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Barbecued Rib FAQ

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Post Wed Apr 12, 2006 11:24 am
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Rib FAQ

courtesy of Bob-BQN


What types of Ribs are there?

All animals have ribs but the two main types of ribs that we�ll concentrate on in this FAQ are BEEF AND PORK. Mmmmmmmmm ribs!!!

PORK
Spare Ribs - are cut from the front chest area (belly)) and are meaty, rich in fat & full of flavor. They are not as tender as loin back ribs but can be cooked to tender perfection. Full slabs (or racks) of ribs vary in size depending on the animal they came from. Smaller pigs may yield a slab weighing 3 pounds or less while older, more sizable sows might render 5+ pounders. Usually it�s recommended to choose ribs weighing less than 4 pounds because the quality of the meat is better from younger animals. Some consider the choicest of spare ribs, slabs that weigh 3 pounds and down. Bones of spare ribs are somewhat big, one end has considerably larger bones than the other. These are referred to as the �large end� and �small end� when a slab is divided in half for serving.

Loin Back Ribs - also called baby back ribs (small loin backs), are smaller and cook faster than spares. The term �baby� does not mean the ribs came from an adolescent piglet, instead it refers to the smaller bones located near the backbone of the animal. Loin backs are not as meaty and more lean than spares thus their flavor is lighter. They range in size from 1.5 to 3 pounds and it is recommended to stick to slabs weighing 2 pounds and down for the best quality.

Danish Ribs � originated in Sweden, even smaller than baby backs, these ribs are reported to have less meat than baby backs and sometimes have a different flavor. They are usually 4� to 5� wide, about 15� long, and weigh around 1 to 1.5 pounds.

Country Style Ribs - are not ribs at all but come from either the pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt) or loin area. This cut of meat is well marbled with fat and can be cooked similarly to spare ribs (i.e. 3-2-1) or grilled and is an excellent choice for kebabs.
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Flat Bone - Button Ribs - Riblets � are small circular in shape, flat with varying amounts of meat. The kind you see at restaurants as �All-You-Can-Eat�. The term riblets can also apply to just about any trimmings produced from cutting down a full slab.


What Should I Do to the Ribs Out of the Package?

Prepping ribs consists of four basic steps:
Rinse the ribs thoroughly with cold water & blot dry with a paper towel.
Remove the membrane, most butchers will remove it for you if asked.
Remove excess fat like the pockets of fat between bones.
Trim the slab to desired style.


Do I Need to Remove the Membrane? How?

How ever you decide to trim your slab of ribs (or not), it is highly recommended that you remove the membrane from the ribs before cooking. This will allow you to remove excess fat pockets under the membrane, the remaining fat to melt away better while cooking, smoke and spice flavors to permeate the underside of the meat, and makes it easier to eat when done. Removing the membrane can be a little tricky at first as it has a tendency to tear, but is not that difficult with a little practice. Work your finger, a butter knife or clean screwdriver, under the membrane a few inches from the large end and work back towards the end until you free the end of the membrane loose. Using a paper towel to grasp the membrane, gently pull it off. Be sure to remove any remaining areas if it tears. Another technique for removal is to use a butter knife and wind the membrane up on it, as you would the lid on a sardine can when opening it, by rolling the knife.

Once the Membrane is off it�s time to decide if you�ll trim the ribs and how. You can certainly cook the slab of ribs whole if you like. When you separate the bones for serving you�ll have extra long ribs. For those that prefer to trim, there is St. Louis style or Kansas City style.


What is St. Louis or Kansas City ribs?

Pork spare ribs can be prepared several ways. First let�s identify different parts of the slab. A whole slab will contain 11 to 14 rib bones and if not pre-trimmed will have the meat covered costal cartilage (also named �brisket�) attached, that sometimes includes a portion of the sternum. The two sides of the slab are referred to as �the meat side� and �the bone side�. The meat side is self explanatory, the side on the top curve of the bone. Most folks consider this the top. The bottom side or bone side has a long meat flap also call the skirt, a membrane layer on the surface, and pockets of fat under the membrane.

