BBQ 101 – Baby Back Ribs

Delicious, glazed BBRs!Once you have mastered the art of Smoking Bratwurst – it is time to up your game a little and try your hand at another BBQ staple: Baby Back Ribs!

A lot of people’s favorite food of the smoker, BBRs are not to be taken lightly. I like to make mine tender, but not fall-off-the-bone tender. A lot of (gruesome) chain restaurants have made people think that BBRs should be cooked (I believe they steam/braise them at most of those restaurants) so they can be eaten without teeth. I tend to disagree, and go more for the BBQ competition level of doneness, ie tender, but not doughy and fall-of-the-bone. Anyway, if you want fall-of-the-bone and/or do not have teeth, I will teach you how to do that too.

Serving suggestion:
I like to serve my BBRs straight up with a coleslaw on the side and some homemade pickles. For this occasion photographed, I made my regular creamy coleslaw recipe but substitued regular cabbage with the red one for some interesting color combos. Some people like extra sweet and smoky bbq sauce on the side!

Total time: 3-5 hours
Skill level: Intermediate
Grilling method: Indirect, one-zone
Grill temperature: About 110-120 degrees centigrade (230-250F), more for the finishing

You’re going to need:

  • As many racks of ribs as there are people, at least. Some people can muster 1.5 racks too
  • A rib rack can be a nice way to fit more BBRs on your grill, they do take up a lot of space
  • Some lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes (make sure you get good ones with no chemicals and food starch as a binder)
  • 1 cup of wood smoking chips (I like to use apple or cherry for baby back ribs, read more about smoke wood here.)
  • An instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen is useful too
  • Your favorite BBQ rub – this one works well for ribs too.
  • Your favorite BBQ sauce for glazing at the end if you want to. I like a sweet and smoky style sauce for ribs, not too spicy. Your favorite store bought or homemade one will do!

How you do it:

  • We are going to use the three step method for doing BBRs. That means step 1 is BBRs, coleslaw and pickles. Who needs more? Hai, beer!smoking the ribs, step 2 is foiling and steaming, step 3 is finishing/glazing. This method is sometimes referred to as the 3-2-1 methods, where the numbers refer to number of hours in each step. Anywho – the goal is not to achieve 3, 2 and 1, but to achieve rib perfection, so your mileage on those may vary, but as a guideline it is sound.
  • Prep the baby back ribs by removing the membrane from the bone side. It’s very easy to do, check out a video over here if you don’t know how.
  • Fire up your grill or smoker and try to stabilize the temperature in the desired range of 110-120C (230-250F). On my Webers I will use a water pan to help me out in the stabilizing, it adds both mass and moisture inside the grill. On my Primo Grill I don’t really need that, and I also like to put the meat in when the grill is warming up, so it can get the maximum amount of smoke time. Remember to get good smoke going before putting in the meat.
  • Smoke the meat for as long it takes for the racks to reach 80-90C (175-195F)in the meatiest parts. The longer you spend on this step, the more smokey flavors.
  • Once they are smoked, it is time for step 2, the foiling and steaming of the ribs. Put them in a stainless steel pan on top of a rack, or on top of some crumbled up foil so they don’t touch the bottom, add a cup of water or apple juice, and cover with two layers of foil so it’s fairly airtight. Place the pan back on the grill.
  • Now for steaming time, this can take anything from 45-120 minutes. The best way to find out if they are finished is to check every 15 minutes towards the end. Take the foil off, wiggle the bones, pole them a little bit. When they are close to done, the meat should loosen from the bone with not too much effort. If you want them chain restaurant style, toothless done, they should start coming apart if you try to lift from one end.
  • Whenever your preferred doneness is achieved, take the pan of the grill, and DSC_1781increase the grill temp to about 150-160C (300-320F). This is the best temperature for the third and last step – finishing the ribs.
  • The reason you don’t go above 160C/320F for the finishing, is that at about 175C/350F, sugar will burn. This means your BBQ sauce and possibly your rub will turn from sweet to nasty in no time.
  • So, once stabilized at the new higher temp, lay out the ribs again, and brush them with a layer of your favorite BBQ sauce on both sides. Leave them on the indirect side 10 minutes, add another layer and flip, and leave them for another 10 minutes. After this they should have a nice, glossy laquer to them, and they should be finished, so serve it up!
  • ENJOY!

