“Ribs, salt, pepper, and broth.” That’s what my mom told anyone who asked her how she cooked ribs. She was from the Bootheel of Missouri, the southeastern end known more for baking, roasting, smothering, and frying than for smoking, rubbing, and saucing, but that didn’t stop her from turning out the best ribs I have ever had.

She prepared them very simply. Instead of precooking the ribs, she simply seasoned them with salt and pepper and laid them straight on a grill over slow-burning coals. As the ribs cooked, she turned them periodically and basted them with ham-hock stock (Mom called it broth) and occasionally re-salted them.After 45 minutes to an hour, they were tender and ready to eat. When you don’t steam, poach, or smoke them, the flavor concentrates so that all you taste is pure pork.

Very rarely do I tweak my mom’s recipes, but in this case I made an exception. A gentle, respectful application of finely grated lemon zest and sliced fresh chives at the end actually brings these ribs to an entirely different place. You will love them a whole lot.


Serves 2 or 3



1 full rack baby back ribs, cut into 4 portions

2 cups chicken stock or rich ham-hock stock, preferably homemade

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons sliced fresh chives



  1. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking. For a gas grill, this means turning one side of the burners on high and the other on medium. For a charcoal grill, mound all the hardwood charcoal on one side of the grill so that the ribs can be cooked over both hotter and cooler parts of the grill.
  2. Light the coals. Allow them to become white-hot.
  3. Let the ribs sit on the counter until they reach room temperature.
  4. Baste them with the stock and put them on the hot side of the grill.
  5. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until they begin to turn brown.
  6. Move the ribs to the cooler side of the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  7. Turn, baste with more stock, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  8. Repeat this turning, basting, and seasoning for about 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the meat begins to sag off of the ribs when you pick them up to turn. At this point you will have to treat them more carefully because of the softening meat. The goal is to glaze the ribs with the ham-hock stock while equalizing the smokiness from the coals with the saltiness of the ribs.
  9. Garnish with the lemon zest and chives.


Photo Courtesy of Andre Baranowski.  Baranowski is a NY based food photographer and was the principal photographer for Michel Nischan’s cookbook – Sustainably Delicious.