Sunday, November 8, 2009

BBQ Ribs - A Cooking Adventure

I recently bought a rack of pork ribs and tried out a few methods for cooking them.  Here are the winners:

Weekend Ribs - BBQ slow cook

These ribs want some attention while they are cooking, so it's best to do on a day when you're nearby to tend them appropriately.  To start, fire up the grill to inferno and clean the grill as necessary with your wire brush.  Take the ribs and apply your favorite rub.  This can be as simple as garlic salt (like I used), or a nice fancy rub that has cayenne, salt, pepper, msg (for the daring).

Put the dry rubbed ribs on the inferno hot grill over burner A, and turn burner A off, leaving burner B at inferno.  After 10 minutes, flip the ribs over onto burner B, turn burner A on to low, and turn off burner B.  You now have nice grill lines and have seared both sides of the meat, hopefully sealing some of the juices in.  For the next several hours, only apply indirect, low heat; flip the ribs about once an hour.  5-6 hours is a good timeframe for eating these, but if you're short on time, they are edible at 4 hours.

Weeknight Ribs - Crock Pot, BBQ finish
These ribs are great for preparing ahead, letting them cook unattended for hours, then "preparing" in twenty minutes once you get home.  Cut up the rack of ribs so the sections will fit into the crock pot.  Get the grill hot (as above) and give these ribs some nice grill marks on each side.  Cut an onion into 1/2 inch slices and throw the onion and about 1 cup BBQ sauce into the bottom of the crock pot.  Put the crock pot on high while you're pre-grilling the meat to get the sauce up to temp.  Once the ribs have spent their time on the grill, throw them into the crock putting more sauce between the pieces as you stack them.  Turn the crock pot to low.

If you're lucky, you have an old crock pot that'll cook at a nice temperature (~180F) all day at the low setting.  If not, you have a newer unit that will boil anything you put in there.  With an older unit, you can pretty much cook the meat all day, since at 180F, the soft gelatinous connective tissue will stay put until you come home.  With the newer units, you want to limit the amount of time in the crock pot to about 4 hours, since too much time above 180F will cause the meat to come out dry, yck!  (see food science entry below).

Once you get home, and the meat has finished cooking in the crock pot, you'll want to fire up the grill once more.  Put the ribs on for 10 minutes a side at medium to high heat, until they get a little crispy and delicious.

Side Dish - Easy Coleslaw

Whichever version of ribs you make, you'll want to make the slaw a day ahead of time.  Cut a head of cabbage into wedges, remove the spine, and slice as close to paper thin as you're willing to do (a food processor can work too).  Toss the cabbage with a few pinches of salt and put in a collander (inside a bowl, of course) in the fridge for up to 6 hours.  Grate a few carrots and cut a red onion into tiny bits.
The sauce is easy:
  • 1 1/4 cups mayo
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar (a little more if you like a sweeter slaw).  
Mix up the wilted cabbage, carrots, onions, and sauce.   You *could* eat it immediately, but it'll be much better tomorrow, when you cook the ribs!

Basic food science entry:  Meat is composed of muscle, fat, and connective tissue.  The muscle and fat lose water above 140F, tending to dry out.  The connective tissue begins to melt, losing tough/chewy characteristics, at 160F up to 180F, and turns gelatinous.  Above 180F the gelatinous connective tissue seeps out of the meat into the broth making the broth delicious, but the meat dry and chewy.  Thus, the goal is to cook it for several hours between 160F and 180F to get the most tender, succulent meat possible.  Here's where I learned about this:


  1. You need to talk to Danny and John in the club... they love this sort of thing!

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