I thought I was a humble fellow, but I guess it turns out I’m not. It was just your run of the mill slab of pork ribs. Your basic kettle cook at 20 below. Truly, I thought nothing of it when my wife requested ribs for supper during a polar vortex. This is just what I do. Its who I am. And she knew it. However, in retrospect, I probably should have gone to McDonald’s for a Big Mac instead. Let me digress.
Indeed, the recent polar vortex to come through town put the kibosh on a great many outdoor activities. What with 20 below wind chills, it was a day obviously better suited for other endeavors besides the art of BBQ. But I had never gone sally with the elements before, leastwise where BBQ is concerned, and by golly, today wasn’t the day I would start. And the winds hurtled through the icy township with a divine authority that demanded respect. The good people of the world were huddled indoors, suckling hot cocoas and watching Netflix marathons. And then there was me. Fortunately, the Pond Side Pit was tucked into the gracious eddies of the house that which broke the keen and penetrating December wind. Well, for the most part it did. And there, amid my armory of Webers, I was able to make my stand.
I chose the Weber kettle as my tool of choice this smoke, for a couple of reasons. One, it’s small, and would require less fuel on this cold day to keep it hot. And two, I just didn’t feel like dumping ten pounds of charcoal into the Weber Smokey Mountain for one rack of ribs. As much as I love the WSM, it is rather the gas guzzling SUV of the meat smoking world. No matter, I was a Patron of the Pit. I had smoked ribs in the Weber kettle many times. This was old hat! Child’s play…
“Henceforth, I destroyed thy pork ribs with a vigor usually reserved for a nuclear detonation.”
They were hard, brittle, and crusty to the touch. Looked like the skeletal remains of a pet which did not make it clear of the house fire. It was bad. A chunk in hand could have maybe sufficed as a good charcoal pencil for the cave walls, that which I felt like I have just emerged from. Hark, it looked as if my elder brother had even come by and assisted me with my BBQ whilst I was not looking. Where did I go wrong?
What we learned
Well, for starters, I learned not to under-estimate the narcoleptic value of a good grandma blanket. Because that’s where I was for much of the smoke. Under a grandma in the living room, snoring like a brown bear whilst listening to football on the TV. It was an agreeable lifestyle. The kettle grill was left to its own devices out on the patio. I thought I had set it up for success. Turns out I had not. I had built the fires too hot inside it’s steely bosom. In an ill-guided miscalculation on my part, I figured somewhat logically, that because it was so cold out, I would counter the elements with a slightly larger fire. All this did however, was raise the pit temperature from pretty hot, to split-your-own-atoms, kind of hot. And thus incinerated my beloved ribs with all due effectiveness. Aw well. Live and learn, as they say. There’s always tuna fish sandwiches for supper.
A week has passed. Maybe a bit more than that. The new weekend was upon thee, and I had a span of clock available to smoke another rack of ribs if I wanted. Well, with my last efforts still dawdling on my mind like cigar smoke in the drapes, I wanted nothing more than to rectify my blunder, and set my status right again in the smokey community. To get this rancid flavor of defeat off my tongue. The temperature had risen now to a balmy zero degrees or something like that. The wind was low, in-effectively low, and the tweety birds were even active again, darting about the yellow block of suet I had set out for them. This is as good as it was going to get in a Minnesota winter. Like an aplinist siezing a window of proper weather in which to summit Everest, I knew I must act soon. And I knew this time I would do it right, and fire up the Weber Smokey Mountain.
Tho it uses moocho much fuel, one thing is for sure about the Weber Smokey Mountain. It works. And it works in the cold too. One heaping chimney full of orange glowing coals dumped into the center of a ring of unlit coals, as seen in the photo, is all it takes for a rack or three of ribs on any given day. The minion method is your friend here. That’s where the lit coals slowly light up the unlit coals, and those coals in turn light up other unlit coals, kind of like a chain re-action, thus employing a steady, even burn, to last many hours with out baby sitting. The WSM was soon established at 225 degrees, and it did not budge from this temperature the rest of the cook. I should have just done it right the first time, but you know how it goes.
To learn more about the minion method, we did a write-up years ago on that. It’s probably our most read article. Consume at your leisure is so inclined.
Meanwhile, we seasoned up the ribs with a splattering of Worcestershire sauce, and then liberally dusted it Kit’s K.C. BBQ rub from our friends over at Miner’s Mix. We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again; if we had to be monogomous to one spice rub company, I do believe the Miners Mix crew would be our choice. Just love their flavors. Here’s a link to their stuff if you guys haven’t yet had the occasion.
Anyways, we put the ribs on the pit, bone-side down, and let them do their thing for two and a half hours at 225 degrees in a gentle cloud of pecan smoke. Then we foiled them with a little smearing of butter and BBQ sauce for one more hour. And I napped only cautiously this time, under my grandma blanket, hockey game on the TV, and listened to the calling of my pit master instincts, as the culinary end game drew nearer to thee. And like it does in winter, the night fell early over the land, as the old bullet smoker puffed stoically out on the patio. The aromas of a Carolina BBQ shack wafted over the crusty fields of blue-tinted snow, for which a slender moon hung silently above. I slipped into my shoes, and waddled out the patio door to check the tenderness of my spoils, jacket zipped tight, and there under the scant starlight of a cold winter’s eve, amid the sounds of sizzling pork and aluminum foil unwrapping, I knew as surely I had known anything before, that these ribs would at once be amazing. And furthermore, that I had been quitely redeemed. Amen.
