If there is a holiday that marks the beginning of the backyard barbecue season, it has to be Memorial Day. Though it is a year-round practice in my house, I always make a point to fire up the smoker at some point over the long weekend for some ‘cue.
I’ve already talked about how easy it is to smoke some pulled pork at home. But sometimes, when I don’t have enough time to prep a butt, or too full of a schedule to man the Egg for 10-12 hours, I go to the next best thing: Spare ribs.
Yes, spare ribs. While I’ll never turn down a tender rack of baby backs, I’m very partial to the meatier, porkier spare rib. The notion that baby back ribs are always more tender than spares is false, assuming that the spare ribs are properly smoked. A key exception to this is if you are so pressed for time that you have to cook the ribs at a temp higher than 250 degrees. In that case, the spare ribs won’t work out well, and you should stick to baby backs.
So, for you rib rookies, here is a crash course that you can put to good use this weekend.
Comparatively, there is much less work that goes into smoking a good rack of ribs, and the end product is just as much of a crowd pleaser.
A few key things to note:
- If you boil your ribs, stop reading this right now and go bash your head against a wall. The word “blasphemous” doesn’t do it justice. You are dead to me now.
- Prep work is crucial to a good rack of ribs. Like leaving the giblets in the turkey, forgetting to remove the pleura – AKA, the silver skin, a thin membrane lining the bone side of the ribs – will ruin an otherwise promising rack. The membrane gets rubbery and gross.
- “Fall off the bone” isn’t what you are shooting for (unless that is how you prefer your ribs). If the meat dissolves off of the bone, they are overcooked.
- If you are working with a small grill space, use a rib rack, but be careful. Don’t over crowd the ribs, there needs to be proper airflow between the racks. Also, make sure you flip the ribs halfway through, or the meat closest to the grill will overcook.
Ask your butcher if the membrane has been removed when you buy them. If not, ask if they can do it for you. And if the answer to that is no, removing the membrane yourself SHOULD be pretty easy (as in this video), but that stuff can get pretty slippery. When it comes time to grab it and pull, use a paper towel to get a little better grip.
Once the membrane is off, you can throw on marinade or brine if you’d like and refrigerate overnight. However, I usually find that to be unnecessary. I prefer to pat the ribs down with a good rub, let them rest while I fire up the egg, and then throw them straight on.
Assuming you are going with spare ribs, you definitely want to go low and slow. Keep the temperature between 225-250, for around 3-5 hours, depending on the thickness and size of your ribs.
As always, time is much less important than temperature. You are shooting for 180-190 degrees (I’d take them off no later than 185, lest they wind up like a pile of Houston’s overcooked “fork and knife” ribs). But the challenge with ribs is that getting an accurate read on a thermometer can be difficult.
Instead, you are going to have to do it by feel, which is somewhat of a contradiction in a post aimed at beginners. There are numerous ways to check the doneness…if a toothpick slides into the meat with little to no resistance, they are probably done. Pick up one of the racks with a pair of tongs…if they droop, and the meat cracks on the surface as though it is about to break, pull them off. Obviously, if the bone slides right out, pull them immediately – they are overcooked.
If you choose to apply a sauce, wait until the meat is ready before putting on the first coat. A coat of surgery sauce can turn gummy in the grill if applied too early. I like to avoid using too much mop sauce so as to not turn the bark soggy. I’m a fan of the Memphis-style dry rib, and I usually just leave the sauce on the side at the table. If you see that tell-tale pink ring on your meat, and have a good rub on there, that should be all that you need.
So, what is going onto your grill this weekend?
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog