The right rub
ADRY rub for barbecue is a good example. Rubs are fun to play with. Start with roughly equal measures of salt and some kind of red pepper -- such as paprika or powdered chile, depending on your palate -- and then complement them with dried herbs and spices. A little sugar is nice too. Keep tasting until the mixture hits the right note for you.
This rub is so good that I prefer to serve the ribs without any barbecue sauce. If you want to serve a sauce, brush it on for only the last five or so minutes of cooking. Most sauces contain a good amount of sugar, which has a distressing tendency to scorch and blacken.
Of course, every rule has its exception, and here it's the vinegar-based sauces that are popular in places such as North Carolina (point of usage: vinegar-based sauces that are applied throughout the cooking are usually called "mops," as in "hog mop").
There are a couple of tricks to preparing ribs. I prefer spareribs to baby back, because they are a little fattier and don't dry out during long, slow cooking. But spareribs do need to be trimmed before the rub goes on. Still, that's not hard.
First, cut away any excess fat or meat that isn't supported by a rib. You'll also notice there's a flap of meat that stretches diagonally across about half of the ribs. If you want, remove it; that way the meat will all be done about the same.
(Cook the removed bit and the rest of the meaty scraps along with the ribs and you'll have a good griller's treat that will be done about halfway through the smoking period.)
Most important, you must remove the thin, tough membrane that is attached to the bone side of the ribs (the membrane would prevent smoke and seasoning from penetrating, and the ribs would be tough).
To get rid of it, slip a thin, sharp knife between the first rib and the membrane and cut away, leaving a flap of membrane. Use a paper towel to get a firm grip on the flap and pull gently but firmly across the rack; the membrane will come up with a tearing sound. If it comes up in strips (as it probably will the first couple of times you try it), just repeat the process until it's all gone.
After that, the cooking is easy. Build a fire and let it calm a little. Add soaked hickory chips to cool it more and get the smoke going. Then put on the ribs (if you're doing more than one slab, you can buy one of those metal racks to hold them upright and create more space, or you can do what I do -- turn an oven-roasting rack upside down and stack the ribs between the supports).
You'll know when the ribs are ready because the meat will be so tender that when you wiggle one of the bones in the center, it will almost pull free. That can take two hours or more. Don't sweat the details: If the meat gets a little overdone, you'll have more of the burnt ends that are so crisp they practically shatter when you bite into them. Maybe you'll even prefer it that way.
If you're smart, you'll spend that cooking time sprawled out in a nearby lawn chair, breathing in the sweet smoke, sipping a cold beer and pitying all of those poor fools who are stuck with pricey gas grills that can't come close to this.