Aug 9, 2010

Low and Slow

I'm a fan of barbecue. Ribs, especially. I know, folks will say we can't do BBQ in New York... and for the most part, they're right. There are a few good BBQ places up here. Usually small, and out of the way, and poorly marked. We had a GREAT place in our town about ten years ago; he closed up and moved away after changing to a "better" location and losing a lot of customers. There have been a few others that came and went; there's a decent place about ten minutes from me that does a good pulled (chopped) pork, decent brisket, and so-so ribs. Other than that, it's a two-hour drive to the Dinosaur, so I tend to save my time and money and do my ribs at home on the grill.

Doing good ribs on a grill without a smoker box is a bit tricky; you have to go low'n'slow to get them to tenderize and flavor properly, and that means controlling the heat carefully. I've gotten pretty good at getting the fire the right size and twitching the dampers just right, and I "wet smoke" my ribs. Wet smoking is no big secret - you put a pan of some kind of liquid under the meat to keep things moist and keep the fire a bit lower. Some people use water, I use cheap beer.

If you're doing ribs, do extra. Do a whole grill full - they go fast and leftovers aren't a bad thing. I stopped at the store yesterday and picked up four racks - about as much as my grill will comfortably hold without the smoker attachment.

Start the night before by cleaning the meat. Peel the membrane off the back of the ribs, rinse them under cold water, and pat them dry. Dust them liberally with your spice rub of choice. I love Dinosaur BBQ's Cajun Foreplay rub ... then I shake a good helping of dark brown sugar over that. Stack the racks together and stick them in the fridge overnight to season.


Put a couple good handfuls of your preferred wood chips (hickory, apple, cherry, and mesquite are always favorites) in a bowl and pour a can of cheap beer over them. Fill with cold water to just cover the chips and set aside overnight.


The next morning, take the ribs out and set them on the counter to start warming up. You don't want to put fridge-temp meat on a hot grill; it'll just stick. Go out and light your charcoal - use a charcoal chimney, not lighter fluid or match-light charcoal. That stuff just adds nasty flavors to the coals.

You'll want a SMALL pile of coals set to one side in the grill - no more than 1/4 of the grill area and not stacked deep. On the other side, pour two cans of cheap beer into a metal pan and set that under the grates for the meat.




Close the grill and let it burn for 15 or 20 minutes; long enough for the temperature to stabilize. If it's hot, close the damper some and open the chimney a touch. If it's cold, open the damper and the chimney. You want a steady temperature of 250-300F, no higher or lower.


Grab a handful of your soaked chips, shake out the excess water/beer, and put it on the edge of the coals. Stack the meat down the grates. Add a handful of dry wood chips to your charcoal and a few chunks of fresh charcoal to keep the heat up.


Set your timer for 30 minutes and go do something.

When the timer goes off, check the temperature, adjust dampers as necessary, and use a spray bottle full of 50/50 cider vinegar and canola oil to lightly spritz the ribs. You don't want them dripping or to wash off the rub, just keep them moist. Add a few pieces of charcoal and some wood chips as necessary, and close that baby back up.


Every hour or so, rotate the ribs through so they're all getting even time on the ends and getting cooked through. The LAST time you rotate them will be the time to baste them with sauce if you want to. I don't; I do dry ribs and then put a bottle of sauce on the table.

You're going to be babysitting these things for four to six hours, so make sure you've got time... and remember, if you're looking, you ain't cooking! Keep that lid closed unless you HAVE to open it.

When they're done (5-6 hours at 275-300ish), pull 'em off and put them in an oven-safe dish. Cover tightly with foil and throw those bad boys in the oven at 300 while you finish putting together side dishes; it'll keep them hot and let the flavors soak a bit longer.




Anonymous said...

Would it be sacrilege to admit that I do the low-and-slow part of my ribs in the oven? I trim and dry-rub, then set the ribs in a baking pan with a few ounces of cheap beer in the bottom, cover with foil, and cook for several hours in a 250-degree oven.

It's then easy and quick to finish the ribs on the grill, with or without sauce, along with whatever else is being grilled. In between, the ribs can be refrigerated for a few days, or even frozen and then thawed.

Of course, I'd love to have a proper smoker, but this seems more practical for my lifestyle.

ZerCool said...

MHA, it is sacrilege, because doing the low/slow in the oven doesn't actually SMOKE the meat.