Yesterday, I barbecued some ribs.
"Barbecued" and "grilled" are two different things. Grilling is basically upside-down broiling. Nothing wrong with that but it's not barbecue, which is low and slow, in smoke.
Does low and slow sound like braising? Yes, it does, and it works the same way, turning connective tissue into gelatine, while rendering that fat to give juiciness and flavor. The line between barbecue and braise is further blurred since many say the best ribs are finished off in foil — a closed, moist environment. In other words, a braise.
While I am talking barbecue, I have another couple of religious points to make.
- Pork: I love Texas and I love Texans, but I am sorry, pork is the meat that is made for the 'cue. Y'all can have all the beef brisket you want (and I'm eatin' it, don't get me wrong). Yankees, you can do up chicken. And I'm eatin' that too — and the hot links, too. But when the barbecuing is serious, it's pork. Pork is king of the 'cue.
- Sauce is for after, or at least, then end of the cooking. Rub is for before. You can make a saucy rub. But barbecuing slathered in sauce means the smoke and meat can't be best friends. And the sauce can burn.
- Just say no to baby backs. They're good, but spare ribs are so much better.
- If you boil your ribs before hand, I will have to come over there and lecture you in person. Boiling removes flavor. It has to. That's how soup works.
- Oven-baked ribs: Can you make spare ribs inside? In an oven? Can you smoke in an oven without ruining the house? Yes, you can. But I don't.
If you have favorite tips, I would love to hear them! Post in the Comments section.
Barbecued Pork Spare Ribs
Use spare ribs, not baby-backs. If you can get "Kansas City" or "St. Louis" cut, it will save you a little butchering but you will generally find full racks and make the cut yourself. That's a benefit — the cutting is easy and yields trimmings that make a great pork braise or stir fry. Smart and Final and Costco both sell two-packs of very nice full racks.
Allow 1/2-1 pound per person.
2 racks pork spare ribs, see note
wood chips and chunks, for smoking
6 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 c. Wine, beer, apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
The day before, or the morning of:
1. Mix together ketchup, mustard, and garlic in a small bowl.
2. Mix all dry ingredients in a second bowl, to form a rub.
3. Prepare your workstation for meat management. Place meat on a sheet pan or cutting board. Have a sharp knife and paper towels handy.
4. Trim the spare ribs to create a St. Louis (also called Kansas City) cut. This may sound difficult but don't worry — you don't have to get it exactly right. You can skip any or all of this and have great ribs. There are detailed videos and instructions on the Internet (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_MGM_RRTUQ).
Here are the steps:
4.2 Each rib is actually composed of two bones, joined by cartilage. Feel for the joint. You'll also be able to see it by bending the rack, since the joint is flexible (though quite stiff). Cut through all these joints, separating the rib section from the top.
4.3 You can cut off the smallest ribs or leave them. Trim excess fat.
4.4 Save the pieces you removed (but discard fat and the membrane). From two full rib racks, you will get about 1-1/2 pounds of flap meat, suitable for stir fry, fajitas, or braising, and 1-3/4 pounds of the top rib section, with some bones, which is a great braising cut.
5. Check the ribs to see if the slivery membrane has been removed from the rib side. If not, remove it by loosening a corner with a knife, grabbing it with a paper towel, and stripping it away. If you can't get it off, slit it at each rib and between each rib.
6. Coat the ribs with the ketchup, mustard, and garlic mix. Then sprinkle on the rub.
7. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 4-24 hours.
About five hours before you plan to eat:
8. Optional: Soak wood chips in water for an hour or more. (I don't soak them anymore. It makes no difference and makes the process less predictable.)
9. Set up your grill for smoking. The following is what I do with a Weber gas grill — you'll need to adapt it to your setup.
Remove one grate. Loosely wrap wood chunks and chips in foil, punch many holes. Put pack on the bars, above the rear burner. Put a foil pan of water elsewhere on the bars, so it will generate moisture. Put grills back in place:
Start grill, heat on high for 10-15 minutes, then turn front and center burners off, back burner between medium and low. Add ribs.
9. Check every 20-30 minutes. You want the inside temperature to be 225-275 degrees F with steady smoke. A wireless thermometers is handy. If the temperature increases suddenly, it means the wood chunks have caught fire. Not a major issue. Use a spray bottle to calm things down. You may need to add more wood toward the end of the time.
10. Cook until meat begins to loosen from bones, about 2 hours. Then transfer the ribs to either a sheet pan or a double layer of heavy duty foil. Add 1 cup liquid (apple juice, wine, beer, or water). Cover with foil to make a tight package. This is the braising step.
11. Continue to cook until meat reaches 180 internal and meat is very tender and close to, but quite, falling off the bones, another hour.
12. Let rest 10-20 minutes.
13. Optional: You can sauce the ribs and put them back on the grill, to caramelize. Serve with warm barbecue sauce on the side.