My other hobby
Posted by Euroranger on July 1, 2010
This weekend is the 4th of July weekend wherein we celebrate our forefathers collective decision to give the middle finger to our English ancestors. We celebrate it because we won the fight that came afterward. Consider what we’d be celebrating instead had they whipped George Washington’s ass. He wouldn’t be on the one dollar bill I can assure you because Americans don’t like losers (which, coincidentally, is why we won’t be having any more American World Cup soccer updates sadly enough). The 4th of July is a holiday custom tailored to folks in the South as it automatically incorporates the Three B’s that all true Southerners love: Boom (as in fireworks or handguns), Beer (as in, for most rednecks anyway, Natty Light) and Barbecue. Now, this 4th of July I’m going to be up in the mountains of western North Carolina camping with family and friends. I know we’ll have the Beer and Boom parts but despite the fact we’ll be cooking over open fire, I kinda doubt we’ll be having the Barbecue. Oddly enough, good barbecue isn’t something you can really do over a campfire. I’m told we’ll be picking up some local barbecue (JD’s Barbecue in Woodstock, GA makes some fine brisket sammiches) for the trip to Hillbilly Hollow, NC or wherever it is that God has plans for me to be eaten by a bear. But I won’t be barbecuing this year like I did last and pretty much every year I find myself at home on the 4th.
This all leads me to mention that I have been, for the past couple of years, gradually learning how to do slow cook barbecue. I started 2 years back with pork butt/shoulder/picnic so I could figure out how to do pulled pork the right way. At the end of last summer I felt that I had sufficiently mastered this cut of meat to my satisfaction and wanted to move on to other staples of slow cook BBQ. I had considered trying beef brisket but have heard it’s a very unforgiving cut of meat and difficult to really master. I have much respect for those who can do slow cook beef brisket as a barbecue beef brisket sandwich is quite possibly the most perfect gastronomic creation known to civilized Southern man. If you’re a damnyankee and you’re reading this and wondering “what is a beef brisket sandwich”…well…sucks to be you. All I can say is next time you’re driving through the South on your way to West Palm Beach and you see what looks like a busy parking lot for a small, mom and pop barbecue stand/restaurant…think about stopping.
Anyway, I was at a new local butcher shop a few weeks back and for whatever reason I decided to hold off on brisket that weekend and chose instead 2 racks of baby back pork ribs. Now, pork ribs are another essential staple of slow cook barbecue and one which I had not even tried as yet, much less mastered. However, what I did have going for me was some leftover dry rub from my previous summer’s pork butt efforts…and these racks were pork as well…so I figured I could take a reasonable shot at slow cook pork ribs. The rub I had was more of a spicy rub which suits pork butt quite well when it’s married to a fair dose of hickory smoke. Pork ribs, on the other hand, do better with a sweet rub. I decided I’d take my small sample of spicy rub and make it a sweet/hot rub and try that. So, without further ado, allow me to present the photo evidence of the effort which, I will say, turned out rather well.
By no means am I a professional barbecuer but even I know that just any flat, relatively clean surface isn’t enough when you’re about to do war with raw pig. What you’re seeing here is (L to R): meat scissors, brown sugar, a measuring cup, a mixing bowl with my previous season’s hot dry rub in it, a whisk, a measuring spoon, a bottle of smoked paprika, white sugar and my notes for what went into my hot dry rub last year. What you’re not seeing is store bought rub, wife, kids and/or other distractions which are collectively known to destroy even the best barbecue intentions. This was actually taken the day before the cooking as it’s essential to get the rub onto the meat and then let it soak in overnight. This would be a good place to mention what went into my hot dry rub recipe:
- 1/4 cup smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Now, there’s other stuff you can add to that rub to tweak it to what you like. Some folks add rosemary powder, thyme powder, garlic powder, tarragon, ginger and other sorts of things. About the only thing I’d have to say about any of those is about the garlic powder. I’m told that it can react with the smoke and make a sour taste. I don’t know personally as I don’t use it in my rubs…just what I’ve heard. Anyway, in addition to the dry rub, and because I wanted it to be more of a sweet rib rub I added 4 additional tablespoons each of white and brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of Jamaican allspice. Now, the mix quantities I had were the 8 tablespoons of sugars/allspice I just mentioned with around a half recipe of that rub recipe I mentioned above. Anyhow, all went into the mixing bowl like so:
