Ribs: Wet vs. Dry



There are some things in life that are just better wet than dry: Slip N' Slides, for example. Shaving comes to mind (as anyone who has ever suffered through a dry shave can attest), and yes, pork barbecue. I want sauce on my slow-cooked, Memphis-style, baby-back barbecue ribs, and let me tell you why.

Eating barbecue ribs isn't your everyday burger and fries meal; it's an experience, a journey you undertake from the instant the smoky scent smacks you in the face. Why do all great barbecue joints casually toss in a handful of moist towelettes with your meal? Because it's an invitation, a call to arms to dig into your sauce-soaked slab, regardless of personal pride or your own safety. You have to get messy eating ribs. It's in the barbecue bylaws. 

Sauce on your slab also offers a sense of individuality that dry ribs can't match. No one can tell you how to eat your ribs. You have the ability to personalize your meal, the power to manipulate the taste that can range from tangy to sweet to spicy with as much or as little sauce as you need.

Wet rib detractors claim that any grilling novice can slap enough sauce on a rib to make it taste good. Not true. Cooking wet ribs entails a long process of slow cooking and proper basting. The sauce must complement the meat, a tangy Bert to the ribs' Ernie. A good barbecue sauce is a delicacy, and fortunately for those in these parts, not a rare commodity.

So, by all means, don't be afraid to ask for your ribs wet. Order them proudly, handle them with reckless abandon, and realize that once you've sucked every bite from the bone, there's another round of goodness patiently sticking to your fingers.

-- Drew Ermenc 

Wet can be good. For flowers, goldfish, bathing suits. But not my barbecue ribs. In the good name of every smoked Porky -- past, present, and future -- save the sauce for your baked beans.

I've had to arm-wrestle many a Northern visitor into "risking" a rack of ribs minus the wet stuff. You see, in certain parts of the country "barbecue" means whatever you happen to lather a tangy, semisweet brown liquid over. Barbecue chicken, beef, hot dogs, shrimp, for crying out loud. Make it brown and you've got some 'cue. To suggest barbecue ribs without sauce -- here in the epicenter of barbecue's universe -- is to offer tea without ice. Well, shame, ye of little faith.

A good dry powder -- "seasoning rub," it's called -- sprinkled liberally across that blackened slab (flanked by a cup of slaw and beans) can be the most mouth-watering sensation since Pavlov first rang his bell. The beauty in eating a dry rib is that the act is more about tasting . . . than cleaning. While your wet-rib loyalist is slurping back whatever fluid he can keep from sprinkling on the tablecloth (or his lap), you casually collect the clinging crumbs of 'cue powder from your lips, now ever-widening by that distinctly Memphis smile.

Barbecue powder, you see, enhances the taste of the pork, as opposed to, quite literally, drowning it. For those unaccustomed to distinguishing, the best analogy is topping scrambled eggs with either pepper or ketchup. (If you like ketchup on your eggs, I've already lost you.)

The gold standard for rub comes from the venerable Rendezvous. Some salt, garlic powder, oregano, paprika . . . makes my taste buds dance just writing the words. And here's a tip: It tastes great on popcorn. Just keep it away from your scrambled eggs.

--Frank Murtaugh