Two years ago, my crew and I went all out on a barbecue dinner for 180 people. I had someone on site at 4 a.m., stoking the fire. At 6, I arrived, and the wood was a beautiful gray charcoal at a temperature of about 200-225 F – perfect for smoking. By 7, the ribs were smokin’ hot. For the next 10 hours, we smoked the baby back ribs (pork) and used a wet mop combination of apple cider vinegar and lime juice to keep the ribs moist and juicy.
The night before, I put my magic spice rub on 40 racks of ribs, which was all we could fit in the smoker, then let them marinate for 12 hours. The key for cooking ribs is low (temperature) and slow (cooking time).
The people’s reviews that night were all positive. That night, I let people put on barbecue sauce on the dry ribs. Since then, I’ve changed my method to putting sauce on the last 15 minutes – in a pan if I’m doing them on my grill at home. That lets the sauce thicken and crunch up a bit.
If you’re doing ribs on your grill at home, you can do them in four hours at 250 degrees F. I barbecued three racks earlier in the week, and the racks easily split apart after 3 ½ hours, which is what I look for. Grab a rack on one end and twist; if they break apart, they’re done. Any longer than that, and they dry out, unless you’re mopping those puppies every 30 minutes or so. You can also wrap them in tin foil to keep them moist.
Here’s a few rib tips:
- When you find a good producer of ribs, buy them at the same place every time. I think Costco produces really quality ribs, lean and meaty. Packages come with three racks for between $20 and $25, depending on the weight. That will comfortably feed 10-12 people 3-5 ribs each. Some people like pork (baby backs are my favorite), some like spare ribs, some like beef (
, not my favorite). Know what you like and stick with it. Texas
- When grilling (direct heat), don’t keep the ribs over the flame too long; they’ll blacken quickly, as mine did this week. Start with the meaty side down first (fat-side down first causes flare-ups), brown them a little (15-20 minutes), then flip (another 15-20 minutes). If they cook too fast, remove them from the heat to a cooler spot on the grill but keep the lid down.
- Cooking ribs in the oven works just fine; you just won’t have the smoke ring that some people like. You can always add liquid smoke to your wet mop for added smokiness.
- If you’re using a smoker, keep track of the temperature. Keep adding wood every hour or so, so that the wood is never blazing, which raises the temperature too high. It takes a little practice to handle the fire properly on a smoker, which uses indirect heat. Some barbecue chefs use charcoal briquets to light the wood. Smoke is what gives barbecue a grayish/purplish ring around the meat, which is a good thing.
- I’m a big believer in putting dry rubs on meats and letting them sit for 8-12 hours. I don’t readily share my exact spice rub mixture, but I do tell people the secret: salt and pepper over night. If you look at champion barbecue chefs’ recipes, they all have some sort of mixture of red chili powder (perhaps even a little cayenne), salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Some chefs mix in cumin or paprika, or even a little sweetness with either brown sugar or molasses. Have fun. I have a few spices I always put in, but sometimes I play around a little.
- Don’t put on barbecue sauce until the very end, 15-20 minutes. If there’s any sugar or tomato in the sauce, it will crystallize quickly and prematurely blacken the meat. Some people like sweet sauces, whereas others like spicy. You pick.
- If you’re worried about your meat drying out, keep a wet mop on hand. I don’t really have a wet mop; I use a pastry brush and dabble on a little vinegar or line juice every 30 minutes.
When you read up on all the so-called experts, there’s a half a dozen things everyone does the same, and a dozen more that each chef swears is the best method. I’ve done ribs 10 different ways, and they all tasted pretty good. I’ve tasted one of my buddies’ ribs that aren’t marinated overnight, and they’re fantastic.
The next time you have a hankering for ribs, you can always order out, but the three racks I made earlier this week, plus potato salad, cole slaw and corn bread cost about $30 total to feed four that night, plus leftovers for days. At a restaurant, it would cost twice that.
This is a perfect meal to invite friends or neighbors over for a casual meal. Married couples can split up the cooking duties. If you’re single, make it a potluck where everyone brings a classic barbecue side dish.
A meal always tastes better when shared with others.
For my Barbecue Baby Back Ribs recipe, go to my Web site at http://www.dougmeadweb.com
Follow me on Twitter at DougMeadFood at http://www.twitter.com.