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posted May 19, 2022

Memphis Style Dry Rub Ribs

These Memphis style ribs are a BBQ staple and a recipe that every BBQ enthusiast should have in their back pocket. Smoky and tender, with a perfect amount of seasoning from my homemade Memphis dry rub, they bring all the flavor to a weekend BBQ.

Sliced Memphis style dry rub ribs arranged in a pile on a wood cutting board with text overlay - Memphis Style Dry Rub Ribs.

What are Memphis Ribs?

Memphis ribs are world famous because of their famous origins. They hearken back to a side alley in Memphis in the 1940s when the now legend Charlie Vergos opened up his spot, Rendevous. Charlie’s ribs were unique. They were grilled at a higher temperature, spritzed or mopped often, and seasoned liberally with his secret, signature dry rub seasoning. 

Nowadays, many pitmasters in Memphis have added their take on the “Memphis style” rib and their recipes are more unique and varied. You can even specify how you want your ribs in most Memphis BBQ spots. You’ll order the ribs and the person taking your order will ask “wet or dry”. That means do you want your ribs wet: slathered with sauce, or dry: sprinkled with more of their tasty dry rub.

I like a saucy rib most of the time, but when I’m in Memphis, it is dry all the way for me. My version of a Memphis style rib pays homage to the original. They’re smoky, crispy, and perfectly seasoned.

Hand sprinkling dry rub seasoning onto raw baby back ribs sitting on a metal baking sheet

Are Memphis Ribs Made From Baby Backs or St. Louis Style Ribs?

A topic of debate among the BBQ historians is the type of rib traditionally used for Memphis style ribs. Some say the originals were St. Louis Style ribs (fattier, longer bones cut from the spare ribs). Others argue that it is baby backs (smaller, curved bones) that graced the early Memphis BBQ tables. 

Based on my experience eating my way through Memphis BBQ joints, the most commonly served are baby backs. (Although I did get some epic St. Louis style Memphis ribs a little way outside of town.) My recipe calls for baby back ribs, however, if you prefer or can only find St. Louis spare ribs, you can absolutely use them in this recipe. They may just take a little longer to cook depending on the thickness of your ribs.

Spray bottle being squeezed and liquid misting on to the smoking ribs below.

Memphis Ribs

Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what makes my Memphis style ribs so delicious. I really wanted to offer an experience so authentic, you won’t even have to hop on a plane to get that Memphis flavor from your own backyard.

It all starts with the Memphis dry rub (print the recipe out so you have it handy). It is the perfect balance of sweet and savory to create a complete flavor profile on your ribs. The spritz is a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar to give you some acidity (like you would get in a great BBQ sauce) and some sweetness. This spritz also helps the color on the bark really come along while the ribs are smoking.

These ribs are very SIMPLE, and that’s what I think makes them so great. You get to focus on just a few things without too many extra steps and it really allows you to feel like a true pitmaster. All you really need is good ribs, clean smoke, a great dry rub seasoning, and your spritzing liquid. From there, you get to sit back, watch your fire, and check your ribs for the perfect level of tenderness.

Close up image of Memphis style ribs on a smoker. Rib color is a dark reddish brown.

How to Cook Memphis Style Dry Rub Ribs

Remember, simplicity is key here. No braising, wrapping, or saucing, but plenty of finger licking once the ribs are done. 

  1. Preheat your smoker. These ribs are smoked at a higher temperature of 275 degrees F using hickory wood.
  2. Prepare your ribs. Remove the papery membrane on the back of your ribs and trim off any loose pieces of ribs or thick pieces of fat. Using your Memphis Dry Rub, season your ribs liberally on both sides and press the seasoning in with your hands (don’t actually rub it).
  3. Smoke your ribs. Get your ribs on the smoker (bone side down) and close the lid. Don’t peek or lift the lid at all for the first hour.
  4. Begin spritzing. Combine the apple cider vinegar and apple juice in a spritzing bottle (this is my favorite). Spritz the ribs every 30 minutes after the first hour. 
  5. Spritz and smoke. Keep your temperatures at 275 degrees F and the spritz hitting the ribs every 30 minutes until those ribs are tender. The meat will start to pull away from the bones about 1/4 inch and the color will turn a nice, deep mahogany. If you pick up the ribs on one end with your tongs, they will bend easily and the top of the ribs will start to shred apart. You can also look for an internal temperature of around 200 Degrees F with your instant read probe thermometer (although temps can be tricky to read on ribs, don’t hit any bones!) The total time of the ribs on the smoker is typically 4.5-5 hours. 
  6. Season the ribs again. Once your ribs are ready, take them off the smoker and place them on a cutting board. Let them rest for about 15 minutes. Season the ribs with another dusting of your Memphis dry rub seasoning before slicing and serving. 

And that, my friends, is an American classic. Memphis style ribs. 

Overhead view of a rack of smoked baby back ribs on a wood cutting board. Seasoning has been sprinkled on top of the ribs.

More Ribs Recipes

If you are a rib aficionado (like myself), then you might just fancy giving these other smoked rib recipes a try!

Memphis Ribs Recipe

Let us know what you thought of this recipe in the comments section below! We love creating a community of backyard BBQ heroes who are ready to tackle anything on the grill or smoker.

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Note: This post was originally published in August 2020. We recently updated it with more information and helpful tips. The recipe remains the same.

Sliced Memphis style dry rub ribs arranged in a pile on a wood cutting board.

Memphis Style Dry Rub Ribs

Susie Bulloch (heygrillhey.com)
These Memphis Style Ribs are a BBQ staple and a recipe that every BBQ enthusiast should have in their back pocket. Smoky and tender, with a the perfect amount of seasoning from my homemade Memphis dry rub
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time : 20 mins
Cook Time : 5 hrs
Resting Time : 15 mins
Total Time : 5 hrs 35 mins
Servings : 6 people
Calories : 467kcal

Video

Ingredients
 

Memphis Rubs Spritz

  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  • Preheat your smoker. These ribs are smoked at a higher temperature of 275 degrees F using Hickory wood.
  • Prepare your ribs. Remove the papery membrane on the back of your ribs and trim off any loose pieces of ribs or thick pieces of fat. Using 3 Tablespoons of your Memphis Style Dry Rub, season your ribs liberally on both sides and press the seasoning in with your hands (don't actually rub it).
  • Smoke your ribs. Get your ribs on the smoker (bone side down) and close the lid. Don't peek or lift the lid at all for the first hour.
  • Begin spritzing. Combine the apple cider vinegar and apple juice in a spritzing bottle. Spritz the ribs every 30 minutes after the first hour.
  • Spritz and smoke. Keep your temperatures at 275 degrees F and the spritz hitting the ribs every 30 minutes until those ribs are tender. The meat will start to pull away from the bones about 1/4 inch and the color will turn a nice, deep mahogany. If you pick up the ribs on one end with your tongs, they will bend easily and the top of the ribs will start to shred apart. The total time of the ribs on the smoker is typically 4.5-5 hours.
  • Season the ribs again. Once your ribs are ready, take them off the smoker and place them on a cutting board. Let them rest for about 15 minutes. Season the ribs with another dusting of your Memphis dry rub seasoning before slicing and serving.

Notes

Memphis Dry Rub Recipe: https://heygrillhey.com/memphis-dry-rub/

Nutrition

Calories: 467kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 130mg | Sodium: 169mg | Potassium: 570mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 301IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 157mg | Iron: 5mg
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