by Bruce Aidells
If you’ve ever wondered how they make those great spareribs in the world-renowned barbecue joints of Kansas City, the South Side of Chicago, Memphis, or Oakland, the secret is a flavorful spice rub and long, slow cooking with a spicy sauce slathered on just before serving. With a covered kettle barbecue, you can create equally wonderful results in your own backyard. The key elements: a flavor-packed spice rub, slow cooking at low temperatures (between 200° and 250° F) with a fairly long resting period to let the juices stabilize in the meat, and your favorite barbecue sauce or one of our recipes. You’ll need to soak about 4 cups of wood chips such as hickory or oak, or 8 to 10 chunks.
We thank Cort Sinnes, who developed the details of this cooking technique for Cook’s Illustrated magazine. We’ve adapted his method.
Rub the spice rub all over both sides of the slabs or baby back ribs, using 3 to 4 tablespoons of the mixture for each slab. For the best results, place the ribs on a baking dish or platter and refrigerate them overnight, loosely wrapped with plastic wrap or foil; this will allow the flavors of the spices and herbs to permeate the meat. If you’re in a hurry, cook the ribs after 1 hour in the spice rub at room temperature; this will at least give the outside of the ribs a good flavor. If you do refrigerate the ribs, remove them at least 30 minutes to 1 hour before you’re ready to cook.
Prepare a covered barbecue for cooking: light a mound of 20 to 30 briquettes on one side of the grate and open the bottom vent fully. Place a roasting pan on the other side of the grate and add about 2 inches of water - the pan helps to catch any drippings, and the water provides moist heat to tenderize the meat. Meanwhile, if using wood chips, wrap about 2 cups of soaked hardwood chips in a foil packet and punch holes in the top to let the smoke escape (wrapping the chips in foil helps to keep the wood from burning up quickly when placed directly on the coals). Or you can place 4 or 5 hardwood chucks directly on the coals.
Once the coals are ready, lay the foil packet on the coals. Put on the rack and lay the ribs on it over the pan so that no meat is directly over the coals. Cover the barbecue, with the lid vent about half-open and opposite the coals, so that the smoke is drawn over the ribs. Stick an instant-read thermometer into a top vent hole, making sure that any plastic parts are not in direct contact with the metal lid, and leave it there. Ideally, you want the temperature to read 200° to 250° F; initially it can be higher, but it should not exceed 300° F; it should drop down to the lower range within a half hour or so. If not, partially close the lower vent to decrease the heat. Do not close this vent all the way, however, as this would cause the coals to die out. Regulate the temperature by adjusting the bottom vent, keeping the temperature registered in the upper vent in the desired range. Every 45 minutes, turn the ribs over and switch their places on the grill so that you alternate their exposure to the hotter edge near the coals. Add another 2-cup packet of chips or 4 or 5 hardwood chunks to the coals if the hardwood has burned up. If the temperature drops below 200° F, open all the vents fully, top and bottom, and check to see if the coals have burned out or need replenishing. If so, add 5 to 10 more briquettes. Once these coals get going, you may have to close the vents partially to regulate the heat.
After 1 3/4 to 2 hours (1 1/2 hours for baby back ribs), check the ribs for doneness. When they are ready, the ends of the bones will be exposed and the meat will begin to pull away from the bone. If a rib bone is twisted, it should begin to turn and come loose from the meat. The surface of the ribs should be reddish brown. When tested with the instant-read thermometer, the meatiest section should have an internal temperature of 165° to 175° F. (Because ribs are so fatty, they can be cooked to a higher temperature than other pork cuts.)
When they are done, place the ribs on a baking sheet, large platter, or baking dish and cover them tightly with foil. Wrap the pan or platter with 10 to 20 sheets of unfolded newspaper, and let the ribs rest for 20 to 40 minutes or up to an hour before serving.
Meanwhile, heat the barbecue sauce of your choice in a small saucepan. When you’re ready to serve, slice the slabs into individual ribs and brush generously with the sauce. Serve with more sauce on the side and plenty of napkins and cold beer.
"The Complete Meat Cookbook"
by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly
Chef Aidells recommends Vande Rose Farms for quality pork.
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