Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to make kick ass barbecue ribs

1) Prepare your ribs.

This is easy, all you need to do is remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs and apply your rub. To remove the membrane, simply cut into it with a sharp knife and pull it away like so:

As for the rub, this is pure personal preference. I usually prefer to make my own so I can fine tune it exactly the way I like it, but today I was under a bit of a time-crunch, so we just used a plain old store-bought rub. Simply cover the ribs with a very light coating of oil (vegetable or olive, again, personal preference) and liberally coat the ribs:

2) Prepare your grill/smoker

We're barbecuing here, not grilling, so you need a grill/smoker that's either set up for indirect heat or is big enough to you can put your ribs on one side and your coals on the other. I'm using a cheap offset grill:

Now, there's a certain group of people (IE, elitist assholes) who claim that a sub $500 grill is worthless and not worth wasting the money on. I bought the above grill for about eighty bucks and it made the best chicken I ever tasted. A more expensive grill might make things a little easier (thicker steel and better seals help regulate the temperature)...but when Alton Brown can smoke a whole salmon using just a cardboard box, an electric hotplate and a cast iron skillet filled with sawdust...a cheap grill/smoker will do just fine.

As you can see, I line the bottom of the cooking side with tinfoil for easy cleanup and leave just a little ash in the firebox to help with insulation. You never want your grill to be too clean. Obviously anything that's going to come into direct contact with the food should be spotless, but smokers become 'seasoned' over time. Basically, a wipe down each time is enough, don't worry about scrubbing it until you can see your face in it.

3) Prepare your charcoal and wood chunks.

One thing you really do need is a chimney starter. Firstly, lighter fluid, no matter how cleanly the manufacturers say it burns, always leaves a funny taste on the food to me. Secondly, while it's holding a flame, the charcoal is giving off substances like creosote and tar. (Ever eaten chicken at a cookout with that greasy black film on it? That's where someone put the chicken on the grill way o early before the coals were ashed over and smoldering properly). Thirdly, they're super convenient, make lighting your charcoal a breeze and are a really easy way to replenish your coals while cooking. Just fill the chimney,put couple of sheets of scrunched up newspaper underneath and light:

As you can see, it also gets your coals hotter than they would with lighter fluid (as well as getting them to max heat more quickly) this is fifteen minutes after lighting:

You should also soak your wood for about an hour before adding them. How do you add your wood to the fire? Well, I've seen techniques ranging from from wrapping the wood in tinfoil to using expensive custom-made trays and baskets. My advice is simple...just shake off as much water as possible and drop the directly onto the coals:

So, should you use any special charcoal or wood?

Well, expensive charcoal burns hotter and longer than cheap briquettes, so it's worth getting some decent charcoal and not the generic store brand, especially when doing ribs as you'll need to keep the smoker going for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Cheaper charcoal means you'll have a harder time and need to replenish your coals more often... so go for some decent stuff, but don't go crazy. Regular old Kingsford briquettes work perfectly and it's not worth spending $30 on a bag of charcoal.

As for the wood, my only recommendation is wood chunks, not chips. Quite simply, chips work well for grilling, but for smoking they burn far too quickly. Unless you want to replace them every fifteen minutes, buy a bag of mesquite or hickory chunks. You can buy a big bag for less than six dollars. Here's what mine looked like while they were smoking:

4) Start cooking

Now, Barbecue 101 says you should let your grill get up to temperature (in this case 225 degrees) before adding your meat. With my grill, there's little point because simply opening the lid let's out 90% of the heat. I simply add some soaked wood chunks to the fire, throw on the ribs and close the lid:


There's an old adage that goes: "If you're lookin' you ain't cookin'" and it couldn't be more true. Open the lid and you let out all the heat, all the smoke and it's going to take ten or fifteen minutes to build up again. Simply keep an eye on your grill's temperature gauge and keep it as close to 225 as possible. Control the heat with the firebox damper but leave the lid down unless you're adding more wood chunks. You only need to open the cooking side once to rotate the ribs halfway through cooking.

6) Low and Slow

Now, it's difficult to get two people to agree on anything when it comes to good barbecue. Some people say the secret is a 40 ingredient rub while others say you should only season with a touch of salt and pepper. For example, I like to have light smoke going the whole time I cook, while other people recommend only using smoke for 50% of the cooking time.

However, the one thing everyone agrees on is the three magic words: "Low and Slow"

The whole point of cooking is to get the food to a certain internal temperature so it's safe to eat. When barbecuing, you want to get to that temperature as s-l-o-w-l-y as possible.

For ribs, I recommend 225 for about six hours. I also recommend using an instant-read meat thermometer to check for the proper internal temperature.

7) Enjoy!

When the ribs are at the proper temperature, this is the time to add your bbq sauce (if you're using it) and leave for another 20 minutes...otherwise immediately remove from the grill, wrap in foil and leave to rest for about 20-30 minutes. Then..well, you know how to eat ribs:

[Note: There was meant to be an image of the finished product here, but by the time they were ready, we were starving and had eaten the whole lot before I remembered I wanted to take a picture. Take my word for it...they were awesome.]


Sunny said...

They WERE Awesome.......and tender too-....I actually was having a problem with my dentures last night and had to leave them out last evening and overnight- and I was afraid I wasn't going to get to enjoy the ribs we had bought specifically for our anniversary celebration, but I ate the ribs with no upper teeth with NO PROBS!!! They were "like BUTTA!!!!"
*shakes head- not believing she actually admitted that in public.....*

Evan 08 said...

... been craving ribs for a couple of weeks... mmmmmmm... ribs