So, there’s the rub mix. Now, you can apply that directly to the meat, wrap it all up in cling wrap or tinfoil and let it sit overnight in a fridge and you’ll do fine. What you’ll discover though is that the rub may not stick well to the meat. My first few attempts were like that with rub all over the place except on/in the meat. Then I ran across a mention of coating your meat in a thin layer of yellow mustard. The mustard taste doesn’t persist but it does make the rub adhere to the meat rather nicely, probably imparts a little moistness to the meat and I’ve had nothing but good results from using mustard. This time though, I tried one additional thing and that is, I added around a shot or so of dark molasses rum to the yellow mustard and then coated the ribs:
The idea with the rub in the first place is that you put together a bunch of spices and you RUB them into the meat. The goal is to get those flavors infused into the top layer of meat and so flavor the “bark” (the thin, drier, baked exterior layer of the meat). Well, the alcohol in the rum will allow for a little breaking down of the meat to more easily allow the spices and sugars to penetrate. I thought this was a good idea and like any attempt at cooking anything…a recipe is really only a guide. The best thing you can do is use your nose and sense of taste and experiment with things you think might make a recipe better. That’s actually where the allspice came in for me. I was rummaging around the spice cabinet and found an empty allspice jar (why Mrs. Ranger keeps empty jars isn’t something I’ve figured out as yet…but she does) and gave it a whiff and immediately decided that that was going into the rub mix for the ribs such that I went out and got a new jar of it.
One thing I haven’t mentioned and it’s specifically about ribs. There is a layer of membrane on the “back” of ribs (beef and pork both) that you’ll want to strip off. I had the butcher do it for me but whether you get the pro to do it or you leave it to do yourself, make sure you get that membrane off. It doesn’t affect the taste of the ribs one bit but it’s absence makes the ribs much easier to cut/eat and I believe that it allows the rub mix and smoke to get at the meat a little better.
You’ll also hear occasionally how some folks like to “brine” their pork (usually larger cuts like butt, shoulder and such but I ran across a mention of doing it to ribs as well on the internet). You can safely ignore that crap. Brine is salty water and I guess the intent there is to for whatever reason infuse some salt into the meat. Salt tends to absorb moisture so even though you’re getting it into the meat in a water solution, all you’re really doing is making your perfectly good pork taste salty (which is distinctly does not taste like on its own).
Specific to pork ribs you’ll also see people saying to boil them (most usually in beer) before cooking them. You can safely ignore that crap as well and you get the added bonus of being able to safely regard such people as “fucking idiots”. All boiling meat does is make it tough. You want to involve beer with your ribs? Skip the boiling part altogether, cook the ribs, drink the beer and you and your ribs will be all the better for it. Boiling meat is an English abomination and as we all know the culture that produced “blood pudding” and worships kippers can’t be trusted with anything having to do with edible food production. It’s yet another reason why our Founding Fathers told the English to GTFO (and take their boiled meat crap with them). Just watch 5 minutes of English “chef” Jamie Oliver on TV trying to get kids in West Virginia to eat a decent meal and you’ll see what I mean. Note to Jamie: they’re not rejecting your “food” because they’re uncultured backwoods Philistines, they’re rejecting it because what you call “food” is fucking nauseating. Pro tip for Jamie Oliver: wanna know if it’s worth eating? Try serving it to a cat or dog. If they won’t eat it…well…there’s your hint. Put another way: if an animal that habitually licks its own balls and/or ass won’t eat your food that’s a pretty strong hint that your food sucks and will probably be equally ignored by the less sophisticated palate of American children everywhere.
So, where was I? Oh yes, the mustard-rum coat/sweet-hot rub thing. So, I applied the mustard-rum mix to the meat, sprinkled both sides of the coated ribs with a liberal dose of the sweet-hot rub and proceeded to rub all that into the meat as vigorously as I could in the broad daylight of my kitchen without making it look like I had any experience whatsoever with rubbing/abusing meat.
Once this was done, I wrapped the prepped ribs in foil, stuck them in the fridge overnight and went and did other manly things like watch TV, drink beer and go sign my daughter up for cheerleading this fall. I may also have played some Team Fortress 2, gotten my ass kicked, rage quit in a huff and then went to bed…but that’s a vicious unsubstantiated rumor whispered by those who can’t stand how fiercely I block their shots from hitting my teammates. Anyway, on to the next day!
