What to CookRib

My Lip-Smacking BBQ Ribs & the Secret Spice Blend That Makes Them Sing

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Some people like to meal prep; I don't. Or rather, I don't know that I have the dexterity or mental wherewithal to plan a week's worth of groceries for myself. I'm much too disorganized, much too lazy, and—living in New York City without a car—much too weak to carry more than a single eggplant home.

Instead, I like to make my secret Magic Spice Blend™ and rub it on whatever protein looks delicious at my butcher that day. The way I shop for food is, indeed, the way I like to live my life: out of breath, one day at a time.

Magic Spice Blend
Magic Spice Blend

In a world of unknowns, this spice blend is the one constant in my life. It’s smoky and sweet, savory and familiar. It lives in a Mason jar by my stove next to the olive oil, salt, and pepper. That's the thing about "secret" dry rubs: When you've found the perfect mix, it becomes a part of you and your daily cooking. It's good and reliable, even signature, because you feel somehow that you've been seasoning with it all along.

Where other dry rubs' ingredients lists tend to fall into "11 herbs and spices" territory, mine hits those classic barbecue notes with sugar, salt, and five efficient spices:

  • Brown sugar for sweetness
  • Salt and pepper for taste
  • Paprika for smokiness
  • Garlic powder for savoriness
  • Cayenne pepper for heat
  • Celery seed for herbal lightness

When you're as maladroit as I am, the reward of an all-purpose spice mix like this is tenfold. I’m telling you, it works on everything:

  • Pork chops. Dust both sides of bone-in pork chops with my Magic Spice Blend and grill over high heat, a few minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches at least 145° F.
  • Chicken thighs. Sprinkle it on the underside of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, place on a sheet pan (skin-side up), then season the skins lightly with more rub. Roast at 400° F for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. (Bake a whole tray of these, because leftovers make for the most delicious chicken quesadillas later.)
  • Salmon fillets. Shazam! A pinch of my dry rub over the flesh side of center-cut salmon fillets goes a long way. Roast at 400° F for 20 to 25 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish), and eat with white rice, which necessarily sops up the fatty omega-3-ness characteristic of salmon.
Cucumber Salad With Magic Spice Blend
Cucumber Salad With Magic Spice Blend
  • Cucumbers. Yes, cucumbers. Here's where my spice mix meets its vegetable match. With a touch of spiky lime juice and a Salt Bae throw of Magic dust, this tastes not unlike cucumbers with Tajín. Addictive, in other words. Plus, it's a three-ingredient salad when you need it the most (on busy weeknights like tonight).
  • Eggs. Guess what seasons my single soft-boiled, six-minute egg every morning? MSB. A pinch of it works wonders on fried eggs, too. Its rounded sweetness is a welcome first bite on harsh, bitter mornings pre-coffee.
  • Baby back ribs. Though it's great on everything, I will say that Magic Spice Blend's one true home, its raison d'être if you will, lies very much in the barbecue pork rib. As we rush steadfastly into the cookout months, it'll be important to keep reliable recipes like this one in your back pocket.
Baby Back Ribs With Magic Spice Blend
Baby Back Ribs With Magic Spice Blend

There's no easier way to feed a crowd: Take a slab of baby back ribs, rub some of my Dark Arts dust onto both sides, wrap tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and bake for three full hours in a low, low oven (250° F should do it).

Mind you, these ribs aren't going to look and taste like the sticky, saucy, lacquered ribs of Southern yore—they're a bit cleaner in taste. As you've basically steamed them in their own juices, they'll be fall-off-the-bone succulent, and in this you may find a new appreciation for the flavor of pork as it should be: not drowned in a saccharine BBQ sauce, but rather powdered with a smoky-sweet, savory invisibility cloak that lets the meat be meat.

Feel free to eat this with your usual summer sides: corn, tomatoes, potato salad, the like. I always serve my Magic ribs with hot, fluffy white rice and devastatingly cold beer.

Baby Back Ribs With Magic Spice Blend

Baby Back Ribs With Magic Spice Blend

Eric Kim Eric Kim
Serves 3 to 4

  • 2 pounds pork baby back ribs
  • 4 tablespoons Magic Spice Blend, recipe follows

For the Magic Spice Blend

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, dark or light
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika (you can use regular sweet paprika if you don't like the taste of smoked)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed, crushed in the palm of your hand
Go to Recipe

Do you have a secret spice blend you put on everything? Let us know in the comments below.

Hello, Summer

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Fourth of July