Thursday, December 28, 2006


I woke up today with the undeniable need to barbecue something. The standard fare: Boston butts, would take too long (I stayed up late last night), and chickens just don't cut it. So, I settled on ribs.

There's something undeniably wonderful about barbecued ribs. Everyone---good ol' boy, southern belle, yankee, and Canadian alike---can enjoy the smokey, sweet, tangy taste of a juicy rib, with a slight resistance to the teeth as the meat pulls from a clean bone.

So, I headed out to BJ's and picked up five racks of baby back ribs. Now, it is a fact that spare ribs are better than baby back ribs, but not everyone is of the appropriate taste and palate to realize that. Further, the side ribs are harder to cook. Not necessarily something to dissuade me from cooking on most days, but I was starting late, and I have house guests. So, baby backs it is.

Now, having bought the ribs, the question of cooking them arises. Should I cook them on the new grill, or on the offset cooker? We decided to go for broke and try the new grill out for a slow cook. So, with trusty remote thermometer in hand, I headed outside to fire up the grill.

If you want good barbecue (whether that's good Boston butts, chickens, ribs, or whatever), you need to use a good fuel. Personally, I use natural lump charcoal. I've played with a few different brands, and the best I've found is Wicked Good Charcoal's Weekend Warrior Blend. The only problem with the Weekend Warrior Blend is price and availability (or is that two problems?). It's a mail-order thing, and once you figure in shipping and handling, it's pricey (for lump charcoal). Today I'm using the store brand lump charcoals from Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods. I suspect they're the same stuff, packaged with different labels, but they're good charcoal at a decent price. Just for the record, I tried the lump from Barbecues Galore recently, and found it roughly the same.

So, the ribs were cooking nicely between 200F and 250F. And the smell was wonderful.

Ribs, like all other barbecueing adventures. are primarily an effort in temperature control. I always use my wireless remote thermometer to monitor the temperatures, which need to hover ideally somewhere between 200F and 225F. Of course, baby back ribs are a forgiving cut of meat, and you can let the temperature wander up into the 250F range, if you need to. Now when it comes to monitoring temperature, you need to find one of these:This remote thermometer is worth its weight in gold for low, slow cooking.

So, with the temperature firmly set at 200F (or thereabouts), it's time to let the meat meet the grill.

When I do ribs, my method is fairly simple. Firt, make sure the ribs hang around 200F. Second, take lots of time, third, don't use too much sugar. One mistake with ribs is to make them too sweet. I tend to cook them more like I live in North Carolina (which, oddly enough, I do), and finish them like I live in Kansas City (which I don't).

So to start, I coat them in yellow mustard, then coat them in salt, black pepper, garlic (typically powder, but fresh garlic works too, it's just more annoying to work with), and paprika. Once that's done, I throw them on the grill. While the meat cooks, I baste it with an Eastern North Carolina-style sauce. I typically use my own sauce made from water, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. I also sometimes use some Carolina Treet. Today I did one coat of Carolia Treet, along with several (I lost count) of my own.

Once the meat is cooked (juices run clear, bones protrude, and all that), I coat them in a sweet sauce (I make my own with tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, and the Eastern North Carolina style sauce I mentioned above). That can be my own creation, or something sufficiently good from a store.

Personally, the best sauce from a store I know of is, "Mojo Mild" from Red, Hot and Blue. There are plenty of decent sauces available, so that's not a problem. As long as the ribs are cooked low and slow, the end result will be good.

The combination of smoke, meat, sour, sweet, and hot makes an incredible taste.

Once the ribs were more or less done, we brought them inside and cut them into three-rib lengths. Each section was immersed into a sweet sauce, and they were put back on the grill. Twenty or thirty minutes to caramelize the sauce, and they were be ready to eat.

What a great way to spend a day off!


Shan said...

Oh, I do love me some ribs.

Glad you're alive and posting - the rest of the family has disappeared!

Gwen said...

I tried to post a comment yesterday, but blogger was down and I never got around to coming back....

Every time I think of "Carolina Treet" I get the giggles.