Saint Louis Style Ribs
To trim the ribs, locate the �knuckle� where the bone ends & the coastal cartilage meet and cut lengthwise along the joints separating the ribs from the tips (or brisket). This squares up the slab and makes it look nice. The tips can be the cook�s treat to nibble on, or used for pork tacos, enchiladas, chili meat, etc.

Kansas City Style Ribs
K.C. ribs are prepared the same as Saint Louis Style with one additional step, remove the skirt meat off the bone side. Be sure to cook it along side the ribs as a reward for all your hard work.


What is a good serving size?

A full slab of spare ribs will serve 3 to 4 people when accompanied by a healthy serving of sides. However, if good �ole slow smoked, home cooked with love, barbecued ribs are left unattended for folks to serve up for themselves, they won�t last long. Baby back ribs are smaller and have less meat so figure 1 to 2 servings per slab depending on size (only 1 serving if they�re Danish).


BEEF
Beef ribs mainly come as short ribs or dinosaur �beef back� bones. The membrane on beef ribs can be considerable tougher to remove than pork. In the same respect, it is also tougher to eat around so it should be removed.

Short Ribs - contain 2 to 5 ribs of ribs 6 thru 10. They are frequently cut into individual pieces and can be ordered boneless.

Beef Back Ribs - consist of 7 ribs that are 6 to 8 inches wide or cut in half to make 3-4 inch rib bones. They are a full-flavored rib that lends itself to spicy sauces from the traditional smoky barbecue sauce to a variety of ethnic flavors and seasonings.

On these ribs clings the same meat as you find in the finest prime rib roast. They are well marbled with fat and have very tender meat. Since the meat from these ribs can be sold in markets for a much higher price as �prime rib� many meat cutters remove as much meat as possible. Therefore when purchasing ribs, especially beef, be on the lookout for �shiners�. Exposed rib bones which should be covered with meat are referred to as shiners. If the meat is missing from the bone or is thinly covering the bone, chances are the bone will fall out of the slab when cooked, but if it doesn�t . . . who wants a rib with hardly any meat on it?


Should I Slather? What is Slather?

The decision to slathering is completely up to you. Let�s talk about what it is and what it does. Once you know more about slather you�ll be able to choose whether or not to use it. Slather is a thin coating, repeat, THIN coating of mustard, Worcestershire, honey, vinegar, hot sauce, olive oil, vegetable oil, or even barbecue sauce applied before cooking to act as a bonding agent or glue to help hold the dry rub on the meat. In other words, a dry rub will stick better to a wet surface. What does this mean? More rub equals more flavor. On thinner meats like ribs you don�t necessarily need a lot more flavor as the meat is thin so the mass-to-surface area ratio is low. Simply put, most of the meat is in direct contact with the smoke and spice (unlike a thick brisket or Boston Butt). So if you want to kick it up a notch use slathers to adhere more rub. Some slathers, such as mustard, contribute little or no flavor to the final product because most of the flavor is �cooked out�.


Should I Marinate Ribs?

Most will tell you that marinating ribs is not necessary, but others will exclaim that the added flavor is worth it. Both are correct, wonderfully tender tasty ribs don�t have to be marinated but they can. Some common soaks range from plain old apple juice, to red-wine vinegar mixes, to more complex flavors involving a whiskey / bourbon base. Times to immerse the ribs range from a couple hours to overnight.


What is the 3-2-1 Method?

The three-two-one method refers to cooking times in hours and involves the use of foil. This technique is used for cooking pork spare ribs but can be adapted to baby backs or even beef ribs by adjusting times. Cooking temperature should be around 225* +/-.

The 1st Number 3 - means three hours in the smoker exposed to heat and smoke. The spices will have formed a good bark and the meat will look cooked but won�t be tender.
The 2nd Number 2 - is the time ribs are wrapped in heavy duty foil (preferably �extra� heavy duty) and placed back into the smoker. A little apple juice, honey, barbecue sauce, or other flavors can be added to the pouch at this time if desired. The ribs will steam and braise in their own juices or added liquids during this phase and become very tender. The meat will shrink back from the bone a little. If the heat is too high you will get a product that resembles boiled ribs and the meat could shrink back as much as an inch or more.
The 3rd Number 1 � foil is removed and ribs go back into the smoker to firm up and dry out a little. During the last half hour of this phase some barbecue sauce or a glaze may be applied to the surface of the rubs for appearance and additional flavor.

