RIBS by Danny Gaulden
Start with 3-1/2 & down, or loin backs.
The term 3-1/2 and down means that the slab of ribs will weigh 3-1/2 pounds or less. The advantage of 3-1/2 & down Spareribs is that they are considerably cheaper and have more meat on the bone than most Loin (baby) Backs. In my opinion, they are every bit as good as a loin back and by far the best buy. The disadvantage is that I think they require just a bit more skill to smoke to their highest taste level. The advantage of the loin back is that I think it is just a bit more tender to start with and takes a tad less skill to Q correctly, and the membrane removes easily.
How do you pick a good slab of ribs? Well, it is sometimes hard to do,
considering the way most grocery stores package them today. They can be
all folded up with the "bad" parts hidden. Either go to a butcher shop that will let you hand pick your slab, or ask the butcher at your favorite grocery store to let you pick out some that are not already packaged. If he won't allow you to do this, find another store.
Pick a slab that is nice and thick, and has a little marbling on the meat side. One of the biggest mistakes that most beginner and intermediate level Q'ers make is buying a rib that is too lean.
Pick out a slab that has a fair amount of fat running up and down the bones, or the meat between the bones. This is very important and will help keep your ribs from cooking too dry. Don't worry about the fat, most of it will render out by the time they are finished in the pit. There is a world of difference between a cooked slab of ribs that had good marbling in them vs. a slab that was too lean. Not only do the marbled ribs cook out more juicy, they are far more tender also.
Once you have a good slab, get it really cold in the fridge, or put it in
the freezer for a few minutes. Very cold ribs are much easier to remove the membrane from, than barely cool or room temperature ribs.
Next, do some work on them yourself. I cut off the side bone that runs
length-wise near one end of the slab, and trim off the skin running along
the top of the flap on the bone side. Simply hold the flap up with one hand,
and cut about 1/4" deep all the way across it to remove the skin.
With bone side up, and slab placed flat on cutting board so that bones
are running in a vertical position, take a good sharp knife and make
vertical cuts in flap about every 1/2". Cut from the top of flap down to where it connects to the main body of the rib. Why do this procedure to the ribs? Usually the flap area takes longer to cook than the main body of the ribs. This procedure reduces the cooking time of the flap, and lets it get done at the same time as the rest of the slab. I have seen a lot of people overcook their ribs waiting for the flap part to finish off.
If they had done this procedure, that wouldn't have happened. I do not remove the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. Never felt a need to.
After removing the flap membrane, apply whatever rub you like lightly to
both sides of the ribs and rub in. Don't go too heavy yet, we aren't through
with the rub. Then brush on a medium coat of salad oil (Crisco, Wesson,
etc.) over both sides of the slab and sprinkle on another coat of the rub
(go with a medium coat this time), but don't rub it in. Just sprinkle it on.
The oil will keep the rub sticking to the meat. If you try to rub it in
after applying the oil, the rub will tend to ball up. Don't worry, the rub will do its job.
If you like the flavor that olive oil imparts, then by all means use it.
If you don't, then use another oil.
Ribs aren't exactly what one would call a health food. God bless us all. I just don't think the oil, if considered in the whole picture, makes that much
difference to ones health when Q'ing the things we all like to Q. Plus a lot of the oil cooks away. I have been using Crisco salad oil, for I like to bake a lot, (esp. home made rolls), and that is what I use in them. So rather than have different oils around, that works fine for me.
If you don't have a rub you like, try my rub recipe. No secrets here... They are not necessary. The only secret in making good Q is being able to consistently produce a good product every time you cook. This can be harder than some folks think. Anyway, after the ribs are rubbed, wrap them in a piece of clear wrap etc., then place them into the fridge for a few hours or overnight if you have planned enough in advance. If you can't let them rest that long, don't worry about it. You can send them straight from the rub to the pit and still produce a great rib.
Bring your pit up to about 240-250ÃÂ° and start the smoking process. Place an oven thermometer on the cooking rack about an inch or so from the ribs. This will allow you to monitor the actual temperature of the heat around the meat. Don't let the heat at rack temperature next to the ribs drop below 225. If it does, bring the fire back up to around 240-250 degrees. If you smoke your ribs too slow, they will cook dry and come out like rib jerky and we don't want that. This is another mistake I think a lot of people make...they smoke their ribs too long and at too low of a heat. Don't make this mistake.
