I always admired a man who would hang up his jacket only to put on a sweater. Then take off his shoes, just put on some more shoes. Then when he was done with those things, go play with some puppets. I guess we all have our own ilks in this world. Things that draw us a step closer to where we want to be. We’ll be the first to admit, when we were wee lads knee-high to a fire hydrant, my fellow patron and I frequented Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. And it was good. With a grilled cheese sandwich and some chocolate milk, we found solace there, amid the chaotic years of pre-school. We found a friend in the properly kept man in the sweater. One our mothers would finally approve of. And when he ushered us into the Land Of Make Believe, we were at once putty in his formative hands. Oh yes, we had a good thing going with Mr Rogers. So did millions of other kids. And then some how, patron to the years, we turned into meat geeks. Which is odd because Mr. Rogers was also a practicing vegetarian.
What we learned most from the man may have been his catchy slogan – “Won’t you be my neighbor“. A wonderful gesture of good will towards man, and all that sort of thing. And so it was and came to mind, when an old friend moved into our neighborhood recently, that possible good will towards a man seemed the appropriate thing to do. And so the night before, I pulled out two racks of ribs from the freezer depths to thaw. Because to a man, and maybe even some women too, what says welcome to the neighborhood better, or with more sincerity, than a rack of perfectly executed pork ribs.
The next day, amid the afternoon sunbeams which dropped through the Spruce, I put two well-seasoned racks into the smoker. One dusted over with a pit favorite, Suckle Busters Competition Rub, and the other in Famous Dave’s Rib Rub, a spice blend concocted by the local BBQ legend , Dave Anderson, who off-hand and by-the-way, really is famous. Both racks were trimmed some, of extraneous junk, and the membrane on the back of the rack was removed. Why remove the membrane you ask? Well the answer is two-fold. The membrane is not unlike a sheet of plastic almost, in that it inhibits any penetration by seasoning or smoke – the two things we fancy most for our ribs. Secondly, it’s kind of like chewing on a latex glove. Mr. Rogers would not approve. So you will do well to remove said membrane, or at the very least, slice it all up with a series of well-meaning cross-hatches via a sharp knife.
Now the first stage in smoking good ribs lasts about 3 hours. A perfect time to sit back in your patio easy chair, and watch some smoke curl. And by golly, you deserve it. What a privilege it is to let up on the accelerator pedal of life for a bit, and tarry in the good ambiance patron to the pit. Lovely beverage in hand, perhaps some tunes on the pit radio, hark, you will want for nothing else. I loitered for a good while aside the pit, reclaiming the joys there, and the fellowship of the coals. Thin tendrils of apple wood smoke curling from the damper, as if they had nothing else in the world to do. And the chickadees bantered it up in the thick of the Alders, like a gaggle of old men at the barber shop.
After about three hours, of 250 degrees, and bathed in continuous apple wood smoke, the next step is to foil them for a bit. I foiled these racks with a splattering of apple juice each, as a steaming agent for the next hour and half. Foiling your ribs like this is like sending your meat to the health spa, where they will be pampered like no pig ever dreamed. The tough continuity of the collagen is at last loosened up a trifle, and a tender, more gentler world is revealed. The kind of world you can really sink your teeth into, shall we say. Which is precisely what we did after that hour and half in the foil. The ribs were carefully placed back on the grate, clear of the foil, for the benefit of cameras. My friend, who shall remain nameless, Dan, showed up around then too, keen to the heady aromas of BBQ. We both sported grins as wide as a Montana gulch, as I pointed to the smokey plunder which resided there on the grate. No sauces necessary.
“One for you”, I yammered, “and one for me!”
“Now won’t you be my neighbor!?”
Dan may have wept.