By understanding what happens during each stage of the 3-2-1 cooking process you can adjust your results by varying the times. For a firmer textured meat allow the ribs to spend less time in the foil and more time in the open heat. Likewise, for more tender meat, ranging from �fall off the bone� to mushy, leave the ribs in foil longer.

Baby backs will take less time to cook so change the numbers to 2-2-1 or even 2-1-1 to achieve similar results on these smaller ribs.

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To Foil or Not to Foil?

That is the question! Do you have to foil ribs to cook them in a smoker? Absolutely not. Then why use foil at all? Using foil does several things, some of which you may or may not prefer.

Foiling can help speed the cooking process by braising & steaming which cuts down overall cooking times and fuel costs. It also helps the novice produce a more consistent product. Using foil limits the amount of time food is exposed to smoke and can be use to control taste by preventing over smoking lighter flavored meats with heavier flavored woods. Limiting exposure to smoke and heat can also be used to control surface color and keep food from becoming dark or burnt looking.

So if you�d like to cook ribs and choose not to foil, just add an hour or two to the cooking time and you�ll still enjoy tender, juicy, flavorful ribs.


Can I use anything other than foil?

Some barbecue chefs use plastic wrap in place of foil. Some precautions that must be observed when using plastic are; ensure it is food grade and that its melting point is higher than cooking temperatures? Some plastics contain dyes or chemicals that are harmful if consumed and heat can easily transfer these compounds to food. Some plastic products can melt at very low temperatures. So when choosing a plastic wrap you must select one that will take the heat at which you are cooking for extended times, plus, the heat of any temperature spikes that occur when adding fuel for example. Also keep in mind that the firebox end of a cooker is considerably hotter than the exhaust stack end and will see higher temperature spikes.

Plastic wrap is not at all suited for indirect grilling applications.

Plastic wrap is also an excellent choice for wrapping meats after they are cooked for placing them into a pre-warmed cooler to rest or hold.


I have Limited Cooking Space, How can I Cook More Ribs?

Increasing cooking capacity in a small smoker can be accomplished several ways. Probably the most commonly used way for getting more ribs per square inch is placing them in a rib rack. A rack is usually made from sheet metal or wire and it holds the ribs vertically standing the bones up & down while allowing heat and smoke to pass over all surfaces of the meat. Example: �|||||� (as viewed from the side). Most racks will accommodate 3 to 5 slabs of ribs while only taking up grate space of 1 or 2 slabs if they were laid down.

If you don�t own a rib rack, ribs can also be stood up and leaned against each other in groups of two or three. Examples: �/\� or �/|\� (as viewed from the ends). You can run skewers through the tops of the slabs to stabilize the free standing ribs and space the tops out from each other a little.

If there is not enough room to stretch out a full slab of ribs without needing to halve them, as in a Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM) or a Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain (GOSM) 16� model you can roll them up. The slab is coiled up until the ends meet and then pinned together with a skewer to form a doughnut shape. Example: �O� (as viewed from the top).

Yet another clever way to pack the maximum amount of ribs possible into your smoker is to stack them. Example: �nnn� (as viewed from the end). The �n� represents the arc of the bone with the bone ends pointing down (membrane side) as opposed to �u� with the bone ends up. Several slabs of ribs can be stacked on top of each other. The catch is, the ribs on top and ribs on the bottom of the stack have only one side directly exposed to heat and smoke, so this adds to the amount of time it takes to cook the ribs. This also requires that the ribs be rotated to ensure each slab gets exposed to smoke and they all cook evenly. Rotating requires you to, for example, remove the slab from the bottom of the stack and place it on top. During the next rotation, the slab from the bottom is moved on top of the previous one and so on. This exposes both sides of each slab after a complete rotation of all the ribs. Rotating should be planned out so that all the ribs go through a complete cycle once or twice. Example: 4 slabs of ribs stacked, cook for 8 hours, rotate once an hour, each slab is cycled through the rotation twice and all slabs get equal exposure.

