Drew’s Clues: BBQ Spareribs

by firsthandfoods on August 7, 2014

I’ve heard it suggested before that BBQ in North Carolina has gotten a lot saucier over the years due to lower quality meat.  The leaner, commodity pork that most BBQ joints use these days has reached such a low point in flavor that the only way to make it palatable is to load on the vinegar sauce.  I have no idea if this is true but my recent experience with our spareribs definitely made me wonder why in the world the standard preparation is to coat ribs with a sticky, sugary sauce.

beautiful meatI set out to cook what I think of as all-American BBQ spareribs with the “KC Masterpiece” style sauce but ended up with something much more minimal and I think delicious.  Most recipes call for a rub to start out with which is typically some combination of salt and sugar and spices like chili and cumin and pepper.  I decided to skip this altogether and just use salt and pepper.  A rub’s variety of spices and herbs do add flavor and aroma but the key ingredient in any rub is the salt.  Salt is the thing that will actually enhance the flavor of the meat and as a bonus salt allows meat protein to retain more moisture.  I couldn’t avoid making a classic Kansas City style BBQ sauce.  It ended up being pretty tasty and it’s not like I had to buy anything special for it:  it requires every version of sweetener I have in my pantry and every condiment in my fridge.  I love a sauce that’s made by mixing together a bunch of store bought sauces and condiments.  Seems so American.

Let’s get on to the details:

First thing to be done is prepare the spareribs for seasoning.  Take the ribs out of the package and rinse under cold water.  Dry thoroughly with paper towels.  There’s a membrane on the bone (concave) side of the rack that should be removed.  Once cooked the membrane can be pretty chewy.  The best method for removal is using a dull tool like a butter knife or a spoon to get in between the meat and the membrane.  Work your fingers in there once there’s enough room and peel it back.  It should come off pretty easilsalt & peppery.

Season the ribs liberally with salt and pepper and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour.  Use approximately ½ teaspoon per pound of ribs.

How to cook the ribs depends on your equipment but the bottom line is that you want to cook spareribs at around 225° for 4-5 hours.  I recommend using a smoker or a grill, but the key is using indirect heat that hovers around 225° for that long stretch.  Adding mesquite or hickory to your heat source is, of course, a big plus.

IMG_0174About the sauce:  I had every intention of slathering on lots of sauce during the last hour or so but when I went to check for doneness I came to my senses.  I sliced a rib off after a little over 3 hours and took a bite.  What I found was such tasty, naturally sweet, smoky and flavorful pork I considered calling it a day and just eating them as is.  Why cover all that tastiness up?  But I had already made a sauce and the ribs did need to cook a bit longer so I went ahead and brushed just a little bit onto the meatier side and gave them another hour or so.  In the end they were perfect.  The texture was still a little springy but tender, which I think ideal, and the flavor was a great balance of pork and smoke and sauce.

Here’s that sauce recipe:

Saute a small onion and two crushed cloves of garlic over medium heat in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil until softened.  Add a tablespoon of chili powder, a couple grinds of black pepper and about half teaspoon salt.  Allow this to cook for another 5 minutes.  Add to this:shiny meat

1 cup ketchup
¼ cup yellow mustard
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons honey
a couple dashes tobasco or texas pete
½ cup brown sugar

Simmer this all until nice and thick.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.  This could be made spicier or sweeter, etc.

By the way, in looking into the best ways to cook ribs I found that there is virtually no end to online discussion on the subject.  There’s an incredible array of websites and chat rooms dedicated to modified smokers and grills, cooking methods, special sauces and rubs, etc. etc.  Rib cookery seems to attract a very opinionated bunch.  I must recommend, though, amazingribs.com.  It is an incredible source of information on everything rib related and elaborates (to a sort of insane level) on everything here and much, much more.

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