COOKING DRY? Rub on Oil...
Keep your pit in the 240-250 range.
After 45 min. or so, check ribs, and see if they are starting to look dry.
With all your cooking experience, you will know.
If they are, brush on a little more oil. Continue this for about 3 hours,
or until the fat from the ribs start to come up and baste the meat on its own. At that point, you can stop mopping with the oil.
Give this a try, and I know you will be a happy Q'er. Let me say a little about the differences in using the various styles of smoking pits. The big commercial pit in my restaurant has a rotating meat rack, like a miniature Ferris wheel inside. The meat is always turning. The temperature is quite uniform in this situation. I always barbecue ribs with the meat side up and leave them like that until they're done. You can do the same in a water smoker, where the water pan acts as a heat baffle to protect the
meat from getting too hot on the bottom. In an off-set firebox pit, like my
Klose Backyard Chef, I'm finding that I have to do something different.
In my Klose pit, the heat comes up from below the meat and if the ribs are
not turned about once an hour, I find that the side facing down is over-done. So if you're using an off-set firebox pit, like a New Braunfels Black Diamond or a Brinkmann SmoknPit Pro, turn them ribs.
For the first couple of hours, baste ribs with a mixture of about half or more Cooking Oil and half Apple Cider or Juice. Baste every 45 minutes to an hour.
This helps keep them moist since they have no fat cap, and I feel this
in an important part of the cooking process. After the ribs start to take on
a shine of their own (they are starting to render their own fat), you can
discontinue the basting. Depending on what kind of pit you are using will
determine if you need to turn the ribs over a couple of times, or not.
What kind of pit are we talking about here? I have to know this.
Different pits require different cooking techniques.
Used one of those vertical rib racks once, many years ago, and was not
impressed, even though they try to tell you they work great (think someone is just trying to sell a product). If you don't have enough room to lay the ribs down flat on your grate, (they do take up a lot of room on a small home rig) get an old rack from somewhere, and a few tin cans to put under it, to make you a "second upper rack". This will give you a lot more room. If you place the bottom rack of ribs directly under the top rack of ribs, the juice from the ribs on top will drip down on the ribs on the bottom, and kind of create a self basting action. Rotate them a couple of times while Q'ing.
How Long Does it Take? After about 4 hours, your ribs should be getting near the done state. Could take 3 hours or maybe even 5.
Don't Q 'em too long. You're not trying to make "rib-jerky" here!
Four hours is plenty long for great ribs.
HOW TO TELL WHEN THEY'RE DONE:
This can be the hardest thing to get down pat, but once you learn it is easy as pie. Take a very sharp meat fork, an ice pick, the end of your thermometer (if it has a long skinny sharp stem), etc. and stick it into the meat between the bones of the rib. If it goes in extremely easily, they are done. Should feel kinda like sticking a medium done baked potato.
Another tell tale sign is this: If you feel they are close to being done,
take them off the pit with a pair of tongs (grab the slab dead center). They
should be limber and bend on each end. Also, you can lay them on a tray,
then take each end about three bones in, in your hand and bend them.
They will visually "crack" between the bones at the stress point when done.
All this may take a few cookings to achieve, but I know you can do it.
Don't worry about having to open the pit a few times when checking for doneness. This has to be done. You can become quite fast at this with a little practice, and you can always get the heat back up. A bigger mistake would be to be afraid of opening the pit so much, and overcooking your meat. When the ribs draw up on the bone about 1/3", and the meat between the bones becomes very fork tender, I pull them off the pit.
If your fire gets out of hand and the temperature goes up to 250-275, the ribs will draw up more on the bone, so always judge doneness by the tenderness of the meat, not the draw up on bones.
At cooler smoking temperatures, the meat will draw up less. If your pit
temperature is higher, say in the 250-275 range, then take your ribs off sooner, maybe 3 hours instead of 4. It's that simple!
Get your smoke on...