Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ribs for the Holiday

I love smoked pork ribs, done correctly: tender, smokey, not sticky, not mushy.

I have been cooking ribs for at least 20 years. My father cooked ribs over the major summer holidays for our family for as long as I remember before that. I have been a judge on the competitive BBQ circuit for over 10 years. I have eaten good ribs, and (many more) bad ones.

Everyone (and their father) believes they know how to cook ribs. They are wrong. It is not intuitive and the BBQ grill industry and the mega marts silently conspire against your success. You need:

1. Quality meat. Very hard to get ribs that have not been frozen. I am most familiar with cooking baby back ribs, which are less fatty than spare ribs that others like to cook. The local Harris Teeter freezes all of their ribs. It is impossible to cook ribs properly if they have been frozen. They start to dry out immediately. Also, ribs are not trimmed as well by butchers as they used to be. I have to take off parts of the loin that are left on the ribs so that they will cook more evenly.

2. Good smoker. A grill will never work as well. I smoke my ribs for about 4 hours at 225 degrees. A kettle style grill that most people have cannot keep charcoal burning at this low a temperature and will burn the ribs. A gas grill will not give the flavor I want, although some can maintain this temperature well.

3. Good wood and charcoal. I like to smoke with apple wood, which a soak in water for about an hour before I need it. I start and maintain the temperature of the fire with hardwood lump charcoal, which does a much better job of maintaining steady heat than wood alone or charcoal brickettes, which create a dirty fire and lots of ash. Also, I have had problems cooking on a brickette fire for a long time because the amount of ash that the charcoal puts out can smother my fire!

Where is my list is sauce? Its not on the list. You can make great ribs just seasoning them with salt and pepper and cooking them slow. I do use a dry rub that I put on overnight, and finish with a BBQ sauce that I make my self. Don't use a pre-made sauce, unless you know that it is not too sweet--the sugar will burn very quickly making for an unpleasant experience.

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