Slow-Apple-Smoked Pork Ribs. Man! Nothing says welcome to the neighborhood like a rack or two of perfectly smoked BBQ. Or, I suppose, a well-kept man in a blue sweater who plays with puppets.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt the sun. Or sat comfortably, and contentedly, in its golden rays. Up here in Minnesota, the winter can stretch eternal, spanning half a year if it has a mind to. And this year at least, it has a mind to indeed. But this last Sunday was at once an anomaly, and an idealistic respite from winter’s grip, as the sunlight astutely flooded my patio with warm, life-giving thermal units. It must have been 30 degrees out there, which I know doesn’t sound like much to you Florida people, but trust me, to a Minnesotan in March, that is a veritable heat wave worthy of your very finest swim wear. Of course, and understandably so, I was out there, jacket-less, smoker puffing away, repairing in my Adirondack chair, just soaking up the sun. And it felt wonderful. Besides that, it was my beloved bride’s birthday then, and she wanted ribs. Thus, it was my privilege, as it would be any man’s, to tarry in the sun a trifle, postulate the drifting clouds and the rabbit tracks in the snow, whilst smoking some savory meats over a beautiful bed of coals. It is no hardship at all.
In the big WSM, over a smoldering fire of apple wood, I placed with great care three near perfectly seasoned racks of pork spare ribs. These racks were first sprinkled with a light measure of brown sugar, and rubbed down like a life time member in a fine spa, smearing it all about. Then I let it rest a tad, just until the brown sugar began to liquefy. This created a decently sticky, tactile surface, in which to receive the rub. The rub today, Grill Mates Applewood Rub, is a long time favorite of my fellow patron who co- hosts this blog, of which I dutifully applied in liberal fashion over the entirety of the ribs. To finish off the pork canvas, I sprinkled another light layer of brown sugar over the top of the rub, which when liquefied, would seal in the rub, thus locking into the tighter flavor profile of which I was after. Man!
During the next three hours, I naturally took up periodic residence in a gamut of my favorite easy chairs, whilst watching out of the corner of my eye, the apple wood smoke quietly curl from the cooker. I don’t know what it is exactly, about a smoking pit, and meats quietly cooking there, but it stirs me. It cultivates a great contentment in me, and for a while at least, I am in need of little else. And as I repaired on the couch with my favorite father in-law, our feet propped up, lovely beverages in hand, I declared that this was indeed the high rigors of BBQ, but more over, that we were undoubtedly up to the task at hand. We raised our beverages with the rising smoke, saluting the BBQ arts, and then I think father in-law may have even nodded off a bit. Bless him and his true BBQ posture!
At about hour three, I foiled the ribs with a generous splattering of apple juice. At about hour four, I lit up yet another grill for the chicken leg quarters, of which I have grown fond of in recent years. Nothing is quite so stroking to your pit master ego as running dual cookers out on the patio. Smoke bellowing in stereo from multiple fronts, the smells and aromas surround you. Engulf you, and then enchant you. And for a while at least, you are in your glory. Tongs in hand, you are the supreme governor of your smokey kingdom. Or the conductor of a BBQ symphony. I could have I suppose thrown the chicken legs on the smoker too, and been an efficient person, but I was after a crisper skin than one can get in a smoker. Plus I liked the idea of having two grills going. It made me happy. So I rubbed the chicken down with some Louisiana Grill Sweet Heat, and seared them up over direct heat, then tucked them back in-direct for an hour maybe, bathed in light hickory smoke. At hour 5, I took the ribs out of the foil, and put em back on the smoker, and basted them good with some Sweet Baby Rays elegantly thinned with a splash of apple juice. Oh buddy!
When dinner was served, we had some savory spare ribs where the smoke ring plum near reached the bone. The brown sugar caramelized some, mingling with the slight kick of the Apple Wood Rub and the BBQ sauce, whilst lightly tinted with the aromas of apple wood smoke. It was a symphony in meat alright. An opus of ribs. And the chicken was spot on its juiciest ideal.
Apple wood spare ribs and chicken. You could eat allot worse I suppose, but not have nearly so much fun. Amen.