My husband has a thing for smoking meat, ribs in particular. It started the first time he smoked ribs for a group of us after he bought his smoker back in 2009. I say lovingly that none of us were very impressed. The smoky flavor was there and texture was great, but they were a little too dry for my taste. I prefer them fall off the bone tender and, more importantly, really juicy. This is usually accomplished by slow cooking them while they are drowning in BBQ sauce. Hubby took this response as a personal challenge to keep changing up his recipe until everyone was satisfied (everyone meaning me). He has made little headway in the last three years despite changing up his recipe numerous times.
Enter New Years Day 2013.
For Christmas, hubby bought me the Barefoot Contessa’s newest cookbook, Foolproof. Inside it is the most delicious looking recipe for ribs where Ina Garten aims to please, well, people like me (those who wish for the grilled flavor combined with the juiciness that can usually only be accomplished by slow cooking in the oven).
I decided I wanted to try her recipe. Hubby, however, wanted nothing to do with that. It is an atrocity to smokers everywhere. He is a smoking purist and the only way he said he would make ribs would be on his precious Traeger.
So we decided to do what most sensible adults would do — we challenged each other to a rib-off. We would buy two racks — I would make Ina’s recipe and he would smoke his (but promised he would tweak his recipe so much that even I would approve, he already had a recipe in mind). Some men spend their Sunday afternoons watching football and drinking Bud Light. My husband spends his watching BBQ Pit Masters while drinking PBR. This time, my husband’s Sunday hobby has paid off big time (in my favor).
RECIPE: Sean’s New and Improved Smoked Ribs
(Hubby wrote this recipe himself, so it may not read like your typical recipe. You really have to get inside his mind to understand the method to his madness, but he tried his best to spell it out here. It also may seem rather lengthy, but if you’re serious about making damn good smoked ribs that are full of smoke flavor, fall off the bone tender, and juicy, then you won’t be sorry)
PREPARATION– Up to 24 hours pre-smoke
The Dry Rub
He likes to keep this a secret (really?), but he said a basic rub is ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup chili powder. Then take another ¼ cup and fill with equal parts salt, pepper and cumin. Combine.
Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and apple juice and place into a spray bottle.
He usually does ¾ cup of each.
(This is what he did differently this time and it made all the difference!)
Take 2 cups of the BBQ sauce of your choice, and put into a small saucepan on your stovetop.
Put sauce to a medium heat.
Add two tbsp honey and a ¼ cup apricot or peach jam and stir.
Get to a simmer for a couple minutes and let cool.
Should sit well for up to a week.
The point of the glaze is to give the ribs a finishing flavor and shine.
Remove membrane on bone side of ribs (we used St. Louis style), easiest method is to use a paper towel to pull it off, as it can be slippery.
Trim off excess fat.
Rinse ribs with cold water and pat dry with paper towel – this is important in order to get rid of any excess fibers or impurities and to dry the meat before adding the rub.
When dry, coat in Dijon mustard (he prefers Dijon for the acidity and flavor).
Wrap in foil and keep in fridge up to 24 hours pre-cooking.
When ready to cook – (we are going to roughly follow the 3-2-1 method)
Put ribs on a smoker at 225 degrees, for this stage it will be on for three hours unwrapped bone side down.
After hour one take your spritz and spray the top side of the ribs, do this every 15 minutes.
(Note – do this quickly to avoid losing heat in the process, which is why a spray bottle is best).
At hour three you should see the ribs starting to caramelize and get a nice ruby color from the smoke.
Now you remove the ribs, start to wrap in foil, add 1/4 cup apple juice, re-dust with 1 tbsp of the rub, cover, put them back on the smoker, bone side down. You can use a glass dish covered with foil also, otherwise wrap tightly in foil.
Add back to the smoker, at 225 degrees.
They will now steam in the foil for up to 2 hours.
At the one hour mark (but no more than two), peak in and look for about 1/2 inch of bone showing before removing from foil completely, and brush the glaze on both sides of the ribs.
Add back to smoker (at 225 degrees) for one more hour bone side down.
At about 20 minutes after your first glaze, generously glaze the ribs again. This is the home stretch.
You’ll keep the ribs on for up to an hour, if the bones wiggle and almost come out, it’s done.
Let them sit for 30 minutes covered.
Cut them up and serve.
The Challenger: Barefoot Contessa’s Foolproof Ribs
Unfortunately this recipe is not yet online, so I cannot link to it. If you have the book, however, you will find the recipe on page 141. I did not use her BBQ sauce recipe. Instead I used my tried and true BBQ sauce, which you can find here.
Basically it is the method that makes these ribs. She slow cooks them in the oven (smothered in BBQ sauce) and then finishes them off on a charcoal grill. They were delicious, fall off the bone tender, and juicy, just the way I like them. While they had a nice char from the charcoal grill they, however, lacked the delicious smokey flavor of Sean’s ribs. But since it was Ina Garten’s recipe they still came out amazing. I have five of her cookbooks and she has yet to lead me astray.
As much as Ina’s came out delicious I have to give the award for “Most Improved” and therefore overall “Winner” to Sean’s ribs! He achieved what he sought out to do – he made them perfectly smoky from the Traeger, but also tender and juicy enough to please my palate. Basically, he has now mastered ribs in my book and I am so proud of him. It only took him… what? … 3 years?!
For our contest we were drinking Champagne. It was New Year’s Day afterall, what did you expect me to be drinking? It was actually a great pairing proving that bubbles are the most versatile food pairing wine. If you were to try this pairing, I would recommend going with a rosé sparkling wine. They tend to have less delicate flavors (and more fruit forward) then, say, a blanc de blanc.
If you are not as daring as we are in our food and wine pairing choices then a safe bet would be a Washington State Syrah, or a California Zinfandel. Rich, full-flavored, and often jammy wines generally pair well with BBQ.
Now be honest? Are you daring enough to try these ribs? Sure, it’s easy to just throw in them into the oven, smothered in store bought BBQ sauce, but the transformative flavors that come from the smoker simply cannot be replicated in an oven. Period.