Anyone who’s anyone…
Knows that in the South (USA) BBQ reigns supreme as the cuisine of choice in many of the lower states. Drawing particular attention to Pork; whose various cuts are cooked in myriad different ways. The cornerstone of this style of cooking is the mighty baby-back ribs.
Just thinking about is enough to make just about anyone break out into a song and dance
The secret to the success of this dish that has allowed it to enjoy almost cult-status particularly in and around Memphis, TN., the place that practically invented them., is the ‘low and slow’ method of cooking. This surrounds the combination of a charcoal cooker (Such as a Weber kettle, an American icon), a constant ~110° Celsius 3-4 hour cook time, smoke, and killer seasoning.
Getting the first part right is easy: Kettles can be had from about $3-400 for the one you see pictured above. The temperature is pretty simple too once you have a few runs at it, it’s just a matter of moderating the coals to sit up and around 200°C before you place your smoking wood on. The smoke comes from various types of wood chips. My choice is hickory for pork as it has a pretty decorated history in BBQ. The idea is that you soak these overnight, dry them in the morning before cooking in the afternoon. When the coals are white hot, these are placed directly on them for full effect. Over the course of the next few hours the damp wood envelopes the kettle in fumes and fuses together with the ribs for that irresistible smokey flavour. They also drop the temperature of the Kettle considerably, hence the need to start with a slightly higher temperature.
Finally, the marinade. There are essentially two phases to making the perfect ribs, yet many people have this all wrong. For the best ribs, a dry rub is applied 24 hours before cooking and this forms a thick crust on the outside of the ribs that give off most of the flavours. The BBQ sauce, which many people think is the centrepiece of the dish is simply an accompaniment when the ribs are cooked, or close to. Hell, some places in Memphis serve them ‘naked’ with no sauce at all. So the rub is vital, and here’s how it goes.
Full credit to Meathead and his site amazingribs.com – it is my virtual handbook and you could spend days simply absorbing the information listed therein. I will share two of his recipes for the basics of getting it right: Memphis dust and KC Classic.
Meathead’s Mephis Dust:
Yield. Makes about 3 cups. I typically use about 1 tablespoon per side of a slab of St. Louis cut ribs, and a bit less for baby backs. Store the extra in a zipper bag or a glass jar with a tight lid.
Preparation time. 10 minutes to find everything and 5 minutes to dump them together.
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons rosemary powderDo this1) Mix the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. If the sugar is lumpy, crumble the lumps by hand or on the side of the bowl with a fork. If you store the rub in a tight jar, you can keep it for months. If it clumps just chop it up, or if you wish, spread it on a baking sheet and put it in a 250°F oven for 15 minutes to drive off moisture. No hotter or the sugar can burn.
2) For most meats, sprinkle just enough on to color it. Not too thick, about 2 tablespoons per side of a large slab of St. Louis Cut ribs. For Memphis style ribs without a sauce, apply the rub thick enough to make a crunchy crust, about 3 tablespoons per side (remember to Skin ‘n’ Trim the back side). To prevent contaminating your rub with uncooked meat juices, spoon out the proper amount before you start and seal the bottle for future use. Keep your powder dry. To prevent cross-contamination, one hand sprinkles on the rub and the other hand does the rubbing. Don’t put the hand that is rubbing into the powder.
3) Massage the rub into the meat at least an hour before cooking. Better still, rub them up, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them overnight before cooking.
Also, prepare the KC Classic sauce now – We won’t use it till later but you will want to have it done well in advance as it can be time consuming to cook and for best effect you will want to reduce the final product 1/3 to 1/2.
Meatheads KC Classic Sauce:
Yield: 6 cups. Click here to calculate how much you need and for tips on saucing strategies.
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 15 minutes
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup yellow ballpark-style mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup steak sauce
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup dark brown sugar (you can use light brown sugar if that’s all you have)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1) In a small bowl, mix the chili powder, black pepper, and salt. In a large bowl, mix the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, lemon juice, steak sauce, molasses, honey, hot sauce, and brown sugar. Mix them, but you don’t have to mix thoroughly.
2) Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and saute until limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Crush the garlic, add it, and cook for another minute. Add the dry spices and stir for about 2 minutes to extract their oil-soluble flavors. Add the wet ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes with the lid off to thicken it a bit.