You can also criss-cross the ribs laying two slabs east-west parallel and near each other, then lay two more slabs on top of them running north-south, similar to building Lincoln Logs as most of us did when we were children. The criss-cross method is reported to increase capacity without having to rotate slabs and the ribs cook in approximately the same amount of time as using a rack. You can stack them as high as your smoker can handle without concern of the ribs falling over.

There�s nothing stopping you from getting creative and stacking addition wire racks on top of each other and using something as simple as children�s wooden building blocks for spacers. There�s probably a solution somewhere around your house, all you have to do is recognize and adapt.

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What are Ways to Cook Ribs?

Ribs can be spun on a rotisserie, barbecued Low-N-Slow, grilled either directly or indirect, boiled, broiled, or braised, some methods work MUCH better than others ;) . This FAQ is mainly directed towards low and slow smoking but cooking them on the grill is also fantastic.

Beef ribs can be grilled like steaks after all they harbor the same meat as a rib steak. Some even cook them to the same doneness as they would a steak. Short ribs are commonly grilled with Asian flavors.

Baby back or loin back ribs also grill and rotisserie cook well because they are more tender than spare ribs and cook quickly.

Spares are best when slow smoked or grilled indirectly for a longer period of time.


When Do I Mop/Spray?

Most ribs are marbled with enough fat to keep themselves moist while cooking. But some people like to moisten them while they are cooking. It�s a fact that heat conducts better through moist matter than dry matter so there is some benefit to mopping or spraying.

On the other hand, there are pitfalls to the process. Running liquid or moving a mop over the meat�s surface can easily wash away your dry rub if it has not formed a crust (bark) so let the meat cook for a couple of hours prior to application. If using a mop, dab the mop in an up & down motion and not back & forth to prevent removing the spices from the meat. Additionally, each time the door or lid is opened heat escapes from the cooker. Dropped temperatures from heat loss will extend cooking times and require more fuel to bring temperatures back up.

If you are using the 3-2-1 method to cook your ribs you could mop or spray at the 2 hour mark and then add a little liquid to the foil and nothing more would be needed. But that one spritz at 2 hours isn�t really going to make much difference.

If cooking without foil, or not wrapping, then you could elect to mop or spray once an hour (skipping the first hour mark to allow the bark to form). However, to reduce the number of times the cooker is opened you can moisten on the halves. By halves, it means to divide the remaining cooking time in half. Examples:
On an 8 hour cook, spray at the 4 hour mark, 6 hour mark, and 7 hour mark.
On a 7 hour cook, spray at the 3.5 hour mark, 4.75 hour mark, and 6 hour mark.
On a 6 hour cook, spray at the 3 hour mark, 4.5 hour mark, and 5.25 hour mark (optional).
This will reduce the number of times the cooker is opened thus saving time and fuel without lessening the quality of your ribs.

Again, you�ll find folks that say, �If you�re lookin�, you�re not cookin�.� And they�ll tell you to skip mopping & spraying all together and leave the door closed until it�s done. However, if you�re not experienced enough to know what�s happening inside you cooker without looking on occasion then you could easily over cook the ribs. Only follow this philosophy if you�re proficient.


When Do I Glaze?

Most glazes and sauces contain a fair amount of sugar and can burn if exposed to too high a heat for too long. To keep from burning, it is best to wait until near the end of the cooking process to apply these products. Most recommend application around 20 to 30 minutes prior to removing from the cooker. This isn�t long enough for sugars to burn in a low & slow environment but it is ample time to allow the glaze or sauce to set. Set, meaning it will thicken or dry enough to stick to the meat and form a glossy appearance which is pleasing to the eye and tongue. If grilling you would lower the time to no longer than 10 to 15 minutes before finishing.


How Can I Tell When the Ribs are Done?

It is very easy to tell when ribs are done, here a few ways;

A good visual sign the ribs are done or getting real close to being done is when the meat shrinks back from the end of the rib to expose about 1/4 inch of the bone. If you�re using foil the shrinkage could be a little more, if not it could be less.

