Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Heath's Hickory Smoked Spare Ribs

Today I'm going to attempt to explain how I do my ribs. Allison has asked me to add an outdoor cooking post to our blog, and hopefully we'll be adding one from time to time.

I've had a few different smokers over the course of about ten years, but about a year ago we purchased a Big Green Egg. I don't know how many of you have ever heard or seen one of these things but they cook up some great food- the juiciest chickens, ribs, and pork that you could imagine. You don't have to have a Big Green Egg to smoke good ribs, however my ribs have gotten a lot better since I started using it.

These are St. Louis-style spare ribs, which means the bottom skirt from the rib racks have been trimmed to remove all the gristled stuff that runs along the bottom of the rack. Some people cook them right out of the pack and some people trim. You can actually buy them at most markets already trimmed up. This is the best option if you don't want to fool with trimming them yourself. If you decide to trim your own, have a very sharp knife on hand. I cook my baby back ribs the same way- so if you prefer baby backs, this method will work as well and there is no trimming needed.

1. Start by opening your ribs, and rinsing in the sink to wash off all the blood.

2. Next you're going to want to remove the membrane from the back side of the ribs. This will make them fall off the bone easier, lets your dry rub permeate the back side of the ribs, and makes for easier chewing. This is a tricky step that takes a little practice and can be easy or hard, all according on the freshness of the ribs and if the ribs have ever been frozen. Without a lot of typing, I'm including a link for trimming your ribs and also removing the membrane.

3. Next you will want to apply your rub. Start off by taking regular yellow mustard and start at one end of the ribs, and make a single line of mustard all the way down the slab. I know what you're thinking. Mustard? Yes mustard. It will have no taste in the end, and serves as a great base to anchor your dry rub when applying it. Without it, a lot of your rub will just bounce or run off with the water that's left on the ribs after washing. Once you get your mustard down one side of the rack, go ahead and rub the mustard all over that side of the ribs making a thin paste. Now you're ready to apply your rub to that side of the ribs. I have so many different rubs for barbecue, it pretty much takes up one of our pantry levels (and makes me get funny looks when I bring more home). Most any kind of barbecue rub will work and have a good taste, so you will have to try a few out and see which kind you want. I think Wal-Mart carries several different rubs with Stubbs being one of them. Or you can make up your own rub by starting with a light coating of brown sugar-then add a light dusting of paprika, garlic powder, chili powder, and black pepper. Once you get your rub sprinkled on, rub it in starting at one end of the ribs and working your way down. You will see how the mustard combines with the rub and anchors on the ribs. Once you're done with that side, just repeat on the other side.

4. Now you want to light the grill. The key to cooking good smoked ribs is the low, indirect temp. By saying indirect, I mean keeping the ribs away from the fire. I use 250 degrees on my egg, and use an attachment called a plate setter which is basically a ceramic piece that goes between the fire and the meat. You can accomplish this on a gas grill as well if you have a four- burner or larger grill by only lighting one burner and keeping your ribs on the side that's not hot. You also need a temperature gauge on your grill to be able to monitor the temp. Same method works on a charcoal grill. Coals on one side and meat on the other. It's a little more tricky with charcoal and takes a few tries to figure out the amount of coals to put in. Plus, most charcoal grills do not have a temperature gauge on them.

5. Now you're going to be getting your smoking wood ready. I use hickory, pecan, apple, or cherry on most of my cooks. If you can get your hands on pecan wood- use it. It has a light sweet taste to it, and is great for ribs. If not, go with hickory. Living here in North Alabama, if you've bought smoked pork of any kind, more than likely it's hickory smoked. Hickory chips are also readily available at just about any market. It will be on the charcoal aisle in the store. On the egg, I just throw the chips right on the fire. If you're going about this on a gasser you're going to need some foil to make a packet. Pull off a piece of foil about the size of a shoebox, and lay a handful of chips right in the middle. Scatter them out a little bit, and fold the foil up making a packet. Take a fork and poke several holes in both sides of the packet to let the smoke escape.

6. Once you've got the grill going and holding at 250 degrees, and your smoking wood is ready, it's time for the ribs. Place the slab(s) of ribs on the smoker (or side of the grill without the fire)bone side down. Place the foil packet of smoking chips right over the fire. On a Big Green Egg, just put the chips on top of the fire before placing your plate setter on. At 250 degrees on my egg, I usually go three hours before I ever open the lid to look at them. By then, the ribs (on the bone end of the slabs) should be starting to pull back from the bone just a little. If you'll notice in the picture, the meat on the ribs are pulled back almost an inch, leaving the bone exposed. You want this to be just beggining, to be ready for the next step.

7. Now that you have the ribs starting to pull back a little bit, you're ready for the next step. Take some heavy-duty aluminum foil, and pull off a strip twice as long as the slab of ribs. Double this over long ways. Pour a splash of apple juice in the foil (maybe a couple of tablespoons). This does not have to be an exact amount, you just want some moisture in the pack with the ribs. Take the ribs off the grill, and place them meat side down in the juice, and fold the foil up around the slab completely sealing it off.

8. Place the foiled ribs back on the smoker, meat side down in the foil packet, away from the fire. Leave them on for another hour. This time is only an estimate and is preference also. What this step does is basically steams the ribs and makes the meat fall off the bone. If you like your ribs completely falling off the bone, then it will take at least an hour. Also keep in mind that if you're trying all of this on a gasser that's holding at 300 instead of 250, then your times will be altered a little. The times should be exact if you're running at 250. At the one hour mark, open the foil and get a peek. The ribs should be pulling back from the bone ends even more by now. Wiggle the slab around and pull on the bones. If they are not to your liking, then go another 30 minutes. One hour in foil on the egg makes them completely fall apart.

9. The finishing step is done after you get them falling off the bone in the foil. Once they are tender enough for you, remove them from the foil and place them back on the grill or smoker. Take the barbecue sauce of your choice and completely mop the slab of ribs. I use a lot of different sauces and sometimes make my own. These were mopped with Sweet Baby Ray's sauce. It can be found just about anywhere. Once you get them mopped, shut the lid and let them go about 30 minutes or so. Basically, all your doing is warming up the sauce and making it more like a glaze.

Now that the kitchen's a mess, you're sweating like crazy, and you smell like smoke, the ribs are finally ready to eat. I know this is quite a long process, but ribs are one of the trickiest things I have ever cooked. It's gotten a whole lot easier now with the Big Green Egg. Before buying the egg, I made do with what I had, and actually turned out some good ribs on gas and charcoal grills. It takes a lot of practice, so don't be discouraged if you don't get the results you're wanting. Enjoy your ribs!