Cheaters Sometimes Prosper
Hard core pit masters with the time and equipment will baby ribs for up to seven hours in their smokers. Without the aid of gas or electricity, much effort is put into keeping the temperature and smoke just right. As much as I revere this ever-so-pure form of authentic All-American BBQ, the reality of limited time and a cheap smoker brings out the cheatin’ heart in me! I’ll clarify later.
If you want good ribs, you can’t cut corners in the preparation. First off, I prefer spare ribs, as opposed to the yuppy choice, baby backs. Spares come from the belly of the pig and are bigger and much meatier. But they require some surgery. There are two distinct sections in whole spare ribs: the tips and the actual ribs. The tips have a whole bunch of cartilage and gristle and cook up differently. We split the sections, BBQ the ribs, and use the tips to make some killer New Mexican-style Green Chile Stew (the tips make some crazy good broth). Also, there’s a rubbery membrane on the back of the ribs that needs to be removed.
With the ribs properly trimmed and peeled, they’re ready for a good rub. My seasoning rub consists of (in order of prevalance): celery salt, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, New Mexican red chile powder, chipotle chile powder, black pepper and cumin. I like to let the rack and rub get to know each other for a couple hours.
I’ve come to prefer “grill smoking” ribs. That means I put them directly over a thin layer of lump charcoal along with a chunk of hickory that smolders over to the side. You’ve got to be careful with this method, as you can torch your ribs if you don’t keep the temperature low. Let ‘em brown on the meaty side for about five minutes (depending on how hot your coals are), then flip to the bone side. I keep it in the smoker this way for about an hour. The initial blast of heat makes for a tasty crust, then the coals slowly cool off enough to gently smoke. The flavor is unbelievable this way. But here’s where the cheatin’ comes in. After the hour in the smoker, I wrap the ribs real tight in foil and finish them off in a 225-250 degree oven. Total cooking time will be between 4-5 hours. I like my ribs to be tender, but still have some integrity (not quite “fall off the bone”). At the very end, slather generously with your favorite BBQ sauce (try this Dr. Pepper sauce sometime) and char under the broiler or, better yet, over some lump charcoal.
Cheatin’ never tasted so good!