Our Plans for 2008

It’s been a while since I posted last. I’ve enjoyed plenty of barbecue this in the Fall, learning how to make a great brisket… And, then learning to make a really awful brisket. (t’s a bitch when you smoke a $25 piece of meat for 11 hours, only to find out that one of my mop ingredients must have gone bad before using it. It sucked and we ended up drinking more beer & eating cole slaw and other sides. OK, lesson learned. I’ll buy all new mop ingredients each time I throw a piece of meat on the pit!) I also spent most every waking hour focused on launching our Austin TX Internet content marketing company – Forest For The Trees. So, time has been limited for writing about barbecue. But, I’m finally back around & I’ll be posting the brisket pics & details in the coming week.

I’m going to continue my journey of figuring out this whole “How To Make Great Texas Barbecue” this year. But, I’m also going to include some insight, video & interviews with experts as well. I figured that there is no better way to learn than to ‘bribe’ local restaurant owners and pitmasters into letting us spend a little time with them around their pits & in their kitchens. I’ll let you know how that plan goes. If you have any suggested Central Texas BBQ joints you want me to start with, please post them here in a comment.


July 4th in Austin, TX was yet another rainy day. After 2 years of drought, we are having the wettest Summer on record. All the local lakes were closed, so we decided to dodge the rain and barbecue some great ribs.

I’ll continue with the results below. But, I thought I’d try to verbally illustrate the challenging beginning to the process on the 4th. We’d planned to start the ribs early that morning. But, the rain kept coming down until about 11:00 AM. Finally, we had a break in the weather. I lit 2 chimneys of charcoal, cleaned and prepped the pit with unlit lump coal for indirect cooking, and waited for the chimneys of charcoal to be ready to pour into the pit. Then came the rain – again!

I grabbed the Sunbrella from my patio table and held it over the now burning chimneys of charcoal. As you may know, patio table umbrellas are designed to block the sun, not rain. So, as I held the umbrella over the burning chimneys of charcoal, the rain continued to soak me, now only with smaller droplets. What you may not know (hopefully) is that this same patio umbrella will very effectively trap smoke under it. Imagine a very wet guy, holding a very large umbrella over burning charcoal, with smoke trapped and billowing out under the edges. I know, not too bright. But, at least you can see that I’m dedicated!

Charcoal chimneys in rain

OK – onto the ribs…

I altered my usual rib prep to try something new this time – with good & bad results. [See previous approach here.] I had 2 racks of baby backs and 1 large rack of pork spare ribs. Instead of marinating, I used a dry rub recipe from my barbecue bible – Legends of Texas Barbecue – called Stubb’s Hot Pork Rub. I’ll list it here, but it is directly copied from this book.

1 cup Salt (I used sea salt)
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup paprika
1/3 cup garlic powder
1/3 cup cayenne
1/2 cup ground {dry} rosemary (I used fresh rosemary)
1/2 cup ground black pepper

I dabbed the ribs with olive oil, spread chopped garlic on them, coated the ribs with the rub, wrapped them in foil, and refrigerated overnight.

Note: I won’t blame the outcome on the rub since this is my first time using a rub instead of marinade for ribs. Call it user error. But, note that this is a hell of a lot of salt! More to come on that later.

On barbecue day, I usually start the foil-wrapped rib racks in a 225-degree oven for about 2-hours. But, this time I decided to man up and use only the pit. This definitely paid off and I’ll never start my ribs in the oven again.

When my pit temp was around 300-degrees, and the rain was on “pause”, I put the ribs on the pit. Since I don’t have an off-set smoker, I had to keep turning and rotating the racks so they would get a nice crispy crust, but not burn. Every 45 minutes, I’d turn, rotate and mop.

The mop I used was:

1 bottle Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Moppin’ Sauce
1 bottle dark beer
1/2 cup cider vinegar

ribs - mop - July 4th

After 2-hours on the pit, when I had a nice crispy crust, I put the ribs into an upright rib stand on the indirect-heat side of the grill. I still mopped every 30-45 minutes.

ribs - july 4th - crispy

ribs - july 4th - stand

At about 3.5 hours into the cook, I tasted a piece of the crispy edge and realized that the rub I’d used made the ribs really, really salty. I began to worry that my ribs were ruined.

I decided to change my mop sauce to a combination of cider vinegar, dark beer and a little brown sugar. Relying on years of experience cooking professionally – (or more accurately in this case, great advice from my wife) – I remembered that sugar can sometimes counteract too much salt in a recipe.

