Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten used to the Smoke Wagon, and over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my experience making different types of barbecue.
First up is pork ribs!
Cuts of Ribs
First, let’s talk about terminology. You will hear about three kinds of ribs: baby back ribs, spareribs, and St. Louis style. Let’s take a look at them:
The baby backs come, as the name implies, from near the backbone. They generally have more meat than the other cuts, and are, correspondingly most expensive per pound. They’re smaller, too. Compare them: spareribs on top and baby backs on bottom.
As it turns out, spareribs and St. Louis cut come from the same cut, with the difference being that St. Louis cut has the flap and sternum removed.
Which one I buy depends on cost – some stores near me will price them the same, and if that’s the case I go for the St. Louis cut, because that’s my favorite cut. Even if I buy the whole spareribs, I trim off the flap end and the sternum any way. Yes, when I do that I cook those parts any way, but I’m not so needing of them that I won’t let someone else trim them for free.
So now we’ve picked our cut. Next, if I bought spares I trim off the flap and the sternum, but this isn’t a must.
The next choice is rub. Here, it’s totally up to you and your taste. Here’s what I do.
At a minimum I use salt and pepper. There are those who insist on kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, and given the choice that’s what I use. But to be honest, I also went a few months using table salt and regular cracked pepper, because they were left over from a party and didn’t cost me anything. I can’t honestly say if they changed the taste any.
Of course, you can stop here, and I guarantee no one will be turning down your finished ribs. But I usually go farther. My favorites are brown sugar, garlic powder, and a small amount of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I also add some chili powder. All I can say is try it yourself and find your favorites.
Prepare your smoker the normal way and heat to 250ish. Make sure the grills are clean. I also add a pan of water under the ribs to keep the atmosphere moist.
If you use an offset smoker, place the ribs crosswise if possible so the whole piece sees the same temperature. If the piece is longer than the grill is wide, then lay it at an angle, with the thicker end closer to the heat.Here, I have a slab of spares, and you can see the sternum and flap, because nothing goes to waste at my house. I’ll use the sternum as an appetizer since it will be done sooner. The flap – all meat – goes to the cook as a reward.
Wood choice can vary. I use white oak for sure, and I add hickory a lot of times. I’ve also used a small amount of mesquite, but I have found that a lot of mesquite is too much for pork.
Turning the Ribs
Just kidding. Leave them where they are. The smoke will get to both sides just fine.
Wet or Dry?
This depends on your preference, and I’ve made them both ways. If you choose to leave your ribs dry, then you don’t have to do anything until the Wrap.
If you like them wet, do like I do and spritz the ribs every so often with some diluted apple juice to keep them moist.
After about 2 hours of cook, I then move the ribs to a large piece of heavy duty foil. If you want them dry, wrap them and put them back on.
To me, wrapping gets me all the goodness of wet ribs, without all the hassle of mopping every so often. Just coat them with sauce before sealing the wrap. Here again the choice of sauce is up to you, but my experience is that thinner is better than thicker. I’ve gone to using a mixture of thick store sauce and a thinner sauce, diluted down to the right consistency with a little bourbon. Then they go back on the grill for another couple of hours.
After 4 hours of total cook time, I find most ribs are perfectly done to my liking. To test, the best way is to twist one of the bones slightly – ofthe bone slips and moves, this means they’re done.
Remove the ribs still wrapped. I let them rest a few minutes because I’ve always been told to. Then, cut between the bones with a sharp knife, and serve.