November 24, 2010

Slow-Cooked Memphis-Style BBQ Ribs

This past weekend, the weather was still nice enough that grilling could be more pleasant than an ordeal, so I took advantage of that and made up a rack of baby back ribs. 

Normally I prefer saucy ribs, but I was in a mood for Memphis-style ribs flavored only with a dry spice rum and wood smoke, the only liquid being steaming pans of water in the grill and the occasional brushing with a mop (a basting liquid, not the thing you use to clean floors with) to help keep the ribs moist.  So, I tossed together a basic spice mix, rubbed the spices over the ribs and let the rack sit in the fridge for a few hours.   Now, rib fanatics will often tell you the rubbed ribs should sit in the fridge for about 24 hours before they hit the grill, but in fact 2-3 hours seems to be the crucial amount of time.  Less than that and the spices don't adhere well enough to the ribs to form a crust.

These ribs turned out great... perfectly cooked, tender with a zesty spice crust, the meat white at the center and surrounded by a red smoke ring closer to the surface.  The combination of pork, spices and hickory smoke is pretty much always a winning one, and this time was no exception. 

Along with the ribs, we had some steamed green beans and some Buttermilk Cornbread I made from a recipe I found in the November issue of Fine Cooking.  The recipe cut a good comprimise between northern-style, sweetened cornbread and the southern style, which is not sweetened.   It cooked in the oven in a pre-warmed, cast iron skillet, and it was great served up with butter and honey.

Ribs take a fair bit of time to prepare and to grill up right, but this batch was definitely worth it!

Slow-Cooked Memphis-Style BBQ Ribs

Spice Rub
2       teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seed
1       teaspoon dried oregano
3/4    teaspoon cumin seed
3/4    teaspoon fennel seed
1/2    teaspoon celery seed
1/4    teaspoon dried thyme
1       tablespoon kosher salt
1       tablespoon light brown sugar
1       tablespoon sweet paprika
3/4    teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4    teaspoon granulated garlic powder
1/2    teaspoon onion powder

1       rack baby back ribs, 2 1/2-3 lbs
3       tablespoons vegetable oil

1      cup apple juice
4      tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Grill Preparation
         vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
2       cups hickory chips
2       disposable aluminum baking pans
4       apples
2       sprigs fresh thyme
2       bay leaves

Measure out peppercorns, mustard seed, oregano, cumin seed, fennel seed, celery seed and thyme into a spice grinder; grind the spices until finely ground.   Pour the ground spices into a bowl.  Add kosher salt, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, granulated garlic powder and onion powder and thoroughly mix all the spices together. 

Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.  Place the ribs on a baking sheet.  Lightly brush both sides of the ribs with vegetable oil to help the spice rub adhere, then sprinkle spoonfulls of the spice rub over the ribs, pressing and rubbing it in with the fingers to thoroughly cover both sides of the ribs.   Refrigerate the ribs (still on the baking sheet) for at least two hours.

Combine the apple juice and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl.

Start the hickory chips soaking about an hour before you plan to start grilling the ribs. 

Slice each apple into four quarters and slice away the core.  Place eight apple slices, one thyme sprig and one bay leaf in each disposable pan and add water to about 1 inch deep.

Clean the cooking grate with a grill brush and either lightly coat it with vegetable oil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

Prepare the grill for indirect heat.  Fill a charcoal chimney about half-full and ignite the briquettes in the chimney.  Spread about a dozen unlit briquettes in the direct heat area.  When the briquettes in the chimney are hot (covered with white ash), arrange them on one side of the grill, atop the unlit briquettes.  On the other side of the lower layer of the grill, set one of the disposable pans. 

Set the cooking grate in place, close the grill and let it heat for about 5 minutes.  Ideally, the temperature in the indirect grilling area should be approximately 225 degrees.  Manipulate the grill vents to reach this temperature.

When the grill is ready, toss a handfull of the soaked hickory chips on top of the briquettes, then set the other disposable pan on the cooking grate, directly atop the briquettes.  Place the ribs, meat side up, in the indirect heating area, above the disposable pan on the lower level.  Close the grill, placing the top vent over the ribs to draw smoke through the grill.

Every half-hour, baste the ribs with a couple tablespoons of the apple juice-vinegar mixture, add some more hickory chips and add a few more briquettes or some water to the pans as necessary , but otherwise do not open the grill.  After about an hour, turn the ribs so the edge facing toward the direct heat instead faces away.  After two more hours, turn the ribs again, back to their original position.

The ribs are done when the meat hits an internal temperature of 180 degrees (approximately 4 hours on a 225-degree grill).   Transfer the ribs to a serving plate, tent with foil and let them rest about 10 minutes before slicing them into servings.

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