BBQ 101 – Pulled Pork

Homemade coleslaw and pulled pork sandwich. Ah yeh…

Pork butt is a fantastic piece of meat. It’s quite a tough cut, with a lot of collagen (and fat), which makes it perfect for low and slow BBQ. If you can’t get pork butt where you live, you can try a boned-out ham. However, the best cut for this is the pork butt which is essentially the upper part of the pork shoulder ham cut, here in Norway not a regular cut, but when I tell my butcher I want the upper part of the ham, basically the shoulder-blade, with all the meat and fat on it, I get the right thing. Keeping the bone in there helps the meat become more juicy because the bones contains gelatine, so I always get bone-in when I can. Gives you that lip-smacking goodness feel you get from good ribs. Guess that’s why gelatine is used a lot for making candy, huh… That goes for any meat – bone-in = better. Talk to your butcher and show him some charts and google images, and I’m sure you’ll get it right. Now, to get a historical fact out of the way, they’re not called butts because they’re from the butt (because they’re from the shoulder end of the pig really..), but because this cut was stored in special barrels known as butts, in the olden days. Read more on Wikipedia.

Pork butts ready for pullin’

This is not a good place to start for the novice griller, but if you think you’ve got indirect grilling and temperature control on your kettle or smoker down, you should try it. Pork butt is some of the best eats to ever come out of a BBQ, and it’s a cheap cut, which enables you to feed tons of people for little money. Time for a party, in other words. Let’s get to it.

Serving suggestion:
I serve this dish in a very traditional manner, on homemade hamburger buns, with a creamy coleslaw, a basic Eastern North Carolina style vinegar sauce, and some pickled gherkins. Don’t make it complicated, the meat should be the star.

Total time: 10-14 hours (prep starts the day before)
Skill level: Intermediate/Expert
Grilling method: Indirect, one-zone (some coals on one side, large drip pan filled with water under the meat)
Grill temperature: About 120-140 degrees centigrade (250-285F)

You’re going to need:

  • Time, I usually start around 6-7 AM when I do this and we eat around 7-8 PM. A great excuse to drink beer and “mind the bbq” all day, in other words. Kinda like fishing or golf in that regard (dads will know what I mean…)
  • 2 pork butts (I always make two, because that’s what I have room for on my kettle. Pulled pork freezes well, so if I have leftovers, that just means my wife is going to be happy for the next few weeks eating pulled pork sandwiches..)
  • 1 cup of your favourite all-round spice rub
  • Some yellow American mustard (to be used as a glue)
  • 1-2 bags of charcoal briquettes (make sure you get good ones with no chemicals and food starch as a binder)
  • 4-5 cups of wood smoking chips (I like to mix hickory and some mesquite for pulled pork, read more about smoke wood here. Apple wood is also great)
  • A notebook and a pen, for taking notes during the process
  • An instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen, or a leave-in probe style thermometer

Pork butt, rubbed and ready to go

How you do it, the night before:

  • Prep should ideally start the day before. Cut the skin off the butts unless your butcher did it, but leave a good thick layer of fat on the meat
  • Lay out some lengths of plastic wrap on your workspace, and put a pork butt on there. Put a thin layer of yellow mustard on it, and apply generous amounts of spice rub all around it. I use about 0.5 cup for each butt
  • Wrap in several layers of plastic wrap, and repeat.
  • I store my butts overnight in the fridge. It’s (almost) always a good idea to room temper your meat before it goes on the grill, as long as you’re able to do it in a safe, hygienic manner. However, if you want to maximize your smoke penetration and smoke ring size, you should go straight from the fridge on this one. Experienced BBQ’ers tell me the smoke ring only happens when the meat is below 60 degrees centigrade (140F)

How you do it, cooking day:

  • Taking notes is paramount if you want to learn

    Fire up your chimney starter with 20 briquettes (this is based on my 22.5″ Weber kettle, and your mileage and/or method may vary on other grills and smokers)

