Kansas City Ribs, with their smoky, tomato-based, slightly spicy sauce are a perfect barbecue recipe. Make the sauce alone, or follow this recipe to learn how to convert your charcoal grill into a smoker to cook the ribs low and slow.
When we completed our latest cross-country drive the summer of last year, we decided to plan our stops based on major barbecue cities in the United States. We stopped in Kansas City and picked up ah-mazing barbecue from Joe’s Kansas City at their original gas station location. Stopped by Sugarfire in Oklahoma City, and 2 other tasty stops in Memphis and South Carolina. All were really highly rated.
At each, we tried ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. There were five of us traveling, so plenty of people to share and sample each restaurant’s menu. This summer, I’m going to re-create that trip for you somewhat and share our favorites from most of the stops. Today, we start with Kansas City ribs in the style of Joe’s Kansas City. All cooking, testing, and sauce making has been completed by the Godfather (L), the resident grill master.
We arrived in Oklahoma City around 7:30 at night, after nearly 12 hours of driving. It was a weekday, and we were trying so hard to make it to Joe’s before they closed so we could try their barbecue, which came so highly recommended by a few people we knew back in California.
I think my in-laws thought we were insane for being so insistent. We called and ordered take out to take to the hotel so we could check in, and the smell of the food was just intoxicating! L and I also picked up a bottle of the Joe’s barbecue sauce for later.
When we finally settled into our room and unpacked the food, my mother-in-law said she was just going to eat a single rib as she wasn’t very hungry. My father-in-law said about the same. We (in laws, L and I, bits for A and Dolce) demolished the whole rack! And the brisket, and the Z-Man sandwich, and everything else we ordered. But those ribs set standard for the rest of the trip, and they were never topped!
No one in the family is really a huge rib eater to begin with. The fact that these ribs had us ordering ribs from every other stop to see if they measured up is a huge deal. Kansas City ribs are amazing!
As with many things in the world of barbecue-land though, they do take a little planning, but it’s so so worthwhile. I’m really happy my mom requested these on her upcoming trip so I can eat this again soon.
You start by making a dry rub for the ribs and letting them absorb all the fabulous flavors overnight. Then the next day you set up your smoker, or in our case, a charcoal grill doubling as a smoker. Cook the ribs low and slow. Make your own barbecue sauce, baste periodically, and you’ll have the best rack you’ve ever seen by the end of the day. 😉
Seriously though, I can’t even say enough good things about these ribs. The homemade sauce caramelizes perfectly during smoking. The meat has an incredible flavor. If you follow the Godfather’s instructions, you’ll even have a little extra sauce for later! And you’ll just ask yourself “Where have Kansas City ribs been all my life?”, but the answer won’t matter, because they’re here now.
This sauce is really good, like a pretty spot on copycat of the bottle we purchased, only homemade of course. The usual spice suspects are included: sugar, chili powder, pepper, cumin, etc, plus one international blend that you may not expect. This barbecue sauce uses garam masala! Garam masala is an Indian spice blend used in a myriad of dishes in both India and Southeast Asia. The blend varies, but it’s usually comprised of warming spices like peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger. It is used to bring balance to dishes. In this case, it makes Kansas City style barbecue sauce go from good to extraordinary!
If you’ve never tried garam masala before, you can find it in the spice aisle. It’s totally worth picking up a bottle. You may find it becomes one of your go-to spices for all sorts of dishes because of its unique flavor. I use it a lot with chicken, vegetables, and add a pinch to many of my fall soups. For example, this pumpkin butternut squash soup. Omit saffron, add garam masala and maybe a pinch of mild curry).
If you have any questions about smoking, preparation, or grilling, comment below. I’ll get them answered ASAP by the expert.
- Two racks of pork ribs
- Grill (charcoal preferred)
- Small aluminum tray
- Mesquite wood chips
Kansas City Inspired Rub
- 2T sugar
- 1T packed dark brown sugar
- 3t garlic powder
- 1 1/2t ground New Mexico chili powder
- 1 1/2t paprika
- 1 1/2t ground cumin
- 1t salt
- 1t ground black pepper
- 1t garam masala
Kansas City-inspired Barbecue Sauce
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 2T salted butter
- 2T yellow mustard
- 1 1/2T ground New Mexico chili powder
- 1T fresh lime juice
- 1t ground black pepper
- 1/2 t garam masala
- First, combine all rub ingredients in a bowl and whisk to ensure uniform consistency.
- Then, prepare the ribs for the rub by removing the thin membrane with a knife on the bones-side of each rack. Apply the rub the ribs and leave them to sit overnight bones-side down in the refrigerator.
- To prepare the sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan, and place the finely chopped onion and garlic at medium heat until they start to caramelize. Then place all remaining sauce ingredients and cook while stirring frequently until it reaches a initial boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and let sit for 45 minutes. If you have a pan safe for the grill, transfer the sauce over and maintain at the side of the grill for further simmering and smoked flavor.
- While the sauce simmers, prepare the grill for the ribs. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let it approach room temperature. Fill the small aluminum tray with the mesquite wood chips and fill with water. Ensure to leave the center of the grill open for it is direct heat source. Ensure that the grates are kept the furthest distance away from the coals, and maintain the grill temperature between 200-250 degrees F (225 F is ideal). Place the small aluminum tray one side of the grill.
- On the other side of the grill, place the ribs bones-side down either side-by-side or stacked if space is limited. Ensure that the ribs do not sit directly above the coals. Close the grill and keep the vents open no more than halfway.
- After 45 minutes, brush the barbecue sauce on top of the ribs and flip the racks to ensure even receipt of heat. Ensure that side furthest from the heat is now the closest. Apply additional charcoal to the burning coals and water to the small aluminum tray as needed to maintain temperature and smoke as needed.
- Repeat the last step every 45 minutes for at least five hours or when the bones fall apart from the meat. Remove the ribs from the grill and serve.