Smoked BBQ Ribs for Sunday Football

Ribs 4Some serious winter snow and NFL playoff football were the perfect excuse to fire up the grill and smoke a couple racks of ribs over the weekend.

Sure it’s chilly out. Yes I could go buy some ribs already cooked from a local barbecue purveyor, but part of the enjoyment of eating ribs is going through the ritual of prepping and cooking them.

Once the light bulb went off in my head to fire up the smoker, the first thing I did was fill a large stainless steel mixing bowl with water and throw in a few handfuls of hickory wood chips to get them ready for smoking. It generally takes a good 24 hours for the water to dampen the chips sufficiently to get a good smoke rolling.

Next I needed to replace a key component. The drip pan in the bottom of my double-decker Brinkman electric smoker had disintegrated from use.

No worries, I found a stainless steel mixing bowl at Walmart for $7 that was a suitable replacement.

I picked up two racks of pork ribs and the additional spices needed for my rib rub recipe and I was ready to get my cook on.

Keep in mind that good barbecue is generally a two-day endeavor. The prep and seasoning goes down the first day, then you cook low and slow the second day.

I used the following as the base recipe for my rib rub: 1 tbls Black Pepper; 1/2 cup Brown Sugar; 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper; 1 tbls Chili Powder; 2 tsp Dry Mustard; 1 tbls Garlic Powder; 1 tbls Onion Powder; 2 tsp Salt; and 1/4 cup Smoked Paprika.

Mix these dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Place 1/4 cup Olive Oil in a sauté pan on the stove over low heat; melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in the oil; turn off the heat; whisk in 1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce to the melted butter/oil mixture; and finish by mixing in a couple splashes of liquid smoke for good measure. (Cut the marinade proportions in half if you are only cooking one rack of ribs).

Using a brush, I liberally applied the liquid mixture to the top, edges and under-sides of both racks of ribs.

Let this marinade penetrate for 30 minutes or more. I could just use oil or butter, but the Worcestershire helps the marinade penetrate more deeply.

Ribs with marinade and spice rub applied.

Ribs with marinade and spice rub applied.

After sitting for 30 minutes the surface of the ribs will remain damp. Now bring the spice mix assembled for the rib rub over and apply it to the top and edges of the racks, coating the entire surface. You don’t want it to be too thick, but lightly distributed across each slab.

Place the ribs on a platter, cover with aluminum foil and let them sit overnight so those spices can begin to work their way into the meat.

The following day I fired up my smoker. I had not used this in several months so I wanted to warm it up before introducing the ribs. I placed a handful of the wood chips into the drip pan inside my smoker, and poured a little water, enough  to cover the bottom of the pan around the wood chips, to add some moisture.

With the drip pan sitting on the heating element, it projects sufficient heat to bring a modest amount of water to a light boil. You don’t want to include too much water or the heat will not reach a high enough temperature.

After 30 minutes it was plenty hot. My Brinkman is a bi-level smoker, so two grill surfaces are available inside, with the heating element at the bottom. Each grill is a respectable diameter but requires I cut the racks of ribs in half to accommodate one rack per grill level.

With the lower and upper grill surfaces full, the smoker is locked & loaded for action.

With the lower and upper grill surfaces full, the smoker is locked & loaded for action.

Once I place the ribs on the lower rack there is no getting to those until the top rack is finished first and removed.

I placed the thicker rack of ribs on the lower grill since it could use a little higher heat and wished them happy travels. Then dropped in the top grill and added my second set of ribs.

This is when the fun starts. All the prep and waiting is done. It’s time to barbecue some ribs!

I checked them after 45 minutes and all was swell. The hickory smoke was starting to get thick as the residual water evaporated and the damp chips began charring.

After two hours I add some additional wood chips to keep the smoke intensity constant.

At three hours I basted the top rack with some of the leftover marinade, which in turn dripped down onto the lower rack.

At four hours I’m ready to pull these bad boys. I could have left them on for two more hours, but needed to feed my hungry tribe before it got too late.

Prior to taking the ribs out of the smoker, I fired up my gas grill to get the internal heat up to a high temp.

Using tongs, I transported the ribs from the smoker onto the “upper” rack of the gas grill. Here I slather on a healthy amount of BBQ sauce. I prefer wet ribs personally, but only introduce the sauce at the end of the cooking process.

I used Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite for my sauce. This offers a bold flavor, not too sweet or too much tomato. It’s bold and tangy, and a sauce that stands up well to heat.

The idea of finishing the ribs on the grill is that the direct fire allows the sauce, spice rub, marinade and natural juices from the pork to caramelize.

Put the grill on a low setting. These babies are already cooked, but could use 10-20 minutes for the caramelization process.

You will want to keep a constant watch, as the juices and sugar can easily cause the fire to jump and if not watching the fire will be all over your ribs quick.

That’s why I emphasize placing the ribs on an elevated grilling rack if possible. It keeps the heat and fire away from directly impacting the meat so easily, but does a fantastic job of caramelizing all those wonderful flavors.

I sauce the surface of the ribs first, giving them 10 mins face down; sauce the bottom and flip them over for five minutes; and finish by saucing the surface once again and grilling them face down for a final five minutes.

The finished product is smoked to perfection and ready to be devoured.

The finished product is smoked to perfection and ready to be devoured.

That’s it folks – we are done! The ribs are a deep brown and red, with a few char marks for good flavor. I let them cool down and set for 10 minutes while finishing up the mac n’ cheese.

You can tear these apart with your fingers, but I have kids and it’s easier for them to already have the ribs cut, so using a large kitchen knife I severed each rib for easing serving.

I elected to serve the ribs and mac n’ cheese along with potato salad. This rib rub recipe does have a bit of spice to it and the potato salad helps balance the heat. Besides, I find the spice and BBQ sauce mixes wonderfully with the potato salad or mac n’ cheese.

It has been a tad chilly outside lately, and there is still snow on the ground, but don’t let that keep your grill dormant.

Pour a stiff bourbon, add a layer of clothing and get outside in the smoke.

Bon Appétit!

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