Photo by Richard Dallett.
Combine the briny, smoky, umami flavors of country ham with the crusty, gnaw-off-the-bone pleasure of barbecued baby backs and you wind up with ham ribs. I wish I could say I thought of it, but I got the idea from a man utterly obsessed with pork, smoke, and fire: Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston, Texas. Curing the ribs in ham brine prior to smoking produces a gorgeous color, uncommon succulence (in the way most brine-cured meats are succulent), and an astonishing honey-ham flavor.
“If you’re expecting ribs that fall off the bone, you’ve come to the wrong place,” Shepherd says, a gentle reminder that ribs—even after smoking for 5 hours—should have a little chew to them. That’s why God gave you teeth. Pork chops and pork collar (cut from the neck) are also delicious cured and smoked in this fashion.
For this recipe, you’ll need one ingredient that may be out of your comfort zone: pink curing salt, also known as Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1. (It contains 93.75 percent salt and 6.25 percent sodium nitrite.) Buy it at a good meat market or order it online.
Serve these ribs with Mustard Seed Caviar. Think of this “caviar” as deconstructed mustard, and don’t think about serving smoked ham or other pork without it. The slow simmer in vinegar softens the mustard seeds to the crunchy-gooey texture of sturgeon caviar.
Adapted from Project Smoke.