How Slow Can You Go?

When it comes  to making the most succulent ribs, the name of the game is low and slow.

Food by Chef J Frank  ◆  Photography by Mark Edward Atkinson  ◆  Styling by Tracey Lee

Smoky, piquant or sweet, ribs are a mainstay of summer grilling. We have to admit, we’ve never met a plate of ribs we didn’t like. But as much as we thrill for traditional ’Q (don’t even get us started on the subject of which sauce is the best), there is—literally—a world of possibilities when it comes to preparing this classic. Here, we offer Vietnamese, Mexican and Indian-inspired versions of ribs so tender they’re barely clinging to the bone, plus sides to complete the menu for your midsummer gathering. And for the purist? Try our recipe for what we think are the best Southern style ribs you’ll find anywhere.

For a primer on selecting from the many types and cuts of ribs as well as a list of some of our favorite butcher shops around the state, click here.

Southern Style Ribs

2 racks baby back ribs

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon onion salt

½ teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon garlic salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all spices together, reserving 1 teaspoon. Rinse the meat, pat dry and remove membrane from the back of the ribs. Sprinkle both sides of ribs with rub. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 8-12 hours. Remove from plastic and wrap in heavy duty foil, sealing edges well. Prepare grill with coals stacked to one side (or heat just one side of a gas grill). Grill the ribs over indirect heat for 2-3 hours. Carefully remove from foil and place over direct heat. Baste with sauce and grill about 20 minutes, or until rack bows when lifted and bones loosen easily from the tender meat, turning and basting frequently with sauce.

For the sauce:

1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

¼ cup honey

1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon reserved rub

Combine all in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over

medium heat, stirring often for 1-2 minutes. Remove

from heat and brush over ribs. Serve with Silver

Queen Corn Salad.

Silver Queen Corn Salad

4 ears fresh corn

1 red bell pepper, medium diced

½ green bell pepper, medium diced

½ yellow bell pepper, medium diced

3 green onions, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

½ cup cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons honey

2 ½ tablespoons fresh lime juice

salt and pepper to taste

Boil corn in salted water for 1 minute. Refresh in ice water to stop the cooking process. Dry and slice kernels off the cob. Add corn kernels and remaining ingredients to a bowl and mix well. If desired, add more honey, lime, salt and pepper to taste.

Vietnamese Ribs

1 rack of ribs, St. Louis cut

4 stalks lemongrass

4 cloves garlic

2 Thai chili peppers

2 shallots

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons canola oil

Starting on one end of the ribs, pull off the thin membrane that covers the bones and the flap of meat on the underside of the ribs. Use a knife to help loosen. Thin the lemon grass, leaving only the tender lower part of the stalks (the bottom 4-5 inches). Slice into rings and mince fine. Combine with the garlic, chili peppers, shallots, sugar, fish sauce and oil in a food processor, and process until minced fine. Pour over and massage into ribs well. Cover and marinate for 2-3 hours at room temperature.

Prepare grill with coals to one side. Once the coals have burned down (after about 30 minutes), place the ribs directly over the coals to sear well, 1 ½ minutes per side. Move the ribs to the opposite side of the grill to cook over indirect heat. Cover and cook for 2 ½-3 ½ hours, checking to make sure the coals don’t burn out, adding more if needed. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving with Asian cabbage slaw and jasmine rice salad.

Jasmine Rice Salad

1 cup jasmine rice

1 teaspoon unsalted butter


1 ½ cups water

1 cup loosely packed Thai basil

Place the rice, butter, salt, water and half of the basil (with stems) in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes. Discard basil. Spread rice on a sheet pan to cool

For the salad:

cooked rice

6 scallions, cut on a bias

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chopped

½ cup Thai basil, chopped

1 cup cooked frozen peas

For the dressing:

1 ½ tablespoons rice whine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon fish sauce

½ teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon lime juice and

1 teaspoon lime zest

Mix all ingredients together. Add to the salad and mix well. Chill before serving.

