Sunday, November 2, 2008

Smoked BBQ Ribs

Ah, ribs. Yet another reason why I married my hubby. The hubby has been smoking and grilling ribs for years and has perfected his technique. It’s quite the complicated little process, and my involvement, while minimal, is Very Important. I tear plastic wrap, open doors, lift the smoker lid, and make mashed potatoes.

I’m only marginally familiar with what my hubby does while I’m completing my Very Important tasks, so I attempted to follow him around with my camera this time to create a pictorial tutorial, along with my captivating narration. So we can all learn. To-geth-er.

You can use either pork spareribs or baby back ribs. Spareribs have more fat (they come from the same part of the pig as bacon), and because fat equals flavor, some say these are the more flavorful ribs. They’re also typically cheaper than baby backs. Baby backs are leaner (they come from the same part of the pig as the pork chops), so they’re more tender. And kind of pricey. They also cook faster because they’re less dense. We don’t have a strong preference either way – we typically check out what’s on sale. This time, we’re making baby back ribs, three slabs.

Step 1: Prepare your ribs
The night before you’ll be cooking your ribs, prepare them by trimming the membrane and adding a rub.

Be sure your ribs are thawed. Elementary, dear Watson, but very important. Next, decide whether to discard the membrane that runs along the back of the ribs. Again, there are two schools of thought here: some think the membrane helps keeps the ribs more moist, and others think that it inhibits the smoke and spice flavors from penetrating the meat. Don’t eat membranes when you don’t have to, I always say, so we remove it. Sometimes you need to cut this off with a knife, and other times it just pulls off.

Then you must rub your ribs. You can use any rub recipe you prefer; we actually found a store-bought version that we like above all others, which makes this even easier.

Go Famous Dave’s! We use this on lots of stuff. Anyway, you’ll probably want to put down a sheet of plastic wrap first to catch the rib rub. Sprinkle the rub on both sides of the ribs, and rub the mixture in with your hands. Seal up each slab with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate overnight.

Step 2: Prepare your smoker
There are a variety of smokers on the market – charcoal, propane, electric, stovetop, etc. You can even create a smoker using your charcoal or gas grill. We have three smokers, but this little guy is the hubby’s favorite.

It’s a charcoal kettle smoker, and gives the best flavor. But unlike our propane or stovetop smokers, it’s the toughest to control in terms of the temperature. (You can’t just crank up a knob to make it hotter.)

Regardless of which type of smoker you have, you need wood chips or chunks. Or both. So the first thing the hubby does when he wakes up is to soak his wood. (Heh.) You can use any wood you like – mesquite and applewood are very common, for example – but we are a hickory peoples. The hubby uses both hickory chunks and chips, a few handfuls of each. I’m always still in bed at this point, but my hubby was thoughtful enough to capture the moment for me.

Ooh, creepy glowing puppy eyes. Anyway, you must soak the wood in water for at least 20 minutes. This is where your good-smelling smoke comes from, and you want the wood to smolder, not burn. Then get your smoker ready for the ribs. Add your wood chips and get your heat source going so the smoker is nice and hot when you add your ribs.

Step 3: Smoke your ribs
When the smoker is hot, you’re ready put the ribs on.

This is sans sauce for the moment, people. The ribs need to cook around 225 degrees for approximately four hours. The timing can vary a lot, however, depending on the ribs themselves, how your heat source is burning, the weather conditions outside, etc. About three-quarters of the way through the smoking time, remove the ribs from the smoker, add some moisture, wrap the ribs in foil, and return them to the smoker. Some people spray their ribs with an apple juice mixture; my hubby adds a light coating of sauce to cook in some of that tangy flavor.

It’s a matter of personal taste. Again, we’re fans of the Famous Dave’s sauce. We like it better than anything homemade that we’ve tried, so why not take advantage of the convenience? Wrapping the ribs in foil helps speed up the tenderizing process; you can certainly wrap them in foil for the entire smoking process, but you will sacrifice some lovely color and flavor.

Step 4: Grill your ribs
When the ribs have been sufficiently smoked – you can eat them at this point – it’s time to put them on the grill for their final saucing-up. Lay the slabs on the grill and coat them with sauce. Flip and coat the other side.

Close the lid and let the sauce caramelize a bit, then reapply the sauce again on both sides. You just want to cook some of the sauce into the outside of the ribs to make them sticky and yummy.

Step 5: Eat your ribs
Slice the slabs into individual rib portions.

See how the meat just pulls off the bone?

Perfect. Serve with chipotle-cheddar mashed potatoes, Texas toast, and baked apples.

And really. No need to wait for my photo. You, on the right, you just go ahead and grab.

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