Archive for July, 2007

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.


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