One way to test for doneness is take a pair of tongs and pick up the slab by the middle, if the slab is limp, flexes easily and the meat wants to tear away from the bone consider it done.

Another way is to grab two bones near the middle of the slab and give a tug, they�re done if the meat starts to pull easily away from the bones.

Finally, take a toothpick and poke into the meat between the bones, it should slide in and out with very little to no resistance.


How Should I Cut the Ribs to Serve Them?

There are a few different ways to present your ribs for consumption. You can simple divide the slab into serving sizes and let your guests do the rest or cut each rib off into separate pieces. An easy way to tell where to cut the meat of a rib without hitting a bone is to look for the exposed ends of the bones and notice the hump of meat that runs between them. Sometimes the bones are angled and a perpendicular cut would slice into a bone. Angle your knife to align with the ridge of the meat and you�ll get a clean cut.

To be a gracious host or to score a little higher at competitions there is a technique call �the California Cut� or competition cut. Find the bone and cut as closely to it as possible leaving all the meat on the other bone. Then leave all the meat on the opposite side on the same bone and cut then next bone off as close as possible. This leaves a generous amount on meat on both sides of some bones and practically none on the others so you only have about 6 to 7 ribs per slab for serving.
Example: B=bone, M=meat, |=cut here �MB| MBM |B| MBM |B| MBM |B| MBM |B| MBM |B| MBM�

Baby back ribs and Danish ribs are probably most impressive served as whole slabs.


Should I Serve Ribs Dry or Wet?

Yes, you should at least try both. Steven has great recipes in his cookbooks!

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Rib Industry Terms
Baby Backs
A term used to describe the size of a Loin Back Rib. Unfortunately, many times the term is applied to any size Loin Back Rib. A true Baby Back Rib is 1 3/4 lb. or lighter.
Reduced
A rib that has had a riblet removed or any meat removed so the weight of rib falls into a lighter weight range.
Cut Downs
Refers to cutting down a rib from one or both sides of the slab in order to drop the slab into a lighter weight range. This is usually seen more with Loin Back Ribs. When a slab is longer than usual and the bone has very little curve, this is a sign of a cut down.
Cheater Slab
A nine bone slab of ribs.
Shiner
Ribs that have meat scraped from the top side of the rib, exposing the bone. When there is too much bone exposed, the bones will actually fall out during the cooking process. This will affect portioning, which in turn raises the plate cost.
Red Bone
When removing the brisket bone from the spare rib, it is common to cut into the actual bone on the flat bone (wide bone) end of the spare rib. Normal would be up to three Red bones. If there are more than three Red Bones, there is a good chance the St. Louis cut is a forced cut and not a natural cut through the cartilage.
Feather Bones
Smallest bones on the Spare Rib and Loin Back, located on the ham end on the hog. They generally will have more of a curve, and in some cases, actually are more of a cartilage.
Flatbone
On the Spare Rib and St. Louis Rib, this is the wide bone on the shoulder end of the loin. The Loin Back does not have a true flat bone but the heavy short bone on a Loin Back is also off the shoulder end of the loin.
Skirt Meat - BBQ Tender
The flap of meat found on the inside of the Spare Rib. It has a tendency to dry out during cooking and if the outside edge is not trimmed off, it can be very chewy. Many BBQers remove the skirt and put it into chopped BBQ.
Rib Membrane (Skin)
Both the Loin Back and the Spare Rib have a skin on their interior. This skin is heaviest at the back bone and becomes very fine at the belly end. The membrane's density has much to do with the age and size of the animal.
Many Quers want the skin peeled off all Loin Backs prior to cooking. Others will rasp/score the rib after cooking prior to finishing on the grill and still others feel the with light size Loin Backs, the high temperature of a broiler will sear the membrane off. (Large Loin Backs 2 lbs and up should always be skinned as they are from older and larger hogs.
Spare Ribs and St. Louis Ribs from (smaller) Butcher Hogs have very light membrane and when the skirt is removed, the heaviest portion of the membrane is also removed.

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