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Grilled baby back ribs get the star treatment in this recipe from chef Deborah VanTrece, cookbook author and chef of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta, GA. Her recipes are soul food with a twist, inspired by foods from all over the world, and today she's going back to her roots in Kansas City, Missouri. "In Kansas City, we believe it's not a good rib unless you can eat it without sauce," says Deborah. "So, these are going to be tasty on their own and the sauce is just icing on the cake." (Note that the brine needs to be refrigerated for about four hours, and the ribs need to be marinated for at least 18 hours.) 

For another recipe from Deborah, check out her Bacon-Praline Macaroni and Cheese. It will go great with the ribs! 


For the Sweet Tea Barbecue Sauce (makes about 2 cups):
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup strong brewed ice tea, well-sweetened
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Brine:
  • 1 gallon unsweetened brewed tea
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup whole black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 slabs baby back ribs (3 to 4 pounds total)
For the Spice Rub:
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • 1 cup Sweet Tea Barbecue Sauce (above), plus more for serving 


Serves: 4 to 6


For the sweet tea barbecue sauce, in a saucepan over medium heat, whisk all the ingredients together and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or freeze for up to 6 months.   

For the brine, in a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the tea almost to a simmer. Stir in the sugar, salt, peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves and continue to cook until the sugar dissolves, but do not let the mixture boil.  

Set the pan aside to cool slightly for 10 minutes, then pour the brine into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Refrigerated brine can last for 7 to 10 days before using.  

After 4 hours, cut each slab of ribs in half and add to the brine. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 18 to 24 hours.  

For the spice rub, combine the spices in a small bowl and mix well. The spice rub can be made ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  

When the ribs are ready, remove from the brine and pat dry. Rub the ribs with the spice rub to coat.   

Prepare a charcoal grill by placing coals on only one side of the grill to create a two-zone surface. Place the ribs on the side without the coals, and cook over indirect heat (250 to 300°F) for about 2 hours, turning often, until well browned.  

Brush the ribs with the barbecue sauce once every 15 minutes or so before taking them off the grill, reserving any remaining sauce. The ribs are done when the meat is tender and slightly pulls away from the bone. I use tongs to test by picking up a slab and gently bouncing it to see if the meat pulls away easily.  

Serve with more barbecue sauce passed separately.  

Excerpted from The Twisted Soul Cookbook by Deborah VanTrece. Copyright © 2021 by Deborah VanTrece. Photography by Noah Fecks. Used with permission by Rizzoli. All rights reserved.