Listen to this Destination: BBQ article.
“There’s nothing subtle about these ribs. These are spare ribs, not baby backs. They’re chewy fellas, but in the best possible way, yielding a mighty wave of flavor.” So writes Michael Stern about Rodney Scott’s BBQ ribs recipe in his Roadfood review.
And so it is.
The spare ribs at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston (and beyond) are anything but subtle. What you’ll find when you cook spareribs using Rodney’s recipe — using his techniques — is a rack of ribs full of flavor with the perfect “tug.”
These Ribs Do NOT Fall Off the Bone
Nor should they!
Those who think they know ribs proclaim perfection when their ribs fall off the bone.
This is one of barbecue’s greatest myths.
Understand one thing: ribs that fall off the bone are overcooked.
One of my greatest disappointments was a visit to Sticky Fingers in Mount Pleasant (now closed). My youngest son and I each ordered a rack of ribs. Here’s what I wrote about that visit many years ago:
“As I plunged my fork between two ribs and pushed forward with the knife, the meat just gave away and the ribs pushed apart.
“Uh-oh. Really? Did that just happen?
“Now, people have been told that to be good, ribs should ‘fall off the bone.’ In fact, the manager actually approached us mid-meal and asked if they were ‘fall off the bone good.’
“Ribs, properly cooked, do not, in fact, fall off the bone. And certainly, they do not mush into the plate as you try to slice between the ribs.
“In all honesty, I believe if it weren’t for what some people call “silver skin” — a membrane on the underside of a rack of ribs that cooks to the consistency of plastic if not removed — there is no way these ribs could have remained intact.
They simply could never have been picked up without falling apart without that membrane.
“Biting into them confirmed what we already knew to be true: the ribs were mush. This was true on Camden’s plate as well.”
This is not the experience you’ll regret when cooking spareribs using Rodney Scott’s BBQ ribs recipe.
Rib Meat Should “Tug” Off the Bone
At Rodney Scott’s BBQ, you’ll find ribs that leave a distinct semicircle where you bite away the meat. This is the sign of properly cooked ribs.
See the example below in this screenshot of Rodney at The Meat Hook in New York, where he filmed an episode of Prime Time with butchers/hosts Ben Turley and Brent Young. You can distinctly see where Rodney took a bite of his ribs.
That’s what you want in a perfectly cooked sparerib.
Don’t take my word for it.
What the Experts Say
“These are the best BBQ pork ribs you will ever eat. They are so good you would ask for them as your “last meal.’
“Classic Southern ribs have the same mouthfeel and bite as a tender juicy steak. Most important, they taste like pork, not just sauce.
“They tug off the bone rather than fall off the bone.“
That “tug” is what Rodney talks about when he discusses his BBQ ribs recipe.
In the Eater interview, Rodney cooks three different types of ribs using this recipe and as they sit down to sample the three, Rodney states the following:
“Just a little tug. I don’t like my rib meat falling off the bone. I like to serve my food the way that I enjoy it myself, and that’s with that tug.”
Using Rodney Scott’s BBQ ribs recipe, your ribs will have that perfect tug as well.
How Legendary Pitmaster Rodney Scott Makes Ribs
In the video above, we have cut-up a set of three different interviews in which Rodney explains his rib recipe in great detail.
To give proper credit, here are links to each of the original videos. We recommend you watch each of them in full.
- Eater Interview with hosts Ben and Brent.
- Interview posted by Food Recipes
- Cook in Place tutorial sponsored by Vanity Fair Napkins
- While not used in the video above, also check out Rodney’s Today Show appearance
Among each of these videos, Rodney reveals many of the secrets of his sparerib recipe. You simply would not have picked up these tips and tricks from the written version of Rodney Scott’s BBQ rib recipe.
(Discover one surprising ingredient he uses in this Q&A with Rodney Scott.)
The video we compiled follows Rodney through each step of the process. Taking the best parts from each of the original interviews, we piece them together in such a way as to allow you to both watch him work and hear him discuss the details of every step.
But if you prefer to read instead of watch, we have shared some of the most important information from the video below, quoting Rodney directly when possible.