Asian Cabbage Slaw

3 cups Napa cabbage, shredded

1 cup carrot, shredded

½ cup green onion

½ fresh jalapeno, minced

¾ cup cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoons sugar

salt to taste

Combine lime juice, vinegar, oils, sugar and salt and whisk together. Toss with cabbage, carrot, green onion, jalapeno and cilantro.

Mexican Spare Ribs

2 racks baby back ribs

12 ancho chili peppers, seeded

1 ½ tablespoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

¾ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ cup white vinegar

¾ cup orange juice

¼ cup canola oil

14 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

12 sprigs of cilantro

salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

4 cups mesquite chips, soaked in water for 1 hour

Place the chili peppers in a bowl and cover with 4 cups hot water. Soak until soft—about 10 minutes—then drain, reserving ½ cup liquid. Purée chili peppers, soaking liquid, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, vinegar, juice, oil, garlic, cilantro, salt and pepper in a blender until smooth. Rub mixture over ribs, cover and refrigerate overnight. Heat  grill with coals to one side. Once coals have burned down (after about 30 minutes), spread chips over coals. Grill ribs 2-3 hours over indirect heat. Move ribs and grill over direct heat 20 minutes or until slightly charred and tender, turning and basting frequently. Let rest 10 minutes before serving with roasted tomatillo and peach salsa and sweet and spicy black bean salad.

Sweet and Spicy Black Bean Salad

6 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

3 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed

3 scallions, thinly sliced

¼ cup red onion, medium diced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

¼ cup cilantro

¼ cup parsley

½ red bell pepper, medium diced

½ yellow pepper, medium diced

1 garlic clove, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Mix the juices with the olive oil and spices. Add the beans, onions, jalapenos, herbs, peppers and garlic and mix well.

Roasted Tomatillo and Peach Salsa

8 medium tomatillos

2 large tomatoes

2 large peaches

2 jalapeno peppers

3 cloves garlic

1 medium red onion

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼ cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

¾ teaspoon salt

fresh pepper to taste

Place half of the vegetables and fruit on a baking tray. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast under the broiler about 10 minutes until lightly blackened. Cool. Place in a food processor with lime juice, cilantro, parsley and salt. Purée until coarse. Dice the remaining tomatillo, tomato and peach and add to the purée with one minced clove of garlic, ½ diced red onion and one seeded, minced jalapeno.

Tandoori Lamb Ribs

2 racks lamb ribs

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon garam masala

10 cloves garlic

1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ cup cilantro leaves

½ cup whole milk Greek yogurt

¼ cup malt vinegar

3 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 ½ teaspoons red food coloring

1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

juice of 1 lemon and more for serving

Heat cumin seed and garam masala in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Cool and grind in a spice grinder into fine powder. Purée garlic, ginger and cilantro, then add the remaining ingredients and purée further until smooth. Rub mixture over ribs–cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high and turn off burner on one side. Grill ribs, flipping once, until slightly charred and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the outside of the ribs start to burn before they are cooked through, move them to the cooler part of the grill and continue to slow cook. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving individual ribs and serving with avocado raita, herb chutney and garlic naan.

Avocado Raita

2 large avocados, pitted and mashed

1 cucumber, grated

1 small onion, finely diced

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup yogurt

1 tablespoon lime juice

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon each of chopped cilantro and mint

Whisk all ingredients together until evenly mixed.

Thin with a little water if necessary.

Herb Chutney

½ cup cilantro leaves

¼ cup mint leaves

1 cup spinach

½ -1 green chili, deseeded

3 ounces roasted pistachios

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

Blend all ingredients with 4 tablespoons water until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust with additional lemon juice and chili.

Garlic Naan

1 package of naan bread

¼ cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, warmed

1 clove garlic, minced

Mix butter, garlic, and cilantro and brush on warm naan before serving.

This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.

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