  • In the meantime, put a briquette basket on one side of the grill only, and a big water pan covering the whole middle part of the grill. Why water you say? The mass of water (I use a stainless steel pan from Ikea that holds about 4-5 liters or one US gallon) helps me maintain a steady temperature inside the kettle, because water stores (in this case) heat pretty well. It also helps the meat retain its moisture during the long cook by increasing the general moisture in the cooking environment.
  • When your briquettes are white hot, put them in the briquette basket you put on the one side of the grill.
  • Put two smokebombs (a handful of soaked wood chips wrapped in aluminium foil) on the briquettes. Putting them out towards the edge of the fire makes them last longer. Wait 5-10 minutes until they start smoking. Replace these as often as you please once they are smoked out. This is especially important the first 4 hours, after that the meat won’t really soak up the smoky flavours anymore.
  • Put the grate on, pork butts on the grate away from the fire, and put the lid on
  • Next is 10-12 hours of temperature watch. You should try to adjust your temperature using only the bottom vent(s) on your grill. The top one should stay at least 50% open. If you close the top one too much, you can get a soot buildup, which will not taste nice.
  • Eventually, usually after 4-6 hours you may run into something BBQ’ers call “the stall” – The temp of the pork butt will stabilize or plateau at about 68-70 degrees C (154-158F) – sometimes it will even drop a little. This can go on for hours and really f up your dinner schedule. Read up on the stall in this great article, it’s got useful, common sense information you need to be aware of if you do low and slow.
  • A lot can be said on how to do this on a kettle style grill, but it should be possible. However, there are a lot of factors that come into play when doing a long cook on a kettle or smoke. Wind. Rain. Sun. Shade. Air temperature. Humidity. Which is what makes this fun, and exciting, and a skill that is learned from experience.
  • If it gets too hot, I take my tongs and dump a briquette or two right in the water pan. You can take them out too of course, just don’t put them on your wooden deck…
  • If it gets too cold, you might need more briquettes. I put in 6-8 unlit briquettes every hour when I do this. If you get a strange dip in temp and really need to knock it up quickly, you can use unsoaked wood chips or chunks, or you can put on some lump charcoal which burns a lot hotter than briquettes. Just be patient and don’t overdo it.
  • I will not go on in lengths on all the different ways to get there, you shold keep a log of times, kettle lid temp and meat temp, so you’ll have something to learn from for your next cook. The important part is to have fun, and reach a target temp of about 87-90 degrees centigrade (that’s 190-195F). The other important part, is to get there slowly.
  • If you get to the target temp too early, don’t worry. Wrap the meat in aluminium foil, and a couple of kitchen towels, and put it all in a cooler, and it will stay warm enough for hours.
  • When you’re ready to serve, it’s time to pull the pork. If you did everything right, it

    Two butts, a ham and a cow chest

    should be easily pullable by hand. Here’s a neat tip, get some thin carpenter’s gloves from your local hardware store, and buy some vinyl gloves one size up at the supermarket. Put the builder’s gloves on first and then the vinyl gloves (duh!), and you will be able to pull two pork butts without burning off your fingers (I’ve tried, not fun). If it’s not easy to pull by hand, you took it off the grill prematurely. Don’t worry, use a knife to assist you, it should still taste great. If it does not taste great, you have failed, and consequently brought shame upon your house and family.

  • Once all the pork is pulled, drench it in the North Carolina style vinegar sauce, and serve. Enjoy the taste of a fantastic dish, knowing it tastes even better for you, because you’ve been outside working the BBQ all day. NICE!

Which smoke wood to use when?

I get a lot of questions on which smoke wood to use for which foods. Here are some suggestions. Like anything else to do with BBQ, this is no exact science. And remember, what kind of rub or sauce you use and the spice level should also be part of the consideration.

Pork – Pork works well with lots of different smoke woods. I like to use almost anything for pork. I use mesquite a lot for pork, and I use apple (real good for ribs), cherry and pecan wood. Sometimes when I really want smoke taste on pork butts, I use hickory as well. Want something light? Try Alder.

Beef – Beef=hickory in my mind. Sometimes I’ll mix 50/50 hickory and mesquite. Oak is also good, the Jack Daniel’s oak wood chips are great for steaks for instance.

Poultry – For poultry I would normally pick something lighter, like cherry or apple. Sometimes I use mesquite, it can be real tasty with duck, which has a stronger, more gamey taste than chickens

Fish – Oak or alder is very popular for smoking fish. Here in Norway the juniper bush is sometimes used, but I find the taste too owerpowering.

Vegetables – Since they’re not the stars of the show, my vegetables usually get smoked with whatever I’m using for the meat. Hickory and mesquite is great for baked potatoes and ears of corn (prick the potatoes with a fork first).

Lastly, experiment. A lot. It’s the only way to learn what’s best for your tastes. There’s also other ways to make smoke, rosemary smoke from fresh rosemary for lamb for instance. Vines of various kinds can also be used. But don’t use fresh wood, it needs to be dried. Nothing green should go on the grill as smoke wood.