You might also consider buying Scott’s new cookbook, coming out March 2021. More info about that toward the bottom of this article.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ Ribs Recipe: FAQ
What type of ribs does Rodney Scott cook at Rodney Scott’s BBQ?
“The spareribs that we use are pretty much a 10-to-12 bone spare rib. We get all of our spare ribs from local hogs,” Rodney mentioned in his interview with Food Recipes.
These are meaty ribs with great taste that are a bit more forgiving for the home cook than baby back ribs.
What wood does Rodney Scott use with his barbecue?
“I like to use the majority of oak, and every now and again I’ll add in a little hickory,” Rodney said in his interview with Eater. But we also know that he would use some pecan when he was still cooking at Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway.
That said, Rodney mentions in the Vanity Napkins video that, at home, you can use whatever heat source works for you (but secretly we all hope it’s not gas.)
At what temperature does Rodney Scott cook his spareribs?
“With that meat, I would stay around 220°. Go nice and slow because it’s not a real thick cut, 250° might cook it a little fast,” Rodney reveals during the video with Ben and Brent.
You definitely don’t want to start your ribs on a very hot pit. The “low and slow” adage applies with spareribs as well.
“Be careful on how hot the pit is. I’ve screwed up some ribs before by starting too hot. You couldn’t rip them apart they were so tough,” Rodney warned.
How and when does Rodney Scott rub his ribs?
The first thing he does is to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs “so we can let all of our secret rub and spices get into the meat.”
Rodney then gently sprinkles the rub on both sides, including under the “little flap” on the back.
“Just before I put them on the fire, I sprinkle my rub on ’em. I personally like to just add a little sprinkle over them, not a lot,” Rodney said.
Note that Rodney does not put rub on the ribs until just before they go onto the fire. We’ll learn why in a bit.
“You want to lightly sprinkle. You don’t want to put too much of Rodney’s Rib Rub on your ribs because it’s very potent.”
What’s in Rodney’s Rib Rub?
If you listen to his interview with Eater, Rodney teases the hosts about it: “We use a basic rub with some other stuff added to it. We got some paprika. And then we got some paprika. And then we put a little more paprika in there,” he says with a smile.
Rodney is a bit more revealing in his Food Recipes interview: “Our special rub is basically some paprika, a little bit of cayenne pepper, a little bit of black pepper, some kosher salt, and several other secret ingredients.”
One of those ingredients is sure to surprise you.
Does Rodney Scott rub the spices into the ribs?
“Don’t rub it in,” he said. “You rub it, and you bite into it, it’s salty.”
You will want to give the ribs a light sprinkle just before it goes on the fire and leave it alone. “When you just sprinkle it on there and give it a chance to cook through, it’s usually a better flavor.”
“Another thing I don’t like to do is, pre-rub my ribs too far ahead because if you start to rub them, and you stack them, they start massaging the ingredients all in there and then you get that saltiness that you don’t want.”
How long does Rodney Scott cook his spareribs?
The short answer is until they’re done.
In truth, cook time varies based on a number of factors, including the size and thickness of the ribs and temperature level, and consistency of the heat source.
His recipe calls for about 2 1/2 hours of cook time, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, more of a guide.
“To begin,” Rodney says, “we take the spare rib, and we put it on the pit with the thickest part of the spare rib towards the center of the pit. You always want to make sure that the thick side is over the hottest part of your grill.”
One on the pit, you’ll want to leave it alone.
At about the 90-minute mark, start looking for some nice color on the bones of the ribs, which should have started to protrude at this point.
When you see the color you want, mop them, flip them, and mop them again with Rodney Scott’s BBQ Sauce.
Then cook for about another hour.
“We flip them over because we want to cook the other side to get that equal char, nice smoky flavor,” Rodney notes.
What’s in Rodney Scott’s sauce?
The sauce ingredients have been a well-kept secret, but recently Rodney shared the recipe while making an appearance on the Today Show.
“The three must-grab spices that you should have in your cabinet are cayenne, paprika, and dark chile powder,” Scott said. Those add head and nuance. Additionally, black pepper gives bite, and pepper flakes build both heat and flavor.”
So, we could assume Rodney uses those. In addition, we’re fairly confident he uses other ingredients that he doesn’t disclose to the Today Show.
See Rodney Scott’s BBQ sauce recipe for a more complete look at what goes in his sauce.
