Barbecue -- featuring meat that has been basted, then cooked slowly over low heat -- is considered synonymous with the South. But the sauces and spices differ from state to state and region to region: In North Carolina, pork shoulder is doused in a thin, clear, cider-vinegar-based sauce, while Memphis is the home of dry-rubbed ribs.
Kansas City, where ribs are traditionally covered with a sweet, ketchup-based sauce, is home to both the American Royal Barbecue Contest -- the world's biggest competitive barbecue cook-off -- and Gates Bar-B-Q, an empire of five restaurants run by Ollie Gates. The Gates barbecue legacy began in 1946 when Ollie's father, George, left his railroad job to open Gates' Ol' Kentuck in Kansas City. The restaurant was such a success that he opened a second one in 1954, renaming them Gates & Sons Bar-B-Q a few years later. The restaurant chain adopted its current name when Ollie's daughter Arzelia, along with other family members, became actively involved in the business.
Ollie begins cooking ribs by lighting the coals in a chimney, using tongs to arrange them on one side of the grill once they are hot -- the ribs will be placed on the opposite side of the grill from the coals, so they are cooked with indirect heat. The grill is ready when the temperature reaches 230 degrees to 250 degrees. Ollie recommends laying a bed of hickory chips across the coals followed by a layer of hickory-wood blocks; the fragrant wood imparts excellent flavor to the meat. Hickory is ideal because its density makes it burn for long periods, giving off a lasting heat and leaving little ash.
To serve 18 to 20 people, use 6 slabs of 2 1/2- to 3-pound pork spare ribs with the skirts still on. Trim the meat, and blot with paper towels. Then, sprinkle the ribs on both sides with seasoning, and marinate for 15 minutes. Arrange the slabs on the grill rack, close to the fire at first, then farther away; the meat will cook more slowly as it is moved away from direct heat. As a rule of thumb, the slabs should be cooked for an hour for the first pound plus a half hour more for each additional pound. When you can pull the ribs gently apart with gloved hands, they are finished. In a saucepan, warm the barbecue sauce. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, and allow to cool slightly. Cut between the individual ribs, and serve with sauce.
At Gates Bar-B-Q, Ollie's barbecued beans are cooked right in the pit with the ribs; they get their smoky flavor from the pit drippings. In fact, bubbling pots of baked beans can be found in most Kansas City barbecue pits.