While Memphis ribs are typically (not always) done without a sauce, they do get some moisture, tenderization, and flavor from a good mop. Mops are applied during the smoking process to prevent meats from drying out and to create a layering of flavor that is vital to great barbecue.
Memphis mops, like most barbecue mops, are made with vinegar and some seasoning. Vinegar is used as the mop base when you want to tenderize the meat, as you do when smoking ribs. The seasonings match the rib rub.
The tool you use to apply a mop sauce looks like a miniature kitchen mop. The cotton fibers of the little mop head hold just enough of the liquid mop to apply it to the meat. You don't want to disturb the spice rub on the meat, and having the same spices in the mop sauce ensures you are adding some back. Another option is to use a spray bottle, which is far less likely to disturb your spice rub. This works best if your spices are all well-ground so they don't clog the sprayer. You can process your spice rub in a clean coffee grinder to get them well-pulverized.
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup Memphis rub
- Optional: 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
Gather the ingredients.
Combine all ingredients in a large jar and shake to combine. This mop will settle, so shake it each time before using.
Store this mop an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 months.
How to Use This Memphis Mop
To use the mop on ribs, apply it to the ribs every 30 minutes to an hour while they smoke. You don't want to disturb your ribs too much or let heat and smoke escape by opening your smoker too often. Keep in mind that using a mop comes from grilling rather than smoking, especially with open pit barbecue where the heat was harder to control. At higher temperatures, the mop helps keep the meat moist. At the lower temperatures of smoking, you are helping tenderize the ribs as well as layering more flavor.
Tips and Flavor Profile
Apply mop to meat during the smoking process.
If you are using a little cotton mop, it's best to place some of the mop sauce in a separate dish to use each time. This prevents transferring bacteria to the main container of mop sauce. Using a spray bottle prevents this problem.
The Memphis rub used to season the mop typically has over a dozen ingredients, with the heart of it being paprika. This spice gives the ribs a rich, red color without adding a tomato-based barbecue sauce. While the rub is generously added to the meat before it hits the heat, some of the rub is added to the mop to continue to layer the same flavors. The other seasonings in the rub include garlic powder, onion powder, mild chili powder, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander, allspice, and celery seed. This gives the complex flavor typical of the Memphis-style.