Forget meat candy, try these lemony smoked Greek ribs
Can we stop fighting about politics for a moment and just argue about ribs instead?
An overwhelming majority of Americans have become addicted to sweet/spicy sauce. But what of the minority view? Not everyone loves meat candy.
Smoking ribs in your backyard for hours, while drinking and smoking a fine maduro cigar, isn’t about political commentary. America’s Founding Fathers were tolerant of dissent. Me too. It follows, then, that I would never try to silence you sweet-sauce people, or mock you as sweet-saucists, or kick you to the margins of ribs history.
The Perfect John Kass Greek Ribs are not sweet. They are lemony and garlicky. And they’re the best ribs I’ve ever made in my life.
And today, in my beloved Chicago Tribune, I give them to you, for am I not a river to my people?
They’re smoked low and slow, then drizzled with an easy lemon aioli. Serve with sauteed baby Swiss chard, corn on the cob, and perhaps a light vinegar-based coleslaw to balance the sweet corn. If the lemony creaminess of the aioli dribbles off the ribs and onto the chard? That’s a random act of kindness.
A while ago, I made a version of these ribs for a video, but I wasn’t satisfied. So I kept trying. Now, finally, I’m satisfied. The reason may be a fire management technique I hadn’t used before, a method that produces consistent temperatures for perfect lowand-slow cooking in the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker.
These aren’t your father’s meat candy ribs. Nor are they your grandfather’s meat candy ribs. I don’t knock traditions, but I had to give up on sugar. When you give up on sweet ketchup-based sauce, an amazing thing happens. You can actually taste the flavor of the pork. You might blame these ribs on the first question of American exceptionalism: What if?
What if you dropped the sweet stuff and picked up some lemon?
About a week or so ago, out on the deck and thinking of perfecting the ribs, I listened to an old Leonard Cohen song, “The Sisters of Mercy,” which has a line in it that is critical to every discovery. “If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn/ They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.” Just then I told Zeus the Wonder Dog, “Eureka, I have found it!”
All I had to do was embrace my inner minion.
To the old me, calling someone a minion was to use fighting words. But the new green me is about being as supple as a stem. Jim Minion, of Federal Way, Washington, developed this technique that I found on a great BBQ resource, virtualweberbullet.com.
I was once a stern fanatic about using only lump charcoal, but now when I’m cooking long and low and slow, I use the Minion method with briquettes. It’s easier to keep the temperature at the desired 225-230 range. That protects the meat from temperature fluctuations. Let’s begin.
For the paste (four full slabs of ribs): I use the ancient “hoofta” measurement, meaning the palm of your hand, which equals about 2 tablespoons. Combine 3 hooftas of chopped rosemary and oregano; the zest of three lemons; the juice of two lemons; 2 hooftas each of fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt; a good sprinkle of red pepper flakes; and at least eight large pressed cloves of garlic. Add olive oil and mix to make your paste. You don’t want it too thin, so adjust accordingly. You can marinate the ribs for hours if you wish. Before you cook, make sure they’re at room temperature.
For the Minion Method: In the fire ring, you make what amounts to a doughnut of unlit coals, with a hole in the middle. Just pour unlit coals in the fire ring and dig a hole, pushing the coals aside so you can see the fire grate below. Or, set them one by one along the edge of the ring, at least three coals wide and three coals high, burying dry, unlit chunks of apple or pecan wood among the unlit coals. Then pour half a chimney starter of fully lit, ashed-over coals into the doughnut hole.
Assemble the smoker. Put water in the water pan and put your ribs on. Leave the bottom vents fully open until the temperature reaches between 225 and 250, then adjust the vents as needed to hold the temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer, just leave the vents fully open for about 15 minutes, then close them a bit.
Three and a half to four hours later, they should be perfect.
For the Jimmy Banakis Lemon Aioli: My friend Jimmy, owner of the Juicy O’s restaurants, crafted this lemon sauce for Betty and me. It’s perfect on the ribs. Ingredients: The juice of 2 lemons and half of a grilled lemon ( just slice a lemon and put it face down on a grill for a few minutes to bring out the sweetness); 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of water; 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil; a teaspoon of salt; a half-teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 hoofta of fine chopped herbs, parsley or cilantro or try your own idea.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a blender, add the salt, the egg and the tablespoon of water and blend at low to medium speed. Drizzle the oil slowly into the top opening, and toss in your herbs. Put in the fridge to chill. Spoon it out on your Perfect John Kass Greek Ribs.
I do hope you enjoy them.
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgnplus/thechicagoway.
Zeus the Wonder Dog watches over Greek-style ribs made on a charcoal grill.