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BBQ ribs: here's the rub

Rub_20061BBQ has become a bit of a passion for me over the past year or so.  When I say BBQ (barbeque, or barbecue, if you like), I'm not talking about "grilling," which is generally defined as cooking over high and direct heat, or the event where a bunch of people get together and eat salads and hot dogs and hamburgers and get drunk (nothing wrong with those events, though).  No, I'm talking about good old fashioned American BBQ, which is basically the process of cooking with low and indirect heat and smoke (from burning wood).  BBQ is also a noun, describing the product of the BBQing process.  Now that that's out of the way....

There are about as many regional varieties of American BBQ as there are regions of America.   And I'm not about to get into any of that. What I do want to get into is a rub.  A rub is key to BBQ to my mind. If you google "BBQ rub recipe", you'll come up with about a million.   Most of them of just variations on the next.  Many of them specify quantities in teaspoons and tablespoons and cups.  But a rub isn't a recipe:  it's a ratio.  So why introduce those units of measure if you don't have to?  Well, sometimes you do, but not always.

Additionally, I can't imagine that the small deviations in the different ingredients amount to a whole lot of difference.  So my rub, for 2006, is simple and all willy-nilly and uses whole jars (McCormick's brand or whatever you got) of spices and herbs from the supermarket shelf. And it goes a little something like this:

  • 4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 jar oregano (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 jar of paprika (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1 jar garlic powder (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 jar onion powder (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 jar chili powder (about 1/2 cup)
  • ¼ cup black pepper
  • 2 T white pepper
  • 2 T toasted and ground coriander seed
  • 2 T toasted and ground cumin seed
  • 2 T toasted and ground fennel seed
  • ½-2/3 cup salt
  • 2 T cayenne
  • 2 T cinnamon

You should store your rub in an air-tight container in a cool dark place.

Choosing your ribs:

As far as your meat goes, you can use any sort of ribs that you want, but I would recommend a proper rack of ribs, as opposed to those that are all cut up (sometimes called "country ribs," and most likely not really ribs at all, but more like pork chop bones).

Preparing the ribs:

Remove that nasty skin from the back of the ribs.  It just turns into tough paper after they cook, and conspires to keep smoke and flavor out of your ribs.  Stupid paper.  Scrape a butter knife along one of the bones to peel of a bit of the skin, get a good grip (with a paper towel if the ribs are still a bit wet), and then you can basically peel the whole thing off.

I always brine any sort of pork (and poultry, too).  Easy enough:  1 cup of salt for every gallon of water.  Put your ribs in there for an hour or so.  Remove, rinse, dry, and rub rub rub.  Note:  if you're buying Hormel's (R) "Always Tender (R)" ribs that come shrink-wrapped they most likely have some sort of special secret sodium-based injection already in the ribs.  I skip the brining when I'm stuck with these freaks of nature.  And I always try to get plain old ribs from the butcher, rather than these things. 

After your ribs are rubbed, there's some advantage to leaving them sit for a few hours.  However, feel free to skip that step if you're short on time (or patience).

Please don't:

And for eff's sake, don't boil your ribs.  Unless you're making rib soup.

Bbq_ribs2Wisps of smoke coming up around the largely unnecessary rib rack.  Although, it does come in handy.

Cooking the ribs:

I have a gas grill, and I'm damned proud of that fact.  It makes smoking a bit trickier and it's probably "cheating" on some level, but what can I tell you.  I make an aluminum pouch and fill it with lots of wood chips (available at most supermarkets during the summer months). The front burner goes on medium, the pouch goes over the front burner under the grates (or on top if you'd like), and the smoke eventually starts.  You should be having a beer during the wait.  It's what you're supposed to do.  And if it happens to be 10 am?  Hey, like Ice-T said:

Don't hate the playa:

Ice-T baby, this goes out to all you haters out there
Actin' like a brother done did somethin' wrong
cause he got his game tight
Don't hate the player, hate the game

Grill temp:

I shoot for a grill temperature of about 225-250 for low and slow cooking.  That's pretty easy to maintain on a Weber gas grill, with the front burner on low.

Every now and again you might considering spraying the ribs with a mixture of equal parts water and cider vinegar (or any vinegar).  This will help keep them moist, and it introduces moisture into the grill. You can also put a pan of water in the grill, which will help as well.

After a few hours, your smoke will stop as the chips will be spent. You can reload them if you want a more smoky flavor, or just let them be.  I let them be.  After 5 hours or so your ribs should be done, depending on what type you're cooking.  Baby backs take me about 5 hours.

A sauce:

You really don't need a sauce, but if you want to you should add it right at the end of the cooking process.  You can then put the ribs over directly heat to get a little char going. 

I make a ketchup-based sauce like this:

  • 1 onion, reduced to almost a paste
  • 1 clove of garlic in with the onion paste towards the end of making that paste
  • 1 cup of ketchup
  • a couple of splashes of vinegar
  • a squirt of sriracha hot sauce
  • a dash or 3 or habanero sauce
  • a dash of tabasco
  • a coupla shakes of that dry rub
  • maybe some chili powder to taste

Reduce for 20 minutes

Bbq_ribs4Very little sauce on these.

Fighting with your friends:

One point of controversy revolves around the meat "falling off the bone."  Most BBQ fans I've talked to say that the meat shouldn't fall of the bone:  you should have to fight it a little.  I agree.

Bbq_ribs3These are sauced and charred.


While it's an unwritten rule (my rule) that you have to have a coupla beersh while you're BBQing, I often reach for a zinfandel (red please) when I'm eating the ribs.  They're generally fruity, fun, about 10 or 12 bucks, and 100% American.