The science of ribs
I implore you, please try to smoke a rack of ribs this year.
This entails having a kettle charcoal grill or a smoker and, most importantly, patience. Some people take a rack of ribs, slather them in a store-bought sauce and then throw them directly over the flames. If you are doing this, you should have your barbecue and grilling rights revoked until further notice or at least until you have finished reading this.
Here’s the science and the secret to cooking great pork ribs. Ribs are full of connective tissue called collagen. This collagen, if cooked properly, will slowly melt down to something called gelatin. And yes, this is the stuff Jell-O is made of. It’s the gelatin which gives ribs that silky, moist texture. But, if you cook the ribs too quickly over direct heat, the collagen simply hardens up and becomes a liability versus an asset. So, the key is low and slow with ribs to result in gelatin.
And it helps to have the correct equipment on hand. One of my most used grilling utensils happens to be a rib rack. It allows you to position three to four racks of ribs in one kettle grill or smoker. They are inexpensive and you will become a rib professional if you get one.
Having judged and competed in Kansas City Barbecue Society events, I can also tell you that a “fall off the bone” rib is penalized and frowned on. It is a sign of an overcooked rib. Liz (my wife) humbly disagrees with this assertion. She loves ribs when they are “fall off the bone” tender. But, I can report that a well cooked rib, at least in the competition world, is one where the meat pulls cleanly from the bone but isn’t falling off. Personally, I love ribs either way. So, set up your kettle grill with indirect heat, meaning you have hot coals piled on one side of the grill. Use paper towel and pull the membrane off the bone side of the ribs. The paper towel allows you to grip the membrane and pull it off in a full sheet.
Coat both sides of the ribs with normal yellow mustard, then liberally apply a rub to both sides. (I have included my favourite rub recipe below.)
Open the vents to 50 per cent, add your favourite wood chips to the hot coals, place your ribs in the rack and position them on the side of the grill opposite to the hot coals. Place the lid on the grill and cook the ribs for two hours or so.
Now, brush your favourite sauce (try making your own, it’s easy) on both sides of your ribs. Place the ribs over the coals and allow the sauce to caramelize slightly. Wrap the ribs in foil and place them in an oven at 225 F to keep warm until you are ready to eat.
Dave’s Pork Rub Recipe
½ cup brown sugar ½ cup paprika 3 tablespoons salt 3 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper 1 teaspoon ground cumin 2 tsp chili powder 1 tsp cayenne pepper 1½ tsp granulated garlic
Try your hand at smoking a rack of ribs this year.