A dry rub is a mixture of spices and herbs that are worked into the ribs before they are cooked. Southern and Cajun recipes often call for a dry rub, but any mixture of spices can be turned into a rub. A dry rub replaces a liquid marinade. Barbecue specialists Patrick and Gina Neely offer a Kansas City-style dry rub that combines 2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup dry mustard, 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp. smoked paprika, 1 tbsp. garlic powder, 1 tbsp. onion powder, 1 tbsp. salt and 2 tsp. black pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mix over the ribs. Let the ribs sit from 1 hour up until overnight. Indian-style dry rubs can be made with cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Cajun seasonings often use coriander, cumin, sage and thyme.
Barbecue ribs are often sauced while they're cooking. Different types of barbecue sauces have developed in different regions of the country. Barbecue expert Craig Goldwyn says that "barbecue sauce comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors, and they are tied to the area of origin." In Eastern North Carolina, he says, the vinegar-based sauce is almost clear while in the west part of the state tomatoes give it a pink shading. In some parts of South Carolina it's yellow, and in Texas it is brown. A traditional sweet sauce is tomato-based -- usually ketchup -- sweetened with molasses or brown sugar and soured with a bit of vinegar. Other spices and sometimes liquid smoke are added for flavor. Such sauces sit on top, like frosting, and don't penetrate the meat. Many vinegar-based are added during the cooking and penetrate the meat.
Sometimes you don't have the time to stand around the grill or smoker all day and cook ribs, but you'd really like some. Ribs can be cooked in a slow cooker. According to barbecue website BBQ FYI, place 3 lbs. of country-style pork ribs in a slow cooker. Add one large onion, chopped coarsely. Mix 1 1/2 cups of your preferred barbecue sauce with 1/2 cup of beer or apple juice. Pour the mixture over the ribs and onions. Cover it and cook for two hours on high, then set the cooker to low and cook for another three or four hours. You don't have to baste the ribs, but basting will intensify the flavors. When they're done, the meat should fall off the bone. It can be shredded for pulled pork sandwiches or eaten straight out of the pot.