them on the hot grill.
  3. Cook for five minutes on each side, basting to your heart’s delight.

Smoker Method:

  1. If using a grill, set it up for smoking as described at left.
  2. Soak the wood chips in water for at least 15 minutes; drain when ready to start cooking.
  3. Get grill or smoker to about 250 degrees and add the wood chips.
  4. Put the ribs on the smoker or the low heat side of the grill for one hour. If you really like the smoked flavor, let them go for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  5. Decision Time: Serve the ribs as they are — the purist alternative, or baste with BBQ sauce and finish on the grill — the crowd pleasing alternative.

Cut the meat into two-rib portions before serving and enjoy. You’re eating something good and also healthy.

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