Not everywhere in the US you’ll get sauced ribs. In Memphis they have Memphis style dry ribs, ribs that are dusted with a rub instead of sauce when they are done.
The style of ribs originates at Charles Vergo’s. In 1948 he was cleaning out the basement under his diner in downtown Memphis and discovered an old coal chute. Charlie got the bright idea to use the chute as a chimney and all of a sudden he could sell ribs next to his ham and cheese sandwiches.
At Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous they grill the ribs at a pretty high heat, about 175°C / 350°F and not indirect but right above the fire. They do keep about 60 cm / 2 feet in between the fire and the meat so the direct radiation heat doesn’t reach the meat. What does happen is that the juices from the meat drip into the fire and evaporate, this gives the meat a distinguished flavor. During the cooking process the ribs are mopped with a thin, vinegar based sauce and at the end a rub is added. The result is ribs with a very different flavor and texture.
We’ve eaten twice at the Rendezvous and both times the ribs where fantastic. The rubs had Greek influences which shouldn’t come as a surprise since the Vergo family is from Greek origin. What we also clearly noticed in the rub was cumin and that cumin is not something you’ll find in most of the Memphis dry rub recipes.
Since I wanted to recreate the ribs I tasted in Memphis I made a rub that uses a lot of the typical Greek herbs and I added enough cumin to get close to the rub they use at the Rendezvous.
I used babyback ribs with a lot of meat on them, the kind of ribs they serve you at the Rendezvous. Mine were done in two hours. If you’re using spareribs they should be done in about the same time. Regular babybacks will take about an hour and a half.
They took us right back to that basement in Memphis!
Since I don’t have a barbecue like at Rendezvous I used my WSM without a waterpan. An Ugly Drum Smoker without heat deflector will give the same result.
If you don’t have such a barbecue you can still make these Memhis style dry ribs on a regular kettle grill, kamado or smoker, just use the indirect method. You’ll miss the characteristic smoke flavor but you still get a very tasty rib! They took us right back to that basement in Memphis!
Memphis Style Dry Ribs
Noskos’ Memphis Dry Rub:
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt / kosher salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
¾ teaspoon selery seeds
¾ teaspoon black peper
¾ teaspoon cayenne
¼ liter vinegar
¼ liter water
4 tablespoons Noskos’ Memphis Dry Rub
2 racks meaty babyback ribs
smoke wood, hickory works well
BBQ mop or brush
When you’re using a WSM or UDS, light it, remove the water pan or deflector and use the top rack. If using an other barbecue set it up for indirect use. The temperature we’re aiming for is 175°C / 350°F.
Mix the dry rub ingredients.
Prepare the mop sauce.
Remove the membrane at the back of the ribs. I use a piece of kitchen paper to pry it loose.
Put the ribs on the smoker and add the smoke wood. Two chunks is plenty.
Mop the ribs every 15 minutes.
After 1½ to 2 hours the ribs will be done. You can test this by sticking a tooth pick in between the bones, it should enter with very little resistance.
Take the ribs of the smoker, mop for the last time.
Sprinkle them with the Noskos’ Memphis Dry Rub.
Serve with mustard slaw to make your Rendezvous experience complete!