Barbecue by the Book

A Houston pitmaster’s recipe for spare ribs.

By Robb Walsh June 1, 2013 Published in the June 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

In March, for the first time in its history—or any magazine’s history, for that matter—Texas Monthly hired a barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn. His new book The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue—the first from the Anthony Bourdain imprint at HarperCollins—recounts 10,000 miles of road trips Vaughn took to 186 Texas barbecue joints across the state, rating every spot he visited on his website, Full Custom Gospel BBQ. The book includes this recipe from Houston’s own Adrian Handsborough, the pitmaster at Virgie’s on Gessner.

Virgie’s Spare Ribs

  • Meat: 4 ½-lb rack of pork spare ribs. Use fresh ribs, not those vacuum-packed in a salt solution. Pat dry before rubbing. 
  • Rub: Make a paste with seasoned salt and Italian dressing and rub at least 8 hours before the ribs go on the pit.
  • Wood: Post oak seasoned at least 
  • 6 months.
  • Pit: Offset barrel made with thick gauge steel.
  • Fire: The pit temp varies from 250 to 275 degrees.
  • Time: Let it go 4 ½ to 5 hours before checking the meat temperature. Turn it every hour or so and mop the meat (mop recipe not divulged).
  • It’s Done When: The internal temperature at the thickest rib is 165 degrees.
  • Rest: For at least 30 minutes.
  • Pro Tip: Cut off the brisket bone or sternum (often sold as “regulars” in Houston) before smoking the rack and smoke it separately. After cooking remove the two small ribs on either end of the rack. Adrian saves these off cuts for special requests or for hungry folks in the neighborhood who need something cheap to eat. (Editor’s note: you can also enjoy them yourself—many home barbecuers call them the “cook’s treat.”)
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