Living in Kansas City you can’t escape barbecue…. it seems there’s a barbecue joint on every corner, contests and festivals on every weekend, discussions over the airways on the merits of local BBQ restaurants every day, and friends, relatives and neighbors who see themselves as the last authority on slow cooking meat. I count myself in the latter category, but….. in the interest of full disclosure, I admit to borrowing ( stealing ) recipes and methods from those who have taken their barbecue passion to another level. More times than not my go to guy is Craig Goldwyn of Chicago, aka Meathead. He has a fantastic website that anybody who dreams of smoking the perfect slab needs to visit, www.amazingribs.com. Over the years, after many experiments (and a few failures), I have found his rib recipe below the best there is.
My smoker is a Smoky Mountain Outdoors and was purchased at Bass Pro. For years I used a Weber charcoal smoker but am now sold on the propane for my heat source. No more constant checking and resupplying the charcoal, and since I like to smoke my briskets at night no more getting up at 2am to check the temperature. I find I don’t open up the smoker as often as I did with the charcoal smoker, therefore the temperature stays constant.
The Recipe, from www.amazingribs.com
Yield. 2 adult servings
Preparation time. 15 minutes minimum. 10 minutes to skin ‘n’ trim, 5 minutes to rub, overnight dry rub marinating is optional.
Cooking time. 3 hours minimum. We will be cooking low and slow at about 225°F, so allow 5 to 6 hours for St. Louis Cut (SLC) ribs and 3 to 4 hours for baby back ribs. Thicker, meatier slabs take longer, and if you use rib holders so they are crammed close to each other, add another hour. Begin by learning how to set up your grill by reading my article on 2-zone indirect cooking. That means that one side is hot and the other is not. This is the single most important technique a pitmaster must learn. Then set up your grill for a meatless trial run so you can learn how to tweak the dials and vents to get it to 225°F. If you have a gas grill, use only one burner as described in my article setup for a gas grill. Put a disposable aluminum pan with water on top of the hot burner(s). Moisture and combustion gases in a propane grill combine to create a seductive, bacon-like flavor in the meat. If it has only one burner, put the water pan between the meat and the burner. If you have a charcoal grill, start a full chimney, about 80 briquets, push the coals all the way to one side as in the photo and as described in best setup for a charcoal grill. You can use a water pan, but it is not necessary. If you have an offset firebox smoker, follow my instructions for an setting up an offset smoker. If you have a bullet smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain, read my article bullet smoker setup.
Total time. 3 hours 15 minutes minimum.
1 grill with a cover. You can use a dedicated smoker or any charcoal grill or gas grill as long as it has a cover. A tight fitting cover with adjustable vents like those on the Weber Kettle is best.
1 (18 pound) bag of charcoal for charcoal grills or smokers. You won’t use all that charcoal, but because you will need more on cold, windy, or wet days than on sunny and warm days, have a full bag on hand. Hardwood lump is best, but regular briquets will do fine. Absolutely do not use the instant igniting stuff that has solvent in it. Chimney starters (shown at right) are by far the best way to start charcoal, especially for long slow cooking where the smell of the solvent in charcoal starter fluid can ruin the taste of the meat.
1 tank of propane for gas cookers. You won’t need it all, but, until you get the hang of this technique, don’t risk running out by starting with a partial tank.
8 ounces by weight of hardwood chunks, chips, or pellets. It doesn’t matter how many slabs you are cooking, 8 ounces should be enough. I prefer chunks of apple, oak, or hickory for pork. Never use any kind of pine unless you want meat that tastes like turpentine. Never use construction lumber because it is often treated with poisonous chemicals to discourage rot and termites. You do not need to soak the wood because wood does not absorb much water. That’s why they make boats with it.
|The jargon butchers use to name different rib cuts can be confusing. Baby backs lie near the spine. spareribs attach to them and run all the way down to the chest. St. Louis Cut ribs are spareribs that have had the rib tips removed. Country ribs are really not ribs at all. Click here for a complete description of all rib cuts.
1 pair of long handled tongs
1 sauce brush, preferably one of those newfangled silicon jobs
1 good digital oven thermometer
1 six pack of beer (for the cook, not the meat)
1 lawn chair
1 good book and plenty of tunes
1 slab of fresh St. Louis Cut (SLC) ribs. That’s 1/2 slab per adult. If you use baby back ribs, get a whole slab per adult. You’ll probably have leftovers, but what’s wrong with that? SLCs are the meatiest and most flavorful ribs. They are spareribs with the tips removed so they form a nice rectangular rack. You can use baby back ribs if you prefer. They are smaller and cook faster. Country ribs come from the shoulder and are not really ribs, so don’t use them for this recipe. Get fresh, not frozen meat if possible. Fresh meat has the best pork flavor and the most moisture. Ever notice the pink liquid when you defrost meat? You can’t get that back into the meat, so buy fresh meat whenever possible. Ask the butcher to remove the membrane on the back side.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons of Meathead’s Memphis Dust or a similar spice rub
1 cup of your signature homemade barbecue sauce or a good commercial barbecue sauce
1) Rinse. Rinse the ribs in cool water to remove any bone bits from the butchering and any bacterial film that grew in the package (don’t worry, cooking will sterilize the meat). Pat dry with paper towels.
