Monday, July 25, 2011

On Summer's Embers: Spare Ribs

Just a few, meager notes about ribs.  My anecdotal marketing experience tells me that ribs are probably the most popular barbecue choice for the backyard cook.  They take less time to do than a whole pork butt, or picnic ham.  They yield a satisfyingly chewy, yet tender repast, and they easily take to saucing/mopping/dipping on the grill to create a really nice jammy crust that gives you an additional texture and flavor.  One of the oddities of Carolina Cue is how hard it is to find good ribs at even the most outstanding barbecue spots.  Eastern style takes whole hogs, pit cooks 'em, and chops it all into wonderful stuff, ribs and all.  Around Lexington, they use whole shoulder for their pulled pork plates.  One excellent exception is The Pig, where Sam Suchoff pulls out the ribs and serves them separately from his otherwise whole hog q (which is mighty tasty, itself).

In any event, my Summer Smoking got kicked off with two racks of Niman Ranch babyback ribs, that were dead simple and delicious. And this is possibly/probably the end of my smoking for 2011: some Cane Creek spareribs.  I developed my first real affection for bbq in Chicago, where a regional specialty, and my personal favorites, are rib tips.  These are the cartilaginous ends of the spare rib, cleaved from the rack, cooked separately in lengthy strips, then hacked up and slathered with a sweet hot red sauce - and some pieces of white bread - and you might as well get fries with that because there's little cause for parsimony or nutritional concern if you're eating RIB TIPS!  That said, my wife and I found our favorite ribs, not in Chi, but on our occasional trips to Memphis (which just happens to be half way between here and there on many of the road trips we've taken).  It's a tourist trap in a surprisingly tony spot in town, but the ribs at Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous are worth the always lengthy wait.  What makes these ribs exceptional is the dry rub - a mixture of aromatics that makes it entirely unnecessary to add sauce to your  racks - but go ahead and sauce 'em up, because that's really good too.  We liked the dry rub result so much that we picked up jars of the stuff, which you can buy in any Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, and then used it as a seasoning on damn near anything you can think of.  So these ribs are semi-inspired by Mr. Vergo's invention.  Starting with the rub

 that I've approximated here.  A lot of paprika, cayenne, garlic and onion powder, and the not-so-secret ingredient of oregano, which adds a layer of herbal smoke to the dry smoky flavor of the paprika, to say nothing of the smoky smoke in which the ribs will be cooked.

I rubbed up these two racks of spareribs for about 24 hours, maybe more

and then set them in the smoker (once it got up to 250º, or so).  They'll be nicely barbecued in about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before I wanted them to be finished, I took a doctored up sweet sauce (ketchupy, garlicky, vinegary) and slathered it on one of the racks.  If you try to put a sweet sauce on ribs more than half an hour before you finish smoking, the sauce will burn and give an unpleasant charred taste to your otherwise excellent pork.  With these ribs, leaving the sauce off and serving it on the side will do just fine, but I wanted some crunchy crust, so I mopped on some sauce.

Here you can see the rack on top is encrusted with some sauce, the other is merely dry rubbed.

Some nice accompaniments to your ribs? Here's some oven fried okra, cole slaw (the barbecue sauce is the dressing for the cabbage!) and, of course, the requisite corn on the cob.  White sweet corn from
Brinkley's Farm, in this case.

Here's a nice look at the spare rib itself.  The pink smoke ring is nicely visible, and you can see the juices dripping off the bone.  Spare ribs are certainly fattier than baby backs, but that is part of their inestimable charm.  And it makes the sticky sauce even crustier, should you elect to sauce your ribs while smoking.

That's it. I thought I might get to some goat shoulders or some lamb shanks  - but the techniques I've given here are sufficient to to get anyone started if they can procure some of those lovely bits of ruminant.  My pal, Chris Nelson, tells me that smoking in enormous vertical smokers is all the rage in Tokyo this year - including TV tips on how to smoke an entire tuna on your balcony.  Clearly, I have a lot to learn.

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