Seattle Smoked Country Style Ribs

One sweet side effect of Seattle’s indistinct seasons is that there’s never a wrong time to barbecue. An old-timer brought it home to me some years ago:

Smokey Joe portable kettle barbecue

‘You’re doing what?’ I asked incredulously.

‘I’m gonna barbecue me up some re-ibs’. His accent was fake but the big package of country style ribs was real enough.

‘But it’s February!’ I cried, peering out at a mist-hung landscape where every inch of surface was damp and dripping.

‘Hey, it’s hardly raining and the thermometer says high forties,’ he said. ‘Like a good day some Junes around here.’ He threw coals onto the grill and went clattering through the cupboards in search of his big pot.

I watched fascinated as he first boiled the meat and then grilled it, tossing on some maple branches and clamping down the lid to let the ribs smoke. Finally, he popped them into the oven after smothering them with what he called ‘finishing sauce’, and let them slow cook for hours. 

The other day I whipped up a batch of Seattle style ribs for my son the meatatarian. While gargantuan football players vied for the coveted title, those ribs baked slowly, until their sweet flavor filled the whole house. After the game, we dug in.    

And were those ribs good? Mmm. They were rich and moist and smoky – with a flavor bright enough to shake the moss off your north side.

Or in other words, as that old timer used to say: ‘Heck yeah!’

Seattle Smoked Country Style Ribs 


Enough for 4-6 hungry people


5 pounds of bone-in country style ribs

1½ quarts of water

½  cup of cider vinegar

Black pepper

1 medium-sized onion

3 cups of barbecue sauce (see one option below)

8 finger-thick apple branches 1-foot long, to smoke the ribs


Boil the ribs: Bring 1½ cups water + ½ cup of vinegar to a boil in a large pot. Put half of the ribs into the water; bring it back to a boil and, once boiling cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Do the other half the same way, scooping off any scum that rises to the surface of the pot. Sprinkle the ribs generously with black pepper and set aside. Discard all but 2 cups of the boiling water.

Studded with onions and nearly ready to bake

Grill and smoke the ribs: Light about 40 charcoal briquettes in a small grill (mine is a Smokey Joe by Weber) and let burn for a half hour. Spread out the coals, put the grilling surface in place and squeeze on all the ribs at once. After 7 minutes, lift the grill and place the apple branches directly onto the coals. Now turn the ribs, wait a minute and, once the smoke is billowing around the meat, clap the lid down. Adjust all vents to be ¼” open and let smoke for 20 minutes.

Bake the ribs: Cut an onion into 8 pieces. Spread the smoked ribs one layer deep in an 11×15 glass lasagna pan and pour 1 cup of the reserved rib water over them. Stick onion pieces into the cracks between the ribs. Spoon 1 cup of barbecue sauce over the ribs (see easy recipe below or use your favorite) and pop them into a 300° oven.

Turn the ribs every hour, spooning on more barbecue sauce with each turn. The ribs will be tender in 3 hours. If you want to leave them in the oven even longer, turn the temperature down to 275° after the first hour and bake for 4 to 5 hours altogether. Add more water in the second half of baking if necessary, but otherwise these ribs require very little attention while in the oven.

Easy barbecue sauce (okay, finishing sauce, if you prefer!): In a saucepan mix 1¼ cups ketchup, ¼ cup vinegar, 3/4 cup water, ¼ cup sugar, 1 ounce of Worcestershire Sauce, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder and 4 tablespoons of either ancho chile powder or American chili powder. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring well until hot and smooth. Simmer longer if desired in order to develop the flavors. For an extra kick, add ½ teaspoon of cayenne.

Slather onto Seattle Smoked Country Style Ribs and enjoy that old time taste!


Ribs on the grill just beginning to smoke!

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