After about 4.5 hours on the pit, the ribs were ready. They were beautiful – fall-off-the-bone tender like you want. The baby backs could have come off much sooner, but I left them on until the spare ribs were done, just because.

The Result

The final vinegar/beer/brown sugar mop made a big difference and really saved the day. While the ribs were still way more salty than I’d like, the sugar in the mop definitely toned the saltiness down. And, the sugar carmelized at the end of cooking and made the ribs lightly sticky and wonderful.

ribs - july 4th - final1

ribs - july 4th - final2

ribs - july 4th - final3

For my next rib barbecue, I’ll follow this approach almost exactly, only with much less salt in the rub. I think the salt in the rub could be cut down by 2/3 – and the final outcome would be perfect.

So far, my most rewarding cut of meat has been a Boston Butt roast – part of the pork shoulder. It is the cut used to make pulled pork – usually a Carolina specialty. But, if cooked long enough, it is wonderful and I recommend it highly . I’ve cooked this cut twice so far – with great results both times. The details below are my most recent version.

 A full size Boston Butt is about 7-9 pounds and takes a long time for it to become tender. This time, the store only had a cut-down 5# Boston Butt. Since we were cooking for a small gathering, the size was fine. This cut of meat is tough, and very fatty, taking about 2 hours per pound for it to finally render its fat and become tender. But, when finished – wow!

I marinated the meat overnight using the following recipe:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

The next day, I prepared the pit by lighting a full chimney of briquettes & pouring the lit chimney of coals over a bed of unlit lump charcoal on one side. This produced a starting temp of about 350-degrees in the pit.

Pit Setup

While waiting for the pit to burn down to a 300-degree temp, I let the roast come to room temperature, patted it dry, and applied a dry-rub of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Spice Rub.

Boston Butt with Stubb’s Dry Rub

I placed the roast on the indirect side of the pit, away from the coals, over a drip pan filled with water, onions, and garlic.

Boston Butt on Indirect Grill - beginning

As this was a 5# roast, I kept the pit between 250-300-degrees for about 9 hours – almost 2 hours per pound. Every hour, I added about 8 charcoal briquettes and mopped the roast.

The mop I used was:

1 bottle Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Moppin’ Sauce
1 bottle dark beer
1/2 cup cider vinegar

At one hour.

one hour

At five hours.

five hours

At 7 hours.

7 hours

After over 9 hours, the finished product…

finished product - boston butt

To serve, we separated the meaty parts from the bone and fatty parts. This meat is tender, juicy and wonderful. I recommend serving with the following:

 – Cole Slaw – made with fresh cilantro, cumin and spicy mustard

 – Carolina BBQ Sauce

1 cup white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Black Pepper
1 8 oz. can Hunt’s Roasted Garlic Tomato sauce

What was left after our feast.


I credit my first real barbecue success to my Father-in-Law Mike for technique, and Stubb’s for ingredients. I’ve been eating Mike’s pork spareribs at family gatherings for years – and he does them right. Amazing flavor and fall-off-the-bone tender. So, I simply copied his approach.

 As an Austinite, I’m lucky enough to have access to Stubb’s fanstastic marinades, sauces and dry rubs. I’m sure they are widely distributed. But, if you are not familiar, you can order them at http://www.ilovestubbs.com. With products like this to work with, great ribs are easy to produce.

 I usually use Spareribs – they are meatier and more flavorful than baby backs to me. But, either work fine. Here is the process I use …

 1. Clean the ribs and marinate overnight in Stubb’s Pork Marinade.

2. The next day, before I put them on the barbecue, I usually wrap each rack in heavy-duty foil and cook in a 225-degree oven for about 2 hours. This may be cheating to some of you, but it starts the cooking process and creates great results.

3. I prepare my barbecue for indirect grilling, with a charcoal & lump coal fire on one side and a drip pan, filled with water, onions and garlic, under the grate on the other side.

4. When your barbecue temp is about 250-300 degrees, remove the racks from the foil and brown directly over the coals for about 15 minutes – turning to brown all sides.

5. Move the ribs to the opposite (indirect) side of the grill. If you have a rib rack, use it. It is a great tool to keep ribs upright during the cooking process and will allow more meat on the pit at one time.

6. I cook for another 2-3 hours, mopping with Stubb’s Moppin’ Sauce & beer mixture every 45 minutes or so. If your grill temp drops below 250-degrees, add small amount of charcoal or lump coal to fire.

7. When the meat is tender and pulling away from the bone, they are ready and perfect without any sauce at all. However, if you want sauce on the side for serving, I like to use Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce.

As I said, this is an homage to Mike & Stubb’s. Easy & very tasty pork ribs!