The next day was hot (as all the days have been here in northwest Georgia of late) but I needed to give the ribs about 3 or so hours of slow cooking on the grill so I set up to get the ribs smoking by around 1PM so we could have a decent early supper. Now, I own a smallish sidebox smoker as well as a Weber kettle grill. I decided to use the Weber as I’m a lot more familiar with controlling the temperature on my grill than I am with my smoker. Anyway, I discovered that two racks of baby back ribs just fit on one side of my grill which allowed me to offset smoke them.
Offset smoking means that your meat isn’t directly over the flame source so it’s not going to get sizzled or charred. In fact, I placed a pan of water on the right side of the grill, lit charcoal briquettes in a pile on the left side, placed the ribs over the pan of water (which while catching any dripping grease from the smoking process also serves to produce some steam in the kettle which helps keep the meat moist) and left the left side of the grill’s flip door open so I could drop moist hickory wood chips directly onto the coals. Add a grill thermometer on the far side (away from the flames), adjust the vents to control the heat (which I wanted and kept in a range between 220F and 250F) and the evening meal was on.
The only things to do from then til around 4 PM was to periodically (about every 15-20 minutes for the first 90 mins) add hickory chips and keep an eye on the temperature, adjusting the top and bottom vents (bottom to regulate the heat of the coals, top to control how much of that heat/smoke is kept in the kettle). After 90 minutes I quit adding hickory as any smoke that was going to get into the meat had already done so. Any more smoking after that and all you succeed in doing is making your outer layer taste entirely like smoke…the meat has seared enough by then that you’re not going to get any more into the meat itself. So, I sat back, listened to some music, had a couple of adult beverages, and gave pointers to my daughter who, for whatever reason, wants to learn how to barbecue. I taught her about controlling the heat, when to tell to add more charcoal, how to “read” the meat to tell that it’s done (you lift the ribs by one end with a pair of tongs and if the meat “breaks” rather than stretches, it’s done) and how to fetch daddy another Mike’s Hard Lemonade because I drank all my beer the day before. You don’t “flip” the ribs anytime during the smoking process, by the way. I only mention that because she asked when I was going to flip them.
Anyway, once the meat was done, I opened the lower vent all the way, opened the upper vent a little more (about half open) and grabbed some store bought brown sugar barbecue sauce. I put one coat of barbecue sauce on the ribs and then let them run in the now hotter kettle for another 10-15 minutes to allow the sauce to bake down just a bit onto the ribs. One coat ensures there’s some but not too much sauce on the ribs and letting them coast in the heat for a little bit caramelizes the sugars in the sauce and, in general, just makes it really good. For the purists out there with thoughts about making your own sauce: yes, there are good recipes for home made rib finishing sauces. I didn’t do one for three reasons:
- I don’t have a good recipe for a brown sugar rib sauce
- I found a perfectly good sauce at the store when I went to buy my allspice and brown sugar
- I’m really lazy.
Anyway, the ribs come off the grill onto a platter, get foil wrapped to let them rest (for about 15 more minutes), I spread the coals out and throw some ears of corn (soaked in water in the husk) on the grill because Mrs. Ranger loves fresh corn on the cob in the husk. The final results (with a regrettably somewhat fuzzy picture) were thus:
Ended up feeding 4 adults and 4 kids (although the kids ate mostly hot dogs and hamburgers which I tossed on with the corn) and it went over exceptionally well. I apologized in advance to our friends who were over with their kids and playing the part of “guinea pigs” for my barbecue experiment but they seemed to have gotten over it as there were zero leftovers insofar as the ribs went. Through some kind of cosmic luck I managed to get them just right in that they were easy to eat but they weren’t falling off the bone. Meat came away easily and the sweet-hot rub under the sauce was there and it all mixed just right.
So, while I won’t be doing a command performance of slow hickory smoked baby back ribs this July 4, I hope all of you do manage to find something to slap onto a grill and that it turns out well. There’s hardly a better way to remember our Founding Fathers heroic efforts to free us from the tyranny of English colonial rule…not to mention things like kidney pie and sweetbreads. Egad!
My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.