I've Never Cooked Ribs

I pride myself on not having any cooking "specialties" - I cook darn near anything. Everyday, ethnic, gourmet....as long as it's good food, with a fresh taste.

But I've never cooked ribs.

I was in Austin a few weeks ago with my longtime friend Mark who was visiting from Chicago, and we got to talking about cooking. He asked how I did my ribs and was incredulous when I told him that I don't cook ribs. He assumed that like many Midwestern and Southern rib experts, I was just unwilling to give out my secrets.

But I really meant it. He still didn't believe me, so I texted Margie at home. She confirmed, "Tom doesn't cook ribs". And was a little annoyed that the party boys were bugging her while she was getting ready for bed.

Here's the deal - I make home made barbecue sauce, I cook smoked brisket Texas style, I grill, I roast whole pork shoulders, I even made homemade Worchestershire sauce once to put into my homemade barbecue sauce (not worth the trouble). But I don't do ribs.

Maybe it's because of all those people with their super-secret special recipes, sauces and techniques. Maybe I just didn't want to play that game. It's not that I don't like ribs. In fact, we all love them in my family. I just don't cook them.

So, a few cocktails later Mark forced me to tell him how I would cook ribs if someone put a gun to my head right then and there. We were in Austin, so the gun wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibilities. My approach:
  • Cover the ribs with a homemade dry rub, wrap in plastic, chill for a few hours or overnight.
  • Create a charcoal fire. slide coals to side to allow for indirect heating. Put some wet wood chips in foil, with a few air escape holes, and place over the hot coals.
  • Add ribs, away from the colas. Cover. Be sure top and bottom vents are fully opened. Smoke like this for 60-90 minutes.
  • Remove ribs from charcoal fire, wrap in aluminum foil.
  • I moved to my gas grill for this step. Cook ribs over very low heat, away from grill element. For a gas grill, ribs were placed on the front two-thirds, and only the rear burner was on low. Heresy coming....you can do this in the oven if you want to.
  • Cook at this low temp, (275-300 degrees) for a couple hours. Not having done this before, I was going to have to guess at the times. And the thickness of the ribs would make a difference too.
  • Check ribs packets. When meat is very tender, almost falling off the bone, remove.
  • Turn heat up to high on grill. Slather ribs with BBQ sauce and grill over high for 1-2 minutes.

How did it go?

I didn't like them.

Well, I really liked the cooking technique. The meat was perfectly cooked, falling apart, juicy, flavorful. Since many rib portions vary in size, I'm not sure I can yet recommend a cooking time, but maybe with some experience I can settle on something more precise than "a few hours".

But I didn't like my dry rub, the primary base of the seasoning. It's the one I use for brisket. I just didn't like it on ribs.

Also, I didn't put enough BBQ sauce on them for the heat heat finish. So they didn't have that little crisp char. They did have a great blackened crust and smoky flavor from the first two cooking steps. That part was great.

Because my ribs were "just OK", I'm not going to share the details of the recipe. However, the cooking technique above is pretty good.

So the point of this little story is that I still don't really know how to cook ribs. If you feel like sending me your favorite technique, rub mix, sauce, etc - that is if you're willing to share your super-secret info - feel free to share. It will help me climb my rib learning curve.

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