As has been previously mentioned on this blog, the Dinosaur BBQ has some of the best ribs available on planet earth. They also have a a nice cookbook that tells you how to smoke 'em yourself in your own backyard grill. But what do you do when you don't have any woodchips, and when you can't stay home for 3-4 hours checking your ribs every hour? This is what you do, it's not a perfect substitute, but it still does a great job of producing some succulent pig meat.
First you buy a a rack of ribs (I used a St. Louie cut rack) and the night before you're going to prepare them, you rub them down with a nice red rub. Mine is based primarily in paprika, garlic, and salt, but also contains cumin, oregano, black pepper, rosemary, and brown sugar. The key is to keep the sweet and savory flavors in balance. Then throw them in the fridge in some kind of pan or dish and let the flavors mingle and soak into the meat all night. I had to cut the rack in half because I didn't have a big enough platter.
Then, in the mid-morning, you fire up the grill with a nice hot coal bed. Give the meat a nice sear over the coals to lock in the juices and flavors so it doesn't dry out later as you cook it. Don't overcook the meat, just a quick sear on the very outside edge. It should still be raw in the middle. If your fire is hot enough, you should only have to keep it on the grill for about a minute per side. You could probably also do this on the stove over a cast iron skillet or grid iron.
When the meat is seared, bring it in the house and put it in your crock pot. if you haven't already, you're going to have to cut the rack in half to fit it in the crock pot. Lean the two pieces toward each other, meeting in the middle of the crock like a tipi or a house of cards. Don't lean then against the sides of the cooker because you don't want them to burn. Pour a half to a full cup of veggie broth in the bottom of the crock pot, rub a bit of your favorite BBQ sauce on the meat, and set it on low for 6-7 hours. Then you can go shopping or whatever you need to do that prevents you from smoking the ribs.
When you get back, you can finish the ribs right away or keep them warm in the cooker until its time to eat. When you're ready, get a nice medium coal bed going in your grill and get out there with your ribs, a pair of tongs, and a bowl of sauce. Throw the ribs on the grill, meaty side down, and caramelize the fat, getting them nice and crispy, but don't burn them. It helps to have a spray bottle to mist the coals if they flare up too much. After a minute or two, give them a flip and slather the meaty side of the ribs with sauce. Cover the grill and close down the vents to put out the fire and leave the ribs for 3-4 minutes. This will allow the sauce to form a nice glaze without burning the underside too much.
Bring 'em in the house, cut 'em up with a chef's knife, and enjoy. My favorite sides with ribs are black beans and rice, cornbread, and fries or rosemary roasted potatoes. Good stuff. You don't get the nice smoke flavor, but everything else is there. It's a pretty decent approximation.