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Baby Back Ribs With Szechuan Mopping Sauce

Baby Back Ribs recipe_Fire Food_photo credit David Loftus

Get in my belly! Who doesn’t love baby back ribs? Ok, so there’s a good portion of the planet that doesn’t eat meat or pork. More for us! I love digging into a rack of baby backs. Sweet, succulent, juicy meat. The rib muscles near the baby back don’t do much work so are super tender. But, because they are smaller, they can dry out if you aren’t careful. The key is slow and low love and slatherings of the mopping sauce. If you’ve been exposed to the Szechuan pepper before, then you are familiar with the numbing feeling. It’s almost got a super peppery novocaine vibe to it. The best place to find these little gems is online or in a supermarket with a good world food section.

Baby Back Ribs recipe_Fire Food_photo credit David Loftus

Baby Back Ribs With Szechuan Mopping Sauce

Christian Stevenson (DJ BBQ)
I love digging into a rack of baby backs. Sweet, succulent, juicy meat. The rib muscles near the baby back don’t do much work so are super tender.
Course Dinner
Cuisine American, Asian
Servings 4 people


  • Offset firebox or proper smoker
  • Seasoned fruit wood chunks


  • 2 racks baby back ribs

For the rub

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon mild chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard powder

For the mopping sauce

  • 250 (9 fl oz/generous 1 cup) cider vinegar
  • 250 (9 fl oz/generous 1 cup) water
  • 100 (3 1⁄2 fl oz/scant 1⁄2 cup) apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon of the rub


  • Get your ribs out the fridge an hour before the cook so that they reach room temperature. Putting cold ribs into a smoker only brings the cooker’s temperature down and you battle to bring it back up.
  • Get your smoker to 110°C (230°F) and put some lovely seasoned sweet wood on the coals.
  • The membrane! There are a couple of schools of thought on the membrane. I always used to remove it, as I wanted to penetrate the meat with as much flavour as possible from the rub and mopping sauce. But over the last couple of years, I’ve been leaving the membrane on as it can help to keep the meat moist and juicy, and also goof-proof your cooking. The last thing you want is a dry rib. The membrane usually flakes off near the end of the cook anyway. It’s really your call. You can deal with it before the cook or before you eat.
  • Put the rub ingredients in a bowl. mix well. reserve a couple of tablespoonfuls for the mopping sauce and the garnish, then sprinkle and rub the tasty concoction all over your baby backs.
  • Get your baby backs into the cooker, rib side down on the indirect heat, and slow-cook for at least an hour. You want the wood smoke to oxidize with the rub and meat to start creating a bark. After about 1–1⁄2 hours, you’ll see that the fat and connective tissue will start to break down. Your ribs should go from looking dry to a bit oily as the fats start to render. If your ribs haven’t hit that sweet spot after 1 1⁄2 hours, increase the temperature by about 8–10°C (15–20°F) until you get there.
  • After the fat has rendered, you need to mop. Get that mopping sauce made. mix the vinegar, water, apple juice, Szechuan peppercorns (whole) and reserved tablespoon of rub, and mix together in a metal bowl. I like to place the bowl inside the smoker so it heats up and all the flavours fuse together. Plus, it adds moisture to the cook.
  • Don’t baste until the fat has rendered, but once it has, baste those ribs every 30 minutes, but make sure you don’t let the hot air out any more than you have to. You need that chemical reaction to happen where the fat and connective tissues break down. If you are looking, it ain’t cooking.
  • When the ribs are ready, you want to see a mahogany colour from the oxidation of the meat and – the most important thing – the meat dance. Basically, a wobble or bend in the ribs. When the ribs are raw, they will be very loose and bendy, then, as you cook them, the ribs will stiffen up. After a couple of hours, the connective tissues and fats break down and the ribs loosen up again to give you the bend. Use your tongs to bend the ribs and check on how forgiving they are. You can also push your finger in between the rib bones to see how tender the meat is. They are done when the meat gives a little. The thing with slow and low cooking is that there’s no precise time on when your food is ready to eat. BBQ is done when it’s done. These ribs usually take around 3–4 hours.
  • Slice the ribs and serve. They will be incredible the way they are. Pure! Or, you can sprinkle a bit of the dry rub onto the ribs for that Memphis dry rub taste sensation. And if you need a sauce, these work with the Alabama White Sauce (see chicken recipe on this site) or BBQ Sauce.


Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook by Christian Stevenson (aka DJ BBQ)Recipes and images used with permission from Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook by Christian Stevenson (DJ BBQ), published by Quadrille, May 2018. Photos by David Loftus.
Keyword BBQ, Grilling, Pork

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