UP IN SMOKE
PART 1 – RIB TIPS : HOW TO UP YOUR GAME
WITH SLABS AND BONES
We want to talk to you about rib tips. No, not those tasty cartilaginous bits that connect the nether ends of spare ribs. Although, we’d make a special trip to Kansas City just to eat the rib tips at B.B.’s Lawnside. (See the recipe below.)
No, we’re talking about tips for preparing and grilling or smoking ribs, so you can make the best racks on the block.
Here are 10 tips to make you a pro.
1. Choose the right rib. Baby backs make great starter ribs. They’re tender, well-marbled, and quick and easy to cook.
2. When buying ribs, look for plump, meaty racks. Avoid “shiners”—ribs with so much meat removed you see the shiny bones. This is a problem most often seen with beef ribs.
3. Pedigree counts: Sure, you can make taste racks with supermarket ribs, but for really extraordinary bones, use a heritage breed, like Berkshire or Duroc. A dependable source is www.heritagefoodsusa.com.
4. Remove the membrane: The papery membrane (pleura in anatomical terms) is tougher than the meat below it and impedes the absorption of the spice and smoke flavors. Insert a slender implement, such as the tip of a meat thermometer, between the membrane and one of the bones under it. (The best place to start is one of the middle bones.) Using a paper towel or pliers to gain a secure grip, pull off the membrane. Note: some members of our barbecue community leave the membrane on to provide a contrast of textures. Your call.
5. Great ribs are made by applying multiple layers of flavor. Use a rub or marinade to apply the base layer. Swab on a mop sauce to apply a second layer of flavor and keep the ribs moist during cooking. Apply the barbecue sauce at the end as a lacquer or glaze. And of course, the wood smoke provides the most important flavor of all.
6. The basic formula for a rub is salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar (in roughly equal proportions). Customize by adding garlic or onion powder, chili powder or cumin, or even a ringer ingredient, like ground coffee or cocoa.
7. Avoid the “guy syndrome” (if some is good, more is surely better). This applies to rub, hot sauce, and wood smoke. Often just enough is enough.
8. You can cook ribs by at least four methods: direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoking, and spit-roasting.
Direct grill tender cuts, like pork country-style ribs, or Argentinean cross-cut beef ribs (see pages 159 and 199, respectively, in Best Ribs Ever by Steven Raichlen, Workman, 2012)
Indirect grill tender fatty ribs, like baby backs.
Smoke tough meaty ribs with a lot of connective tissue, like spare ribs.
Don’t forget spit-roasting, which is great for lamb ribs or Brazilian style baby backs (see pages 222 and 119, respectively)
9. If smoking ribs, maintain temperatures of 225° to 250°F. If indirect grilling ribs, maintain temperatures of 325° to 350°.
10. Never, I repeat never, boil your ribs prior to grilling. Boiling denatures the flavor and texture. (That’s what you do to bones to make stock.) You can achieve the requisite tenderness by indirect grilling or smoking. The same holds true for baking or braising prior to grilling. Don’t do it!
1 tablespoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon meat tenderizer
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 to 5 pounds rib tips
Spicy Apple Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)
You’ll also need: 4 cups hickory chips or chunks, or as needed
Make the rub. Place the salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, meat tenderizer, and cayenne in a bowl and stir to mix, breaking up any lumps with your fingers.
Arrange the rib tips on a baking sheet. Sprinkle on both sides with the rub, rubbing the spices into the meat.
Set up your smoker and preheat to 225° to 250°.
Arrange the seasoned rib tips bone side up in your smoker. Smoke until nicely browned and very tender, 5 to 6 hours in all, turning the rib tips over half way through.
Transfer the rib tips to a cutting board and cut widthwise into 1-1/2 inch pieces. Figure on 7 or 8 pieces for serving. Spoon a little Spicy Apple Barbecue Sauce over the ribs, serving the remaining sauce on the side.
Spicy Apple Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 2-1/2 cups
1 cup ketchup
2 cups apple juice
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons mild red pepper or chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
Place the ketchup, apple juice, molasses, vinegar, brown and granulated sugar, celery seed, red pepper, cinnamon, and cloves in a large heavy saucepan and gradually bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking to mix.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce until thick and richly flavored, about 40 minutes, whisking often. When properly reduced, you’ll have about 2-1/2 cups. Correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.
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