Sunday, September 5, 2010

Smoked Pork Ribs - Labor Day Menu

Smoked ribs seem so difficult, but really a little trial and error will take you a long way to becoming your own pitmaster.  Let's start with the basics: the cut of meat.  I always opt for the cheaper cut generally because it has not been butchered to death.  Okay, I see the irony in that one.  Anyhow, if you will get a full pork sparerib rack, there is still some essential fat, AND there is additional meat you can trim off to use for pulled pork later.  You just cook the trimmings for 8 hours in your slow-cooker on high with a little seasoned salt.  It's a nice little bonus, and you are still paying less than the cost of a trimmed rack.  Here is a little video I put together with the help of my assistant (daughter) on how to trim your own rack of spareribs.  It's our first shot at video, so try not to laugh too hard.

So you see, it takes a few minutes, but it is well worth the time and cost to trim your own meat.  Now for the rub.  It is just a standard GOPPSS (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, pepper, salt, brown sugar).  I start with 1/4 cup of all ingredients except salt and pepper.  I only use 2 tablespoons of each of those, or half the amount of the other ingredients.  This amount will make enough for two racks of ribs with some leftover that you can save for another time.  It works great on nearly any meat when baking or grilling.  Okay, not fish, but you get the picture.

To prep the rack, just take the same paring knife you were using to trim with and make some cross-hatch marks on the underside of the ribs.  This allows the rub to really get into the meat.  Like this...

Sorry for the dark picture.  I am asking Santa for a REAL camera for Christmas.  Next, rub both sides and edges of the racks generously with the rub, place in a zip bag or container, and allow to marinate at least of couple of hours to overnight in the fridge.  Just remember to bring them back to room temperature before putting them on the grill.  An hour or so on the counter will do the trick.

Now, it's smoker time!  I just recently converted our deceased old gas grill into a charcoal grill/smoker.  The thing about smoking meat is you have to cook at low temperatures, 250 F or less, preferably.  The hard part is getting the temperature low enough to smoke, without grilling the meat, but hot enough to get the wood smoking.  Indirect heat is a must!  If you are using charcoal, pile the chunks up on one far side of the grill in as small a pile as possible.  This leaves you more room to cook the meat on and more space away from the fire.  I used a combination of applewood sticks (from my Daddy's in Georgia) and pecan wood that I can get on the side of the road nearly everywhere here.  Just soak the small sticks for about an hour in water before you are ready to start smoking.  Once you have your coals ashed over, pile them on the grill and throw a few sticks on top.  Once the wood starts smoking, throw the ribs on and start your vigil.  A simple oven thermometer near the end of the meat closest to the fire will help you monitor the cooking temperature.

You will need to smoke the ribs about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Two hours is better, but if you are pressed for time, you will still get some great some flavor in just the hour and a half.  You will need to add more wood every 15-30 minutes, just whenever the smoke starts to die out.  Move the meat around when you add wood to keep it cooking evenly.  Also, when you replenish, grab the old pieces and toss them under the meat, away from the coals.  This will keep them from actually burning once they dry out completely.  You do NOT want flare-ups when smoking, so keep some water handy in case it gets away from you a bit.  You will also need to replenish the coals around half-way through but will probably not need another full batch.  A half to two-thirds as much will let you maintain temperature without giving you a spike of heat that you do not want.  Remember, this is the trial and error part.  It all depends on the type of charcoal you use (I use Red Oak), the wood for smoking, the size and depth of your smoker, etc.  As long as you have smoke and keep the temperature low, you'll be in great shape.

Now, here is the secret to super tender ribs.  After the smoking is done, double-wrap each rack in aluminum foil and place them in the oven or on a grill at about 250 F for an additional hour (an hour and half if you shortened the smoke time).  Get ready for the best rib you ever made!  These puppies don't even need sauce.  I agree with my dad on this one: "If they need sauce, you messed them up."  Sauce should be an accompaniment, not a cover-up for a bad piece of meat.  Just look at the smoke ring on that beauty.  I must say, this new smoker set-up is making me do the happy dance.  Happy, happy eating!

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