Some food, some drink.
Ribs on rails: Foolproof barbeque pork spareribs.
It's time to shatter the dogma around some of the best barbeque a person can pull off their grill. These pork spareribs are perfectly-seasoned with a homemade spice rub that compliments that smoky, barely clinging to the bone tenderness that makes for the best eating. Sounds like work I know, but these ribs aren't complicated; In fact they're downright simple if you know your grill and don't mind the wait (hey, nobody said easy was quick).
I reckon that as far as I'm concerned, barbeque pork spareribs are the pinnacle of barbeque. Here is a cut of swine that insists on being cooked no other way than low and slow; and whether your profession of the faith is one of sauce or not, a good slab of ribs will stand on its own regardless of condiment.
The guy ultimately responsible for maintaining my website design is a long-time friend of mine; In fact, I've known Brant long enough that calling him a "good friend" is a bit of an insult. Anyhow, last year the BBQ was at his place, and now that I'm sporting a proper charcoal burner, it was time for my friend to head back West for a Kansas Cookout. Last time, we went with novelty; this year, we got back to basics with a mission to produce the best rack of barbeque pork spareribs a couple of rank amateurs could muster. Brant came armed with a mess of research, mostly in the form of videos. As barbeque guys are all about technique and less about recipes, I suppose that makes sense. That said, making things a little less ambiguous for us non-competitive types never hurt. This rib recipe only makes one assumption; and it's that you know your cooker. Slow and low cooking vessels abound in all shapes and forms; and as long as you know how yours cooks, I don't think it's possible to screw this up.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Put on some Buddy Guy and prep your cooker of choice for 250F indirect, adding smoke wood as directed by the manufacturer (we used pecan and hickory). Prep your ribs (if your butcher wasn't feeling benevolent), by removing excess connective tissue and membrane using a knife to start and your mitts and a paper towel to pull that crud off. Reserve 1 Tbsp of rub and coat the ribs with the rest, using twice as much on the meaty side as the back side. Next, coat the meaty side with a layer of brown sugar and let it rest out on the counter until the sugar dissolves (about 30-45 minutes). Sprinkle the reserved tablespoon of rub over the dissolved sugar and cook for 3.5 hours. When time's up, remove the ribs to an appropriately-sized sheet of foil. For every pound of meat, drizzle with 1 fluid ounce of beer (that's a shot glass full). Wrap the ribs up completely in the foil and return to the grill for another 1.5 hours (still at 250F). After round two, remove from the grill and consume voraciously with a cold beer.
- Depending on how tight you are with your butcher, the hardest and probably most necessary thing you gotta do to prep your ribs is to remove any attached membrane (pretty sure we're talking about what's left of the pleural membrane here), which is in no way tasty. For my ribs, my butcher hooked me up, and what little membrane was left I was able to pull with my fingers using a paper towel for grip.
- Don't rub the rub. Do I need to say it again? Y'know I got kids and I'm used to repeating myself: Don't rub the rub! There's no need, as you'll just end up with a less even coverage than what you started with. Be sure, however to sprinkle every square centimeter with seasoning that you plan to bring into contact with your mouth, but only season the back-side of the ribs with half as much rub; otherwise you're just wasting seasoning.
- If you're keen to add smoking chips or chunks to your fire, I say go with what you like. We went with a 50/50 blend of hickory and pecan. Why? Because I like what hickory does for pig and the milder earthiness of the pecan wood plays really nice with all that sugar.
- The rub as wrote for this recipe seasons exactly three and a half pounds of ribs. Likewise, it'll takes a scant cup of brown sugar for the same amount of meat. Scale accordingly if you've got more 'que to do.
- As the rub pulls moisture from the meat of the rib, that solution mingles with the brown sugar very readily as brown sugar is crazy-hygroscopic. This creates a syrupy glaze over the meat of the rib. I think what's going on underneath the layer of salty-sweet spice (and mind you, this is solely based on what little ol' me knows about food and chemistry) is that protein denaturing and osmotic readjustment continue unfettered under the layer of dissolved sugar. As the ribs cook, this layer of cure helps to not only deliver liquid to the meat, but keep the moisture in the meat as it continues to cook, making it pretty darn difficult to dry the ribs out. As an added bonus, this sugar shellac promotes the creation of that barbeque bark that folks fight over when diving into a rib plate.
- One thing you don't want your ribs to do is fall off the bone. Oh sure you want 'em tender, but how the hell you are supposed to eat 'em if you can't even portion them properly? I've got a theory about what the foil wrap at the end does, and I think it's all about controlling the collagen. We've spent the better part of this ride in the cooker imparting smoky goodness into the meat, and it's my guess that the proteins that the collagen is comprised of have thoroughly had the hell beat out of them by this point and are ready to accept a shot of moisture. Thus, wrapping the ribs up with a wee bit of liquid provides the water necessary to create plenty of lip-smacking, structure in the form of gelatin. Without that shot of moist heat at the end, I doubt the results would be as successful.
- There's really no need to rest your ribs before eating. The heat's been so gradual that the moisture in the meat really won't need time to readjust. Just dig in!
You can see the pictures as well as I can; do ya really think I'm gonna have anything bad to say about this recipe? I don't make ribs for a living, and I sure as hell don't make them everyday (one pig's only got so many ribs), but I can count on one hand the number of times that I've had ribs at a barbeque joint that have been better than this. The edges of these ribs have plenty of smoky-sweet bark that prep your palate for a second bite of tender, properly-seasoned pork. The meat is tender, and won't fall apart on you until you cut it, pull it off the bone, or take a bite (which I understand from my review of the material is just want you're looking for in a rib). That being said, if you're portioning your racks you're gonna need a sharp knife so as not to make a mess of things. Sauce? Sans-sauce? The choice is yours; but I personally feel that what happens between the brown sugar and the rub makes for a hybrid that is the best of both worlds, so I eat mine without.
As I've stated before, I probably have no business giving barbeque advice; but when it's this fun, and the results are this good, the rest of y'all can nitpick technique while we eat. :-p
I gotta give props to Brant for bird-dogging the professional tips and techniques necessary for us to compile a proper recipe. He and I go back and forth on Twitter sharing tips, tricks, and discoveries for all things steel keg, green egg or otherwise. If you're keen to listen or even chime in, make sure you follow us both!