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Today's recipe for Sweet-and-Smoky Ribs is one of my favorites. It's adapted from a recipe from grilling guru Steven Raichlen. This recipe uses baby back ribs, which are tender ribs from the top loin rib section of the hog. They tend to have more meat between the bones, and one rack will serve two people generously.

For today's recipe, the baby back ribs are soaked in bourbon and seasoned with a sweet and savory rub. If you don't want to use bourbon, you can substitute cola or even Vernors.

When grilling ribs, I use my kettle grill and sprinkle wood chips on the coals. You can use hickory, mesquite or apple wood. Just make sure to soak the chips in water at least one hour (longer if you are using wood chunks) before adding them to the coals.

For gas grills, use a smoker box for the chips. If you don't have one, a loaf-size foil pan will do the job. Or make a foil packet to hold the chips and poke holes in it so the smoke seeps out.

These ribs are finished with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. But no matter what type of sauce you use, brush it on during the last 15-20 minutes of grilling.

> Sweet-and-Smoky Baby Back Ribs

Ribs:

6 racks baby back ribs

1 cup bourbon

Rub:

3 tablespoons coarse salt

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons paprika (regular or smoked)

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

Grill:

2 cups hickory wood chips

2 cups beer

Sauce:

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce (see below)

Remove the thin membrane on the back of the ribs, starting at one end of the rack and pulling toward the other. Unless you are using a rib rack, cut the ribs into four or five portions so that they will fit nicely on the grill. Place the ribs in a large roasting pan and pour the bourbon over them. Chill them for about an hour, turning the ribs often. Pour off and discard the bourbon.

Meanwhile, whisk together all the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle the rub mixture over both sides of the ribs.

Refrigerate 1 hour. Meanwhile, place the wood chips in a medium bowl and pour the beer over them. Let stand 1 hour.

Preheat or prepare the grill for indirect cooking.

Remove 1 cup of the wood chips from the beer and drain. Scatter the chips over the coals. Fill a foil loaf pan halfway with water and place opposite the coals. Place grill grate on grill. If using a gas grill, put the soaked chips in a foil packet with holes poked in it or use a smoker box.

Arrange ribs on the grate above the loaf pan and away from the direct heat.

Close the lid, positioning the top vent directly over the ribs. Check the temperature by placing the stem of an instant-read thermometer through the vent with the gauge on the outside, it should register about 325 degrees. After about 40 minutes, the temperature will start dipping down, but don't let it fall below 275 degrees. Adjust vents if needed by opening them wider to increase the heat or closing to decrease the heat.

You can heat more charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney starter to have ready in case the temperature dips below 275 degrees. Use tongs to add briquettes.

If you need to add more wood chips, drain the remaining 1 cup of wood chips and sprinkle over the charcoal. Place the grate with the ribs back on the grill, cover and continue cooking until the ribs are very tender and the meat pulls away from the bones, about 45 minutes longer.

During the last 15 minutes of grilling, brush on the sauce.

To make the Bourbon Barbecue Sauce:

In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk together 2 cups ketchup, 1/2 cup mild-flavored molasses, 1/3 cup bourbon, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons favorite hot pepper sauce, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and the flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Serves 8.

-- Adapted from Bon Appetit July 2000.