2) Skin ‘n’ trim. If the butcher has not removed the membrane from the back side, do it yourself. It gets leathery and hard to chew, it keeps fat in, and it keeps smoke and sauce out. Insert a butter knife under the membrane, then your fingers, work a section loose, grip it with a paper towel, and peel it off. Finally, trim the excess fat from both sides. If you can’t get the skin off, with a sharp knife, cut slashes through it every inch so some of the fat will render out during the cooking. Click here to see more photos of how to skin ‘n’ trim.
3) Rub. Coat the meat with a thin layer of vegetable oil because most of the flavorings in the rub are oil soluble, not water soluble. The oil will help the flavor get beyond the surface and help make the bark, the desired crust on the top. A lot of seasoned barbecue cooks use a base of mustard, but I think oil works better. Sprinkle enough Meathead’s Memphis Dust to coat all surfaces but not so much that the meat doesn’t show through. That is about 2 tablespoons per side depending on the size of the slab. Spread the Memphis Dust on the meat, rub it in, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. Some folks insist on putting the rub on the night before, but I don’t think this is necessary.
4) Setup your cooker for 2-zone indirect cooking.5) Adjust the temp. Preheat your cooker to about 225°F and try to keep it there throughout the cook. Adjust the air intake dampers at the bottom to control heat on charcoal grills. Intake dampers are more effective than exhaust dampers for controlling the temp because they reduce the supply of oxygen to the coals. Take your time getting the temp right. Cooking at 225°F will allow the meat to roast low and slow, liquefying the collagen in connective tissues and melting fats without getting the proteins knotted in a bunch. It’s a magic temp that creates silky texture, adds moisture, and keeps the meat tender. If you can’t hit 225°F, get as close as you can. Don’t go under 200°F and try not to go over 250°F. Click here for more about meat science and the thermodynamics of cooking.
5) Smoke. For charcoal or gas cookers, add 4 ounces of wood at this time. On a gas grill, put the wood as close to the flame as possible. On a charcoal grill, put it right on the hot coals. Resist the temptation to add more wood. Nothing will ruin a meal faster and waste money better than oversmoked meat. You can always add more the next time you cook, but you cannot take it away if you oversmoke.
6) Relax. Put the slabs in the cooker on the indirect side of the grill, meaty side up. Close the lid and go drink a beer, read a book, or make love.
7) More smoke. When the smoke dwindles after 20 to 30 minutes, add another 4 ounces of wood. That’s it. Stop adding wood. If you have more than one slab on, halfway through the cook you will need to move the ribs closest to the fire away from the heat, and the slabs farthest from the flame in closer. Leave the meat side up. There is no need to flip the slabs. Otherwise, keep your lid on. Opening the lid just upsets the delicate balance of heat, moisture, and oxygen inside your cooker. It can also significantly lengthen the cooking time. No peeking. If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.
8) The Texas Crutch. This step is optional. It involves wrapping the slab in foil with an ounce or two of liquid such as apple juice, for up to an hour to speed cooking and tenderize a bit. Almost all competition cooks use the crutch to get an edge. Beginners should skip this step. You’ll still have killer ribs. Click here to learn more about The Texas Crutch.
9) The bend test. Allow 5 to 6 hours for St. Louis Cut ribs or 3 to 4 hours for baby back ribs. The exact time will depend on how thick the slabs are and how steady you have kept the temp. If you use rib holders so they are crammed close to each other, add another hour. Then check to see if they are ready. I use the bend test (a.k.a. the bounce test). Pick up the slab with tongs and bounce it gently. If the surface cracks, it is ready.
10) Sauce. Now paint both sides with your favorite home made barbecue sauce or store-bought sauce and put it directly over the hottest part of the grill in order to caramelize and crisp the sauce. On a charcoal grill, just move the slab over the coals. On a gas grill, remove the water pan and crank up all the burners. On a water smoker, remove the water pan and move the meat close to the coals. On an offset smoker, put a grate over the coals in the firebox and put the meat there. With the lid open so you don’t roast the meat from above, sizzle the sauce on one side and then the other. Stand by your grill and watch because sweet sauce can go from caramelized to cabonized in less than a minute! One coat of a thick sauce should be enough, but if you need two, go ahead, but no more! Don’t hide all the fabulous flavors under too much sauce. If you think you’ll want more sauce, put some in a bowl on the table.
If you’ve done all this right, you will notice that there is a thin pink layer beneath the surface of the meat. This does not mean it is undercooked! It is the highly prized smoke ring caused by the combustion gases and the smoke. It is a sign of Amazing Ribs. Now be ready to take a bow when the applause swells from the audience.