Monday, August 26, 2013

Smoked Pork Spare Ribs

There are hundreds of recipes out there for spare ribs.  If you have one that you like, you're probably not here reading this.  If you have one that's "OK" but you're ready to take it up a notch or two, Welcome!  I didn't realize just how far off the beaten BBQ path that ribs had fallen until I moved from Texas to Minnesota.  Here, I found that people like to boil their ribs in a pot of boiling water, before drowning them in a sauce filled crock-pot "swimming pool" for several hours.... I know, "wow!"  So wrong.

What follows here is my take on the standard "3-2-1" method of slow-smoking a rack (or two, maybe three) of pork spare ribs.

You will need:
  • Spare Ribs.  I like the 3-rack pack of "St. Louis Style" spare ribs from Sam's Club.
  • 1/2 Cup Yellow Mustard
  • 1/2 Cup Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Dry Rub (equal amounts of):
    • Smoked Paprika
    • Brown Sugar
    • Granulated Garlic
    • Kosher Salt
    • Ground Pepper
    • Chili Powder
  • BBQ Sauce (Optional.  I like my ribs "Naked.")


Take one of the racks of ribs out of the pack and have a closer look:

Only about half of this is what will go onto the smoker.  The rest is tips and skirt.  Rib tips are pure gold and they're perfect for a pot of beans or to make Red Beans and Rice!  Keep them once you cut them loose.  The skirt is very lean and shouldn't be thrown away.  Typically, I'll put the skirts onto the smoker alongside the ribs, and pull it off at the halfway point to have a snack or an awesome sandwich (with sliced onions and BBQ sauce on a toasted hunk of TX toast).

Flip the rack over and run your fingers up and down one or two of the ribs.  You'll feel where where the main rib is separated from a smaller tip of the rib bone.  Only a layer of cartilage holds this joint together.  You'll need to cut or trim the main rib rack away from their tips by running a sharp knife along this line of joints:

Once you separate the main rack, set it aside and spend a minute or two cutting your rib tips apart and cutting your skirt into smaller portions.  Freeze them in a zip-top bag for your batch of Red Beans and Rice with Rib Tips later.  

Now, back to the rack... place the rack back onto your cutting board and have a closer look at the back side.  If you look carefully, you'll find a thin membrane of tissue that covers the back-side of the ribs.  You can slow cook this particular hunk of connective tissue but you'll never ever break it down.  It just turns into burnt paper and it prohibits any penetration of dry-rub or sauce into your ribs from the back side, so it has to GO!  Simply use your knife to bring up an edge of this membrane, grab it with a paper towel, and peel it away:

Repeat this process with all the racks you intend to cook and get ready to apply the rub!  Aren't they cute?

To get the rub to stick, I like to use honey-mustard as a base.  People who buy honey-mustard from the salad dressing aisle at the store baffle me, just mix equal amounts of simple yellow mustard with your favorite honey and stir, stir, stir.  You'll have a simple and delicious honey-mustard for 1/2 the cost of that bottle of salad dressing.

Mix the honey-mustard well and apply it liberally to both sides of the ribs.  Get your hands dirty and really press it in and smear it around:

Side Note: If you haven't done this already, you should make and store a generous amount of your dry rub.  It comes in handy whenever you're making chicken wings, brisket, ribs, etc.  You can use my dry-rub recipe if you want, but you might want to "put your own stank" on it too, by trying various other dry spices like cumin, onion powder, or whatever you might like.  I took a mason jar and drilled a few dozen 1/8" holes in the lid (large enough to let out small clumps of brown sugar).  This is where my dry rub resides.  I have a "bulk supply" in a one-gallon container hidden in the dark recess of my pantry so that my neighbor Craig will have some to borrow.  I really should start charging him for that....

Shake on a generous amount of the dry rub, to both sides of the rack(s):

Time to cook!  Bring your grill, smoker, or oven to 225 degrees.  You'll place the ribs over indirect heat so the fire doesn't burn them.  I use big chunks of apple wood in my smoker for this, it adds a sweet flavor and aroma to the smoke.

3-2-1 Go!  The 3-2-1 method of cooking ribs means:
  1. Cook the ribs, uncovered and naked, over low heat (225) for 3 hours.
  2. Cook the ribs, covered and basted, over low heat (225) for 2 hours.
  3. Finish the ribs, uncovered and mopped, over low heat (200) for one more hour.

I subscribe to this method, it has not let me down and it works for beef or pork ribs.  So, close the lid and leave the ribs to cook/smoke for three hours.  Then, open the lid, take the ribs out and place them in a vessel that you can cover with a lid or foil.  For this, I love those disposable foil pans (with lids)!  You can put them in your oven, back onto your smoker, or wherever, and they will hold heat, fat, sauce, or whatever.  Put your ribs into the pan and pour over the mix of vinegar and cider.  I use a ladle to further baste the ribs with the vinegar mixture to make sure they are nice and saturated:

Yes, I know the left edge of my ribs is a little "crusty."  This is Cindy's fault.  She likes the "extra crispy" darker edges of the rib rack so I leave the edge a bit closer to the heat for this reason.  Normally, I'd flip the racks around about half way through the first 3-hour cycle.  Anyway, baste your ribs and cover them, then put them back on the heat for two hours.

After two hours, take them out of the foil pan and place them, naked, back on the grill (or your oven, in a cookie sheet).  Mop on a light sauce if you want to, every ten minutes or so.  I find that they'll be plenty juicy on their own and I love the flavor of the dry rub so I fore-go the mop.

After the last hour, pull the ribs off the heat and cover them (back into the foil pan) to let them rest for at least ten minutes.  Then, all you need to do is slice the ribs off the rack.  Note, I slice from the back side, so I can easily see where the ribs are.

The meat will not fall off the bone!!  There will be just enough "pull" so that you can sink your teeth into the meat and then pull the meat off of the bone with your teeth.  This is called "bite" and you want your ribs to have it.  If you cook them until the meat falls off, they'll just be dry and you won't be having "ribs," you'll be having "hunks" and they really aren't that good, even if you drown your hunks in a crock-pot full of BBQ sauce for 6 hours!

Present your ribs however you like.  I usually just leave them on the cutting board and when the line comes through the kitchen, people just grab some and go!  Ain't no need to put them on a fancy platter or nuthin......

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