Pork Ribs are almost everyone’s favorite summer cookout entré. Most of our friends spend hours debating the merits of their family’s personal rib-cooking style. Those who compete in barbecue contests prefer a rib with some “tooth,” meaning that it clings to the bone and has some firmness to the meat. Family grillers most often judge a rib as “done” when the bones pull completely out of the meat. We like ours somewhere in-between, and therin lies the rub. Really.
We have found that we can’t get the timing close to perfection in the middle of a huge party, and holding ribs on the grill while awaiting late-arriving guests too often results in overcooked, mushy meat. On the other hand, having your guests standing around downing too much beer while the ribs take “just one more minute” results in overcooked, mushy guests – which is even worse.
Our ribs take two days and three different treatments to make lip-smacking, down home southern comfort. Unlike most chefs, we don’t recommend that you sample them until the very last – after the sauce is on. Each step adds an additional layer of flavoring, but the overall approach doesn’t balance out until the end, when the sauce slathers on.
The amounts and times given in the recipe are for 2 full racks of pork spareribs, or 4 racks of pork babyback ribs.
We start the ribs in a large outdoor boiling rig (or turkey frier) with a heafty dose of Zatarains' Crab Boil (see sidebar). Before you boil the ribs, take a few moments to boil corn on the cob (husks and silks still on) for about 5 mins. - then cool and refrigerate. Also throw in about 5 pounds of small, red-skinned "new" potatoes and cook until fork tender - then cool and refrigerate. When the vegetables are done, put the whole racks of ribs into the boil and let them cook at a slow roll for about 30 mins. Remove them from the water, and cool them. Before you put them into the fridge, press about 6 cloves of garlic per rack and rub them down. Put all of the ribs into an oversized Ziploc bag, and pour in one cup of fresh-squeezed lime juice. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day....
To have the ribs completed for dinner at, say, eight pm, they must go into a hot oven by four pm in the afternoon. They need an additional four hours in the next rub – so plan to have them rubbed down and back in the fridge by noon: here's the Girlsonagrill Cajun Rub.
After they have been rubbed down, massaged, and left to chill for four hours, take them out, wrap them individually in heavy-duty aluminum foil, folded over and sealed well- add a dash of lime juice if you like – and stack in a large roaster. You will need the foil on them later, when they go on the grill, so don’t skip this step, even if you have a good roaster with a heavy lid….and place them in a hot oven, pre-heated to 450 degrees. Immediately turn the oven down to 350. Bake for one hour, and turn the oven down to 250. Bake for one hour, and start your grill.
Start the fire and make the usual cool side/hot side configuration. Close the lid and shut down the vents about halfway until you have a steady, medium fire. You should be able to keep your hand about 5 inches over your grate for 5-6 seconds. Be sure your grate is hot before you put on the meat. We leave it in the foil, placing the foil packages directly on the grills, and cutting them open (watch out for the steam!). There will be a lot of juice in the packets – you can either baste the ribs directly from the drippings, or pour the drippings off (which you will need to do sooner or later) into a basting bowl that you can keep warm on the grill or side burner. Mop the ribs with the juice about every 15 minutes, rotating the foil packs each time – for an hour. Then, drain the juice and flop the ribs out onto the cooler end of the grill. You can also use an upright rib rack – just be sure to constantly rotate the ribs in the slots each time you baste so that each rib has a time on the outside of the holder. The outside ribs will be smokier, and have more caramelization on the surface. After an hour, heat up your sauce (here's the GirlsonaGrill Basic Barbecue Sauce.)
Are they done yet? Hold the ribs with your tongs at the largest couple of bones. The slab will arch down and away - check the point where they start to arch - the meat there will pull away from the bone when they are at the right consistency. Each of the racks of ribs will cook differently, and be done at a different time. As each one finishes, take them off and put them in a roaster with a lid - smather them with sauce, and let them sit while the other racks finish cooking.
We love to serve them sliced into individual ribs, with extra sauce on the side.
Cajun Potato Salad
Ribs, Pork Butt, and Beef Brisket are the kinds of meats that benefit from the long, slow, roasting process. These tough pieces of meat are full of gristle and connective tissue that breaks down slowly and adds a richness of taste that more tender, faster-cooking cuts just can’t match. But you can’t hurry the process. These cuts need a slow, steady fire that doesn’t climb much above 250 degrees – and they need it for hours.
The only way to keep a charcoal grill steady during the long cooking times is to mix our favorite hardwood charcoal chunks with a high-quality briquette – no instant starters, PLEASE! The hardwood is always our preferred charcoal, but it burns hot and fast – needing constant attention. By mixing in briquettes in a 50/50 proportion, we can lower the fire without having to constantly spray for flare-ups, or constantly replenish burnouts.
We like Zatarain's Crab Boil, and use both the liquid concentrate and the traditional bagged seasoning. We use the biggest boiling pot we can find (about 25 quarts) on an outdoor propane burner - a rig like a turkey frier - and add additional salt, lemons, and Crystal Hot Sauce. Follow the directions on the labels of the Crab Boil - then double it, if you dare!