The Simplest and Best Baby Back Ribs

For perfect ribs, all you need is salt, pepper, garlic, and sugar.

From 20-ingredient dry rubs to carefully guarded sauces, if there’s one category of cooking that’s shrouded in mystery and riddled with “secret” recipes more than any other, it’s barbecue. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make cooking ribs pretty intimidating if you weren’t lucky enough to have a granddad whisper his secret rib seasoning in your ear. We’re here to tell you that the only ingredients you need for perfectly moist, meaty ribs are salt, pepper, garlic powder, and brown sugar. 

Now, what you do with these 4 ingredients matters — don’t just sprinkle them over the ribs willy-nilly. There should be twice as much salt as pepper, garlic, and sugar. The amount of salt keeps the ribs moist while cooking, and balances the heat from the pepper and the sweetness from the sugar. If you just want to make enough rub for the recipe below (it calls for 3 slabs of ribs), use the measurements listed.

However, you can scale it up to 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup each of pepper, garlic powder, and brown sugar so you have rub at the ready, and then just use 5 tablespoons of the rub when you’re ready to cook the next set of 3 slabs.

Let your ribs sit with the rub on them for anywhere from 1 to 10 hours before you start grilling — whatever amount of time your schedule allows. This is the key to getting those simple flavors deep inside the meat. 

When you’re ready to cook, fire up the grill to medium low and cook, flipping once, for about 45 minutes. What you’ll get are ribs that are tender enough to sink your teeth into, but not so soft that the meat will fall off the bone before you can bring a rib to your mouth. 

With each bite, you’ll actually taste the pork. No more hiding that flavor under a mound of spices.

Salt & Pepper Baby Back Ribs

Serves 6 to 8

3 slabs of baby back ribs, silver skin removed 
2 tablespoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper 
1 tablespoon garlic powder 
1 tablespoon brown sugar

  1. Cut each rack of ribs in half to make them easier to handle, and lay them on a baking sheet or tray.

  2. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl and rub into the ribs, front and back. Really massaging it in, and use all the rub. Cover the sheet and place in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to 10 hours.

  3. Light your grill and set the heat to medium low, with evenly distributed heat. When the grill is heated, add the ribs bone-side down, and close the lid.

  4. Let them go for about 20 minutes, then flip them. Close the lid and reduce heat to low. Let the ribs cook another 15 minutes, then check them. Move them around a little, keeping them meat-side down, so that they get even color on the meat side. Close the lid again.

  5. The ribs will need to cook for about 10 minutes more, for a total of about 45 minutes, but every grill is different. When the meat is receding from the bone and the meat is really dark and caramelized, pull them off.

  6. Let the ribs rest for about 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Photos by James Ransom