26 December 2007

I had initially intended to start this post out with another link to a YouTube video of Bootsy and the Rubber Band, live circa the late 70s, but after previewing several versions of the song I had intended to post, I cannot in good conscience do so. Absolutely funk-o-matic bass playing, mind you, but lyrics-wise it is almost comically obscene, so no dice.

Anyway, my parents were kind enough to give Debra and me a digital camera, which I spent yesterday experimenting with. Very cool. So I decided to document my activity last night, which was to smoke a slab of spare ribs. This was my second attempt at ribs and I hoped to improve on my first attempt. Anyway, here is the humble budget grill upon which I am going to attempt to do this:

As you can see, it's not exactly pretty, or fancy. It is still holding together, barely, after a season of very hard usage. The bottom is almost completely rusted out, but it still holds together.

Here you can see the platter of ribs prior to smoking:

Preparation was fairly basic; I removed the membrane on the back and dumped a healthy amount of Fiorella's Jack Stack general purpose meat rub onto it, and rubbed it in. It sat overnight in the fridge after the dry rub went on.

And of course, the ideal companions for an evening in the cold tending the grill/smoker:

That would be a Wodehouse book, and a glass of homebrewed Rye IPA, a hoppy and spicy ale that is very flavourful. It is more of a dark amber than a brown, as the picture seems to suggest. And I've already waxed on about my fondness for P.G. Wodehouse's writing, but I've since made it a completely non-optional ritual to sit reading one of these books while meat is wicking up the rather pleasing-to-the-nose air pollution caused by smoldering chunks of hickory.

And here we are getting started:

As you can see I had to lop a section off the end to get the bally thing to fit, but no matter, I placed it over the coals themselves and thus had a quicker-cooking mid-session snack. The slab was placed on the rear half of the grill, with a fire of natural lump charcoal in front, near the air vents. An aluminum drip pan full of water was placed underneath the ribs to keep the environment moist and to ensure that no stray coals made their way underneath the ribs. Final touch was several handfuls of soaked hickory chunks on top of the hot coals. These were a nice size, about 1" cubes, better than the really large chunks or the tiny chips that smoke only for a short period of time before burning out. You can see the smoke starting to go to town.

Here it is somewhere in the middle, after stoking the fires a bit for a heavier smoke. Puffing like a chimney...

And here they are after 3 hours:

Nowhere near actually done, but I know the limits of my "smoker". It can't hold a constant temperature for that long no matter how you twiddle the vents, and so I've resigned that for things that are cooked indirectly for a long period of time (turkey, ribs, my Famed Smoked Meatloaf) I will smoke them for as long as possible, then finish it up in the oven.

I used a variant of what is sometimes called the "Texas Crutch" method to steam and tenderize the meat for an hour, by placing the ribs in a glass casserole dish, pouring in a small layer of liquid, and then covering with foil and cooking at 250 degrees. I was going to use apple juice, but owing to a lack thereof, I used a spiced apple wine that I had made. Does the job, but certainly not necessary to use that, other liquids will work as well. Then, I removed the foil, continued cooking for half an hour to dry out the outer "bark" of the meat, and finally dosed on some barbecue sauce and gave it another 30 minutes in the oven. End result:

Honestly I would rate my attempt as better, but still, not quite there, not the "fall off the bone" goodness. The flavour is spot on, but the texture of the meat is lacking, a bit too stringy and tough compared to, say, a platter of Jack Stack's ribs.

So sometime next year, I'll be looking at an offset box smoker. Going to do it right!

All things considered, a rather enjoyable way to spend Christmas evening. Happy Boxing Day, all.


Percussivity said...

Man... I am hungry. So tell me this, are spare ribs just extras the cow had lying around and lent to the butcher? I always did like the saying that when it comes to a steak and eggs breakfast, the chicken was definitely involved but the cow was truly commited.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Well, the cow was entirely uninvolved in this particular instance! Traditional BBQ generally dictates pork for most ribs, although on occasion beef ribs are done as well. Pork ribs are just the more common choice.

Spare ribs are the larger, lower side cut of the ribs, in contrast to the smaller slab from higher on the back of the pig (back ribs, or "baby back ribs").

As for the name, this from the LA Times:

"In 17th century England, spareribs were also called spear-ribs or even ribspare, a clear tipoff that this wasn't a native English word. It was borrowed from the German rippespeer, which is smoked pork loin."

So, just a corruption of the original German word, not really "spare" in any defined sense of the word!

Percussivity said...

Doh! Of course... I knew this about ribs being most often pork... but the last plate of ribs I had were beef (and very tasty) so beef was on my mind.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

I'll have to try beef ribs, but not until I get a big smoker. Pork ribs are big enough, but beef ribs would be approaching the classic Flintstones dinosaur rib size.