How do you know when the spareribs are done?
“What we’re looking for is we want the bone to start protruding, to stick out just a little bit,” Rodney said.
The meat will have pulled back from the edge of the bones about a ½ inch or so. As mentioned above, those bones should have also begun to caramelize and show some nice color, as will the meat, of course.
“To finish the rib, we mop the second side and then we flip it back over again to make sure that everything is done and everything is tender.”
And how do you know if they’re tender?
“The rib starts to bend when it’s done. Once they’re at that perfect tenderness, we pull them off as they’re ready to serve,” Rodney said.
Another thing to look for when you’re looking for doneness is the sort of an undulating, mountain-range effect created by tender ribs:
“When you’ve got the tiny Himalayas there, nice color, [your ribs] should be nice and tender.”
The “Himalayas” he is referring to is are the peaks and valleys formed between each well cooked rib. The meat sinks slightly between two ribs forming valleys between the rib bones.
When the ribs bend like they do in the photo of Rodney above and you have the Himalayan effect, your ribs should be perfect.
Ribs for 8-Year Olds
“I remember having my first spare rib when I was about 8 years old,” Rodney said.
“We were cooking at home in the yard and some ribs were on the table it was tender it was juicy. Some of them had a bite to ’em. It was always my favorite part.”
With Rodney Scott’s BBQ ribs recipe, you and your 8 year old and everyone else will find your ribs to be their favorite part, too.
Rodney Scott’s Cookbook, World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day
Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day will be published in hardcover and digital format and will be released on March 16, 2021. You can pre-order this right now.
In Rodney Scott’s cookbook, he shares what makes his award-winning whole hog so special. In addition, he shares insights about his pit-smoked turkey, barbecued spare ribs, smoked chicken wings, hush puppies, and Ella’s Banana Puddin’.
More importantly, whether you’re a barbecue pro or a novice, Scott’s recipes will enable you to create these special flavors yourself.
In addition, details about building your own pit coupled with deeply felt essays on South Carolina’s culinary traditions make this more than a simple collection of recipes.
“It is also a powerful work of storytelling. In this modern American success story, Rodney details how he made his way from the small town where he worked for his father in the tobacco fields and in the smokehouse, to the sacrifices he made to grow his family’s business and the tough decisions he made to venture out on his own in Charleston.”
Rodney Scott’s cookbook is an inspirational story that reveals how “hope, hard work, and a whole lot of optimism” enabled Scott to become one of SC’s most beloved pitmasters.
Rodney Scott’s Recipes
You don’t have to wait for the Rodney Scott’s cookbook to make some of his recipes today.
While he has not shared many recipes over the years, here is one you might enjoy making in the meantime. Rodney shared this recipe for the collard greens from Rodney Scott’s BBQ.
In order to make those greens, you’ll need Rodney Scott’s BBQ sauce recipe.
And if you’re a fan of SCBBQ, check out our SCBBQ cookbook which includes this and other recipes from Rodney Scott.
- Heat the grill to between 200 and 250 degrees.
- Season each slab by sprinkling the rib rub on each side (don't actually rub it into the meat, though). Make sure you get under the flap, the little piece of meat that dangles on the bone side of the rib.
- Place the seasoned ribs on the hot grill, bone-side down and the thicker end toward the hotter area of your grill. That will ensure that the thicker part of the rib gets cooked properly.
- After 1½ hours, open the smoker or grill and look for medium-dark caramelization on the bones of the ribs.
- Reserve one cup of Rodney's Sauce to the side for serving with the ribs.
- Use the remaining cup to use the "mop, flip, mop" method by brushing or mopping the meat side with sauce then flipping the ribs over so that they are bone-side up. Mop the ribs again. Close the grill.
- Bring the grill back up to a temperature between 200 to 250 degrees.
- Cook the ribs until they have reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees, about another hour. Or better yet, use the bend test to check for tenderness and doneness.
We believe the 160° recommendation is flawed, and that it is better to use the bend test to determine the doneness of these ribs.
Learn more about how Rodney actually tests for doneness in the post above and check out this article on Amazing Ribs.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: ½ rack of ribs
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 440Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 103mgSodium: 757mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 2gSugar: 14gProtein: 22g