The World of Ribs : Go for the Burned


For three years running, Chris Schlesinger has both competed in and judged at the Memphis in May International Barbecue Championship. He has been cited for his professional expertise at grilling, for being a creative chef and for his cookbook, written with John Willoughby, “The Thrill of the Grill” (Morrow: $24.95).

Schlesinger is passionate about cooking with fire. “That burned, crusty taste of my Dad’s grilling was one of my first taste memories. It’s one of the purest and simplest of cooking forms, and it’s been around for ages,” he says. “There is good evidence that Homo erectus types such as Peking Man and Java Man were grilling.”

Schlesinger’s food background includes not only cooking school but also his growing-up days in Virginia and “a Pennsylvania grandmother with an enormous repertoire of rural American dishes.” His restaurant menus today also show evidence of flavor discoveries from travels in tropical countries, including Costa Rica, Thailand and places in between.

The atmosphere at his East Coast Grill is casual, with a marble-topped bar, tile floors and an open-pit barbecue at the rear of the dining room, where ribs, duck, vegetables and fruit are grilled over wood fires.


In 1988, Schlesinger and partner Cary Wheaton opened a small place next door called Jake & Earl’s. It’s their own version of the American barbecue joint, with take-out barbecue a specialty.

With Stan Frakenthaler and Charles Robinson, Schlesinger and Wheaton plan to open another restaurant, the Blue Room, in Cambridge in the fall. Not as casual as the East Coast Grill, it will have a broader menu with more international dishes.

These ribs are coated with spices, then oven-cooked slowly and finished on the grill. In “The Thrill of the Grill,” Schlesinger says this method comes close to true barbecuing, missing nothing but the intense smoky flavor that can be achieved only by three hours of slow barbecuing.

The term “3/down” refers to the weight of the ribs. In this case, it is three pounds or less for each slab of 10 to 12 ribs.



2 tablespoons salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons ground cumin


2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons paprika

2 full racks of 3/down pork spareribs


Basting Sauce

Combine salt, sugar, cumin, pepper, chili powder and paprika to make barbecue rub. Rub ribs thoroughly with mixture. Place ribs on baking sheets and cook in 180-degree oven 3 hours. Do not turn; slow cooking infuses spices.

Remove from oven. (Ribs may be covered and refrigerated up to 2 days before grilling.)

Use very low charcoal fire with rack set as high as possible. Grill ribs 5 minutes to 30 minutes per side, depending on heat and temperature of ribs. Ribs should have light outer crust and be heated throughout. (Longer cooking produces better ribs.)


If you prefer juicy ribs, coat with Basting Sauce just before removing from grill. Otherwise serve dry with sauce on side. Remove ribs from grill, cut in between bones and serve. Makes 5 servings.

Note: Recipe is easily halved or doubled. Keep 2:1 proportion of sauce to rub.

Basting Sauce

1 3/4 cups white vinegar


2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine vinegar, hot pepper sauce, sugar, salt and pepper in bowl. Makes 2 cups.