This was my summer project: to learn how to consistently cook ribs. So almost weekly, I’d grill ribs on Saturday or Sunday. Luckily the missus didn’t seem to mind.
One thing that I didn’t do every week is the sides. Ribs are good barbecue. And good barbecue is defined by the sides just as much as the meat. What do you think of when you think ribs? I know what I think: coleslaw, potato salad, pie (or pie). Don’t neglect them. No one should leave a barbecue hungry.
So let’s get right to it: selecting your ribs. Don’t get those cryovac-packed ribs. They’re "seasoned." I’m not sure entirely what that means, but from what I gather, it’s not good. Basically it’s a salt solution to add more moisture to the ribs. This applies to all cryovac-packed meat. One of the keys to good cooking is controlling as much as you can. One of the crucial things to control is salt. You control the salt, you control the flavour. Don’t worry about losing too much moisture, you’re too good a cook to screw that up, right, dear reader?
The key to great ribs is time.
The muscles on the rib cage work a lot throughout the animal’s life. Likewise, there is a lot of connective tissue. Those factor into both the great flavour and long cooking times for ribs.
Any piece of animal that gets lots of work tastes better: chicken thighs taste better than chicken breasts. Rib eye has more flavour than tenderloin. But pieces of animal that get lots of work are also tough, so they require long cooking times to break down the meat.
Anything over four hours will make your ribs deliciously tender, fall-off-the-bone tender. Five hours is probably just perfect. You won’t get restaurant tenderness (I think they go 10 hours), but you’ll get something incredibly decent; worth the time and it’ll save you money.
You can tell your ribs are getting there when the meat has shrunk off the bones about a 1/2 inch and you can break the meat apart with your fingers. Also, cooked ‘em for more than four hours: you’re good.
Any barbecue sauce will be fine. If you don’t want to make your own: don’t worry, I won’t tell. In fact, I didn’t make my own sauce very often. That’s another summer project.
The one below is inspired by a cola barbecue sauce in the greatest barbecue book ever. I couldn’t really taste the cola when I made it, so I thought, why not try Dr. Pepper which has more flavour? Then I thought, why not try basing it on the alcoholic drink known as a Flaming Dr. Pepper? Amaretto is pretty damn tasty!
There are a few logistical issues with cooking ribs.
One is the membrane on the bottom of the rack. Make sure you remove it! I’ve never had ribs with it on, but judging how tough it is when I rip it off, I would not want to eat it, and neither will your guests.
Another is rack space, or rather grill space. Low and slow requires a low temperature and indirect heat, which leaves little space if you’re going to cook multiple racks. If you have a big grill, you’re probably fine. I made some this summer, five racks, in a big Weber gas grill and we still had room for more on the grill. On my modest Weber, I’ve cooked three at once by placing them on top of each other. Every hour, I’d rotate them so each one gets a shot at the top. Closer to the end of cooking, I moved one a little closer to the heat, as pictured. I did this to let the sauce get saucier.
Which brings us to the final point: saucing the ribs. Apply the sauce with a brush, be generous when you apply it. Sauce once an hour up until hour three, then go every half hour. Go quickly so you don’t lose all the heat.
Serves 2 – 4
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 2 racks, pork back ribs
- 1 – 1 1/2 cup barbecue sauce (any will do, but my recipe follows)
In a small bowl, make the rub: mix the chili powder, the garlic powder, the salt and pepper. Set aside.
Place the ribs on a work surface, meaty side down. Using a sturdy table knife, make an opening between the membrane and the ribs. Slide the knife along one of the rib bones, with the flat side of the knife parallel to the rib. Twist the knife to separate the membrane from the rib. Get your finger in there, wiggle it around, until your whole hand fits. Rip off the membrane. Do it to the other rack.
Flip the racks meaty side up. Press your rub into the meat.
Prepare your grill for indirect low heat (around 300F).
Place the ribs on the grill, one on top of the other for one hour.
Generously brush on some barbecue sauce and flip the racks, so that the bottom rack is now on top and vice versa. Wait another hour. Apply more sauce. Flip.
Repeat until the ribs are done, at least four hours. When the four hour mark is approaching, apply the sauce more often, around every half hour.
When the ribs are ready, place them on a baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil for 30 minutes. Slice the ribs and serve with all your tasty sides.
Beer and Amaretto Barbecue Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups
- 1/2 cup beer
- 2 tbsp amaretto
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
In a small sauce pan, mix all the ingredients. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Let simmer for a couple minutes.
Take it off the heat. Let cool.