We get a lot of people asking us how to cook ribs on the grill. While there are plenty of recipes out there, we wanted to take your ribs to the next level and who better to show us how to cook ribs on the grill than Chef Kevin Gillespie. 

In this post and demonstration video, Chef Gillespie is going to take us through his process on grilling some Cuban-inspired baby back ribs using our pecan smoking wood

For this recipe, we’re going to be using pecan cooking wood splits, which are the perfect size for live-fire cooking in most types of grills.

Setting Up Your Fire

The first thing to do is get the fire set up is to stack some wood splits in the bottom of the grill. Nothing fancy, just a simple tee-pee set up to ensure proper airflow and get the wood burning towards a nice bed of hot coals.

The beautiful thing about buying this firewood for cooking from Cutting Edge is that they come with everything that you need to get started. This includes some kindling, cooking splits, and even a box of matches! 

Once the fire is up and running, we just need to let it do its work for about 45 minutes, before we actually put something on the grill. 

The goal when cooking over wood, in this specific instance, is that you don’t want to cook over a live, openly burning fire. Believe it or not, what we want is to let the wood burn down to the point where you’re cooking over the coals that are generated by the burning wood. 

There’s definitely some preplanning required anytime you’re cooking with wood, so you’ll want to schedule your time accordingly, but rest assured that the end result will pay off in enormous (and delicious) dividends.

Preparing Your Baby Back Ribs

While your fire is burning down to coals, it’s time to start prepping the ribs.

Baby back ribs are cut from the back section of the pig.  Unlike spareribs or other, tougher, cuts that take a long time to cook, baby backs are already nice and tender. 

The key to perfectly grilled baby back ribs is to keep all of that great natural pork flavor and moisture and add just a little additional flavoring in the form of herbs, spices, and maybe a light sauce.

As this is a Cuban-inspired preparation, we’re going to season both sides of the ribs with some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, and then add a mix of raw coriander and raw cumin seeds for that authentic flavor. 

It’s important to make sure that both the coriander and the cumin seeds used are raw because you’re going to be cooking them on your grill with the pork, so the seeds will naturally toast in that hot environment. 

This means that there’s no reason to toast them in advance.

Grilling Your Baby Back Ribs

Now that the ribs are seasoned, there’s one last thing we need to do before they go on the grill. 

For proper airflow, your pecan splits were ignited in the center of the cooker. However, as we want to cook our ribs indirectly, we need to push those coals to one side of the cooking chamber, leaving a cooler “cooking” side of the grill for our ribs.

Also, this is a good time to add a couple of more splits, preferably ones with some bark still on them. Not only will this help “bank” your fire for temperature control, and reduce flare-ups, but bark produces more smoke than plain wood, so the ribs will get a heavier injection of smoke and more intense flavor from the beginning of the cooking time. 

Once the fire is properly situations, and fresh wood has been added, replace the grill and set the ribs over the offset side to cook. Place the lid on top of the grill and let your ribs get cooking.

This is the hardest part of the whole recipe…DON’T PEEK! 

Just leave the lid on, keeping the heat and smoke at a consistent level in the cooking chamber for the full 45 minutes.

Keep in mind that baby back ribs are, as we mentioned above, already very tender and so they don’t need a lot of cooking time. The first mistake people make when working with baby backs is assuming that they have to cook for several hours like spare ribs or pork shoulders. Both of which require a long cooking time to become tender. 

With baby backs, you’re really trying to get them just cooked through like you would a thick pork chop. Once your baby back ribs have cooked to an internal temperature of about 155 to 160 ° F (about 45 minutes), they’re going to be nice and tender but still very, very juicy.  Any longer, however, and they can become dry and tough.

At this point, you should see moisture beginning to bead up on the surface of the ribs, as those natural juices rise to the top. This is a good sign that your pork ribs are done cooking.

A Note About Smoke: You definitely want the smoke in this flavor profile from the very beginning of your cooking time. Look for a nice plume of white smoke from your chimney.

If the smoke is a dark gray and more of a smudge, that’s going to have some off-putting flavors, which will effect the flavor of the meat. You want nice clear white smoke coming out of the top, and the best way to achieve that is by partially closing the baffles on the top and the bottom of the cooker.

This method of grilling ribs won’t produce a huge smoke ring because, obviously, they only spend less than an hour cooking in the smoke. Still, adding that additional bark-on wood at the very beginning does make an enormous difference to the overall flavor.

Saucing & Serving

As this dish is really influenced by Cuban cuisine, we’re taking flavor inspiration from classic Cuban dishes like pork shoulders and Lechon (whole roast pig). 

To do that, the predominant flavors here are going to be cumin and coriander which we’ve  already used as a seasoning on the ribs directly, along with salt and black pepper.

By adding the remaining raw cumin and coriander seeds to some melted butter, lime zest, and lime juice, we’re creating a simple, but very flavorful Cuban-inspired finishing sauce to toss the ribs in before serving. Allowing this mixture to simmer for 8-10 minutes will roast the raw seeds and add their flavor to the sauce.

The purpose of a thin barbecue sauce like this is to allow the flavor of the pork and the natural wood smoke to shine through, and not let it get covered up with a thick or heavily flavored sauce.

The fresh lime juice helps to cut through the fat of the meat and in the butter, but the real flavor and acidity is in the zest on the outside. Citrus fruits add a lovely brightness to many grilled meats, especially pork.

While the sauce flavors combine, hold each rack of ribs upright using tongs and, with the bone as your guide, separate each rib from the rack by slicing downward with a sharp knife. Properly cooked ribs will cut very easily.

Add the cut ribs into the sauce pot and toss to coat them lightly and evenly. 

Plate your ribs and finish them with a generous sprinkle of fresh coarsely chopped cilantro. 

That’s it! 

These grilled baby back ribs are a very simple dish that really speaks to its core ingredients and the Cuban flavor profile of the pork, the seasonings, and (of course) the smokey goodness of some really beautiful kiln-dried pecan cooking wood.

We hope you enjoyed this video and recipes, and as always…cooking over wood makes all the difference!


THE RECIPE:

Cuban-Style Baby Back Ribs on the Grill

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 Racks of Pork Back Ribs (1 1/2 to 2 pounds each)
  • 2 tablespoon coriander seeds, raw
  • 2 tablespoon cumin seeds, raw
  • 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the sauce:

  • 8 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lime zest
  • 1 lime juiced
  • Remaining coriander and cumin seeds

Steps

Step 1: Start your cooking fire in your grill and allow it to burn down to coats (about 45 minutes).

Step 2: Season the ribs with salt, pepper, and ½ of the raw cumin & coriander seeds.

Step 3: Reposition your coals for offset cooking, and add 1-2 splits (bark on).

Step 4: Place ribs over indirect heat on the grill, cover, and let cook for 45 minutes.

Step 5: While ribs are cooking, combine sauce ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Set aside and keep warm. 

Step 6: When ribs have finished cooking, remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice each rib off of the rack, using the rib bone as a guide for your knife.

Step 7: Add cut ribs into the sauce and toss them to coat evenly. 

Step 8: Plate ribs and finish with a sprinkle of fresh coarsely chopped cilantro. 

Serve.