Ideas & Inspiration

Recipe: St. Louis Ribs with Smoked Onion BBQ Sauce

Ingredients and Equipment

Ingredients for the rub (to season the ribs):

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt 
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper 
  • 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons granulated garlic 

Ingredients for the apple cider mop:

  • 2/3 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar 
  • 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauc

Ingredients for the smoked onion BBQ sauce:

  • 1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion (10 to 12 ounces), unpeeled and halved lengthwise 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1-1/4 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons prepared chili powder 
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika 


  • 3 racks St. Louis–style spareribs, each 2-1/2 to 3 pounds 

Special equipment needed:

Tip: Move quickly when basting and repositioning the ribs so the lid goes back on the smoker before too much heat is lost. When the ribs are done, a toothpick should slide through the meat as smoothly as poking a ripe banana through the peel: a little resistance at first, then an easy slide.


1. Following your manufacturer's directions, prepare a water smoker for indirect cooking over very low heat (225 degrees to 275 degrees Fahrenheit). In a small bowl, stir together all the rub ingredients. 

2. Place the rib racks, bone side up, on a cutting board. If the ribs still have the membrane attached, remove it by sliding the tip of a dull knife under the membrane covering the back of each rib rack. Lift and loosen the membrane until you can pry it up, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. 

3. Season the racks on both sides with the rub, rubbing more of the mixture into the meaty side of each rack. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the mop ingredients until the sugar dissolves. 

4. Add four hardwood chunks to the charcoal. Place the onion halves on the lower rack over indirect heat. Place the ribs, meaty side up, on the top rack over indirect heat. Smoke the onion and ribs over indirect, very low heat, with the lid closed, for 1-1/2 hours. 

5. Using long tongs, transfer the onion halves to a cutting board. Check the ribs at this point, and if the surface is starting to look dry, transfer them to a baking sheet to brush with the apple cider mop. This ensures the smoker remains at the ideal heat.


6. After brushing both sides of each rib rack with the mop, add the remaining two wood chunks to the charcoal. Cook the ribs for 1-1/2 to 3 hours longer. After each hour, brush each rack quickly with the mop, then rotate the position of each rack so they cook evenly. Add charcoal as needed to maintain the temperature.  

7.  While the ribs are cooking, peel and mince the smoked onion (about one cup). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat on the stove. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown, for five to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently. 

8. Stir in the ketchup, vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and paprika. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, about 5 minutes. 

9. The ribs are done when the meat has shrunk back from the bones by at least 1/2-inch and you can easily slide a skewer through the meat between the bones. Another good test is to lift a rack by picking up one end with tongs. If the rack bends in the middle and the meat tears easily, the ribs are ready. Discard any remaining mop. 

10. When the ribs are ready, brush both sides of each rack generously with the onion sauce. Close the lid and continue to cook over indirect, very low heat for 10 to 20 minutes. 

11. Transfer the racks to a cutting board. Let rest for five to 10 minutes. Cut between the bones into individual ribs. Serve warm with the remaining sauce on the side.