3) Taste and adjust. Add more of anything that you want a little bit at a time. It may taste a bit vinegary at first, but that will be less obvious when you use it. Remember, it is going on meat and will be cooked once again. Strain it if you don’t want the chunks of onion and garlic. I prefer leaving them in. They give the sauce a home-made texture. You can use it immediately, but I think it’s better when aged overnight. You can store it into clean bottles in the refrigerator for a month or two.
With the rub ready to go, start by getting as many racks of pork baby back ribs as required. I like to work on one slab per person. This may sound like a lot, but ribs are predominantly bones. Have your butcher remove the white layer of ‘membrane’ on the back of the ribs exposing the bone, as this is chewy and better off removed. Once cleaned it is time to apply the rub; I don’t really worry too much about exact quantities just apply the desired amount. Once this is done, stack them in a plastic tub and forget about them overnight.
So, the ribs have been marinading overnight, the hickory chips (Last time round i used Samba) have been soaking in water, and its time to wake up and fire up the BBQ. Because the ribs are a 3.5-4 hour cook, and the Weber will take at least an hour to get right you will want to allow plenty of time for setup. You will want to be at least 3 hours into the cook before the guests arrive because it is so easy to run behind schedule cooking the supplementary things like the fries and corn.
Anywho, With 10 racks of ribs to cook, i fired up my double barrel weber setup.
It is imperative that you have a device to stand the ribs up and maximise real estate. I use a pair of Weber Rib Racks that can be had for just shy of $40 bucks a pop. Why not just stack them all on the grill and go for broke? Because the method of cooking we will utilise is known as the ‘indirect’ method of cooking. This means, we will line half of the Weber floor with coals, and the other half with a baking tray filled with water. The rib stand sits above the water pan and allows the ribs to cook not directly above the heat of the coals allowing for a better, slower method of cooking. Furthermore, the water slowly evaporates keeping the meat nice and moist. You can also experiment with wine, liquid smoke and other liquids in the water too; but to me this is just a waste of time and money as smoked and seasoned properly these flavours will be the dominant ones.
So, get your fire started and your pan inserted.
The larger wooden chunks in this image are actually Mesquite; another great smoking wood but I simply burned these off helping the coals get up to temp as I wanted to allow Hickory to be the dominant flavour. Get the coals heated and separated as quickly as possible, they just need to be established at this point so don’t stress if they are not white hot yet. You just have to have them so you can move them to one side without the risk of losing the fire. To do this, place a water pan (Baking tray is ideal) and fill it with cold water. Get the fire up to operating temperature, and take the chips that have been soaked overnight and left to dry the morning of the BBQ and throw them directly onto the coals. Make sure they are still damp, but not wet as this will do nothing but soak the fire and envelope them in steam, not smoke.
Put the griller plate on the Weber again and the rib stand should cover the dimensions of the water pan nicely. Place the ribs in the rib rack, close the lid and leave it closed for the predominant duration of the cook. The temperature gauge should now be nicely hovering around 110°C. Resist the urge to constantly remove the lid and check/smell the ribs as this will do nothing but prolong the cooking time and because the ribs are cooking for so long you will want to preserve as much energy in the coals as you can.
Fast forward to the final 30-45 mins of cooking. You now have a couple of options: You can place any additional things you need cooked onto the Weber for quick cooking directly over the coals. In this instance I placed a fresh Salami that smoked nicely and tasted amazing on the grill, but you can also place things like corn and potatoes on there too, although the temperature is a little low for anything that needs a thorough cooking such as potatoes.
Furthermore, if you like your ribs wet, now is the time to place the KC Classic sauce on if so desired. I didn’t this time around but if required here is how its done. Take another small aluminium tray and place on the Weber. Fill the tray with the desired amount of sauce and bring up to temperature. There is no point applying fridge temperature sauce to hot ribs. Baste them and place the lid back on for the final stage of cooking.
After the ribs are done, take them off and bring them inside so your guests can begin to salivate.
Next, open the required amount of wine to get suitably inebriated after a hard days cook.
Finally, take the sides that hopefully someone else has been cooking whilst you were doing the ribs and serve them out.
Place everything on the table including the BBQ sauce, squeezie bottles are convenient, and that’s it! Tuck in and enjoy, you can worry about the calories tomorrow!