The guys at work have been wanting me to bring in some BBQ, and since I didn’t have a ribs post, I figured this was the perfect time to get everyone a post on the basics of doing ribs.
Ribs are the most fun to do because there are hundreds of flavors that you can use. You can read articles for days about which ingredients are the best to use, but when it comes down to it, everyone does the same basic steps. The flavor profile is the main thing that differentiates a good rib from a bad rib.
I had been buying my ribs from Kelly’s 4-0 in Troy, IL, but since they always sell repackaged ribs, I decided to try the Novacich Meat Market in Collinsville. When I walked in, I saw that they had fresh pork ribs sitting in the cooler. Ribs are not particularly expensive, and that day they were on sale for $2.59/lb. The nice part is that the guy behind the counter removed all of the rib tips, cut them for me, and placed them into their own bag…nice service.
I always like to start my ribs the day before. You find differing opinions on when to prepare ribs, butI find that when I am able to apply the rib rub the day before that it has a much better flavor. I usually start around 24 hours before they go on the smoker.
The first step is to flip the ribs over, and remove the skirt and rib membrane. The skirt is simply a flap of meat on the back of the rib rack. If it isn’t removed, then the ribs will cook uneven because they will be thicker on one end of the rack. Simply lift the skirt up (I can hear you snickering), take a knife and just cut that off.
There is a “skin” on the back of the ribs. Again, differing opinions, but I find that the ribs are not as tender if it isn’t removed. This part is the biggest pain to do, but I think it makes the biggest difference. In order to remove the membrane, take a knife or flat head screwdriver and insert underneath the membrane of the first bone to get it started.
Once you get it started, grab a paper towel and start pulling. If you do it right, you can pull the whole membrane in one pass. It takes some time to get perfected, but once you do, it does get easier.
Once you have the skirt and membrane removed, you will want to trim any more visible fat. There is enough fat in the ribs that you want to trim the extra that you see. Before you start with any spices, you will want your ribs to look similar to below
Now is the time to start getting your rib rub put onto the ribs. I like to take a basic store bought rib rub and add flavor (such as cayenne) to get it to what I like. I have used Big Ron’s Hint of Houston, and so far that is my favorite. His original is good too, but I like the extra heat on my ribs. You can check him out at http://www.bigronswebsite.com/ I thought about it too late to order, so I bought a generic store rib rub and added some cayenne to taste.
Once they are rubbed, they are ready to go into the fridge. I cover them in foil and let them sit over night.
Once you have those done, you can start on the rib tips. When you buy a rack of ribs, there is a bone connected to the top that needs to be removed. This is actually part of the sternum which is in between each set of ribs. I follow the same process in that I trim the extra fat and then apply the rib rub.
I use the rib tips as an appetizer. They will smoke faster than the rack of ribs, and will be done way early. It gives you an early taste of what you are preparing.
Once the ribs have sat overnight, they are ready to go on the smoker. Each rack of ribs is different, but you can assume about 6-7 hours for a slow smoke anywhere between 225 and 275 degrees.
Since I was doing 5 racks of ribs, I used a rib rack because of space limitations on my smoker, I have a pretty big smoker, but it was a colder day out and the smoker wasn’t holding heat like I wanted it to. About once an hour for the first four hours, I will spray the ribs down with a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. At the same time, I add some more wood chunks for smoke, but this will also help bring your temperatures back up. I like to use a mixure of apple and cherry wood chunks. They aren’t as harsh as mesquite or hickory, so there really isn’t a chance that you would have too much smoke, which would make the ribs bitter.
This is apparently the point where I also started to forget to take pictures. The next time I do ribs, I will take more pictures of the smoking process. Here the ribs are about 2 hours into the smoke:
Depending on where you live, there is an argument for dry ribs, sauced ribs, and ribs with a glaze. I like to do either dry (and allow the guests to add sauce if they feel necesarry) or I do a glaze, which I think gives it a great flavor. The glaze is sweet, so with the rub, you have a mixture of sweet and heat. For this recipe, I found a glaze recipe online which looked good. It contained apple juice, honey, apple cider vinegar, and a little barbecue sauce.
Be aware that if you choose the glaze or sauce route, that both of these contain sugar and will burn if left on the smoker too long. During the last 3o minutes, I apply the glaze about ever 10 minutes to give them a nice coating. Once the ribs hit between 180 and 190 degrees, they are ready to pull off the smoker. When you are done, you should have something like below:
After you take the ribs off the smoker, let them sit about 15 minutes to rest, and then slice between each bone. You will have some of the most tender ribs you have ever had. Get your place together, add the sides and you are ready to eat.