Barbecue is a uniquely American food. It's a specialty in the South, but loved from coast to coast. Ask any serious barbecue chef and he or she will tell you the secret to what makes his or her "Q" the best. There are a million family recipes and hush-hush ingredients, and it all pretty much depends on how you like your barbecue. Even though barbecue typically comprises cooking ribs, pork or beef over some heat, and perhaps adding some sauce, there are a number of ways to go about doing this. But aside from the specifics of a family recipe or particular method, there are some general rules to cooking good ribs. Follow the tips below to ensure you come out with fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Slow and Low

While there are many ways to prep ribs and all manner of sauces and dry rubs to choose from, one thing you must do in order to get the most succulent and tender ribs is to follow the barbecue creed -- slow and low. The slow part means how long you should cook the ribs. While there isn't a concrete set time for all recipes, the longer it takes, the better the ribs. So, count on at least three hours of cooking time if you want your ribs to taste like they were made by a pro. Low means the amount of heat you use. You never want an open flame hitting your ribs, so get your fire going early and let it die down to somewhere between 275 and 325 degrees Fahrenheit (135 to 163 degrees Celsius) before you even put the ribs on the grill.

Smoke

A nice smoky flavor is the hallmark of any great rib recipe, and you can't get it from a bottle of liquid smoke. You're going to need some fire if you want professional style ribs. Ideally, you have a smoker, but you can also pull it off with a charcoal grill. If you go with the charcoal, you should avoid the big name briquettes that are made from mostly concrete. It's worth it to spend the extra money on the wood charcoal, because there's really no substituting the flavor of wood smoke. If all you have at your disposal is a gas grill, at least get some flavored wood chips, soak them in water for an hour, and add them to your flame as the ribs cook.

Sauce

Some barbecue chefs prefer only a dry rub, but for the best of both worlds, combine your dry rub with a wet baste as you cook. The rub will soak into the meat for maximum flavor, and the sauce will add that special taste that makes the ribs your own. Sauce is where you can get creative, so it's entirely up to you which regional method you prefer. South Carolina-style sauces are known for their mustard-based tang. North Carolina and Tennessee make a very thin tomato-based sauce. Some find the sweet, thick and sticky sauces of Kansas City are ideal for ribs. Whichever you choose, just make sure you baste the ribs as you cook, about every twelve minutes and when you turn them.