Succulent pecan-smoked pork ribs redeemed from the jaws of a polar vortex. Very satisfying, both to the stomach and soul. Grill on! -PotP
I paused stride in the meadow, and gazed appropriately. The sun burned on a fiery pendulum which swung across a deep-blue, California sky. Here the granite ramparts ascend high, and with utter impunity, inserting themselves into the ether, guarded only by the soaring hawks. And the mountain breezes of which I so adore, mingle with a musical air through the tall, and stately pines, and the dry ferns turned golden now, on the meadow floor from whence I stand. I’ve come to Yosemite Valley today, in part for vacation, but mostly hence to revel here. It’s what I do. Maybe what I do best even. To delight for a time simply in what is good. And it’s easy to pull off such antics in places like Yosemite. Places of such stunning creational-catalyst, for the memories of which dutifully impress themselves upon the catchy fabric of your soul. In other words, I love it here! I love it more than I can tell you.
Yosemite National Park is maybe the best thing in Mariposa County, California. But let me tell you the second best thing in Mariposa County, and yes, it has a great deal to do with supper tonight. Literally, on the door-step of Yosemite, just outside its craggy border, in the township of Mariposa, you will find the good people from Miners Mix. These folks emerged from our readership like one of them plastic thermometer things that pop out of your turkey when it’s done. They just have a way about them, I guess. A good way. And I can’t explain it any further than that. But we do like to occasionally loiter over on their blog, and see what they’re up to there. And apparently lately, they’ve just been winning competitions is all, with their various assorted spices and rubs. And after sampling a few they sent us recently, I can see why.
In our last post, we told you about their Wholly Chipotle Rub, which was plenty good enough to get out slobbers going. Today however, we want to tell you about another one, that being their Maynard’s Memphis BBQ Rub. Man on man was this stuff good, people. I could go about concocting my own home-made rub of this sort, but hark, they’ve plum figured out how to do it already, and how to do it as good as can be done.
If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in here. You gotta like such wordage on your spice bottle!. By the way, they did not ask us once to promote their products. It’s just that after tasting them, well, they’re too dang good not too! Our readership has surprised us numerous times with what they’ve done to better the BBQ world, and these chaps are an example why. Anyways, we liberally dusted this Memphis Rub over a fair-to-middling quantity of boneless pork butt and a rack of pork ribs to boot. Make sure you remove that membrane folks, so to get more seasoning and smoke penetration on the back side of them ribs. Mercy, this spice smelled fantastic right out of the shaker!
Here’s a trick you can do to decrease the time needed on your boneless pork butts. It’s simple, if not down right obvious. Simply slice it up into smaller chunks. We sliced our 11 pound butt roughly into thirds, which took maybe 4 hours off the total cook time. You want to bring your butts up to somewhere around 195 internal, or until they become pull-able to your liking. Decreasing the size of the butt into several smaller ones will not only get you there faster, but even better than that, will promote more bark for your end game, because of the increased surface area. More meaty real-estate to season, you see, makes a pit jockey most happy.
After a few hours head start in a shroud of hickory smoke, the shoulder meat was coming along, so we placed the rack of ribs tenderly on the grate as well, and let the spoils all cook together for a time. Lid on, smokey tendrils in curl, I leaned back in the patio chair, hat tipped up just so, with a manly beverage in hand. Alright, it was a diet coke, but some days that’s plenty manly enough for me. Anyway, I shifted in the chair a touch, assuming a more leisurely, pit-keeper posture – left leg crossed over right, and gazed at the curling wood smoke whilst listening to the mallards and drakes cavorting in the pond. I mused internally, rummaging about my recent vacation memories of Yosemite. Thinking lucky is the bloke who gets to call that environment their home. I admire your backyard, good folks at Miners Mix. And I admire your spice rubs likewise.
The Miners Mix Memphis Rub was delicious in kind, we don’t mind telling you. Sinking your teeth into a perfectly executed pork rib, seasoned in this rub, is a truly treat to behold. Leastwise, we thought so. There was just something different about it. Something abiding to the palate. I scanned the back of the bottle, eyes darting through the easy-to-pronounce ingredients, and there it was – cocoa. The common man wouldn’t think to put cocoa in his BBQ, but common men do not win BBQ competitions either. It works people, and does so exceedingly well. No sauce needed for these ribs! My but the spices marry well with smokey pork! And once again I was reminded of life’s most basic hard-wire, and that it is it is easy to revel in what is good. Be it the granite massifs of Yosemite, or the mahogany-colored flanks of delicious BBQ. Good is good, after all, and our sincere compliments to the chef. Amen.
If so inclined, do stop by and see our friends at http://www.minersmix.com/
Or their blog at https://minersmix.wordpress.com/
Or check them out on Amazon!
They did not ask us to do toot their horn, Nay, it was our pleasure!
*This site is now an amazon affiliate for Miners Mix. Yeah buddy! That mean if you buy Miners Mix from that link above, we will get about a bee’s knees worth of commission. So be sure to tell about 6 million other friends to do the same!
Well it was a good 4th of July weekend. Good as can be, really, and surely better than most. Full to the brim with good food, and good fellowship, and good times. Sadly, it’s come and gone now, like all holidays do, with a soft, pastel sun ebbing into a western sky. And as I watch it sink beyond yonder tree tops, with an icy beverage at hand, left leg crossed over right, I pause to rejoice for these long summer days that which are upon us. We are not worthy. As the temperatures rose to almost 88 degrees today, at last we see again what you good folk down in Ecuador and Texas and Florida experience on a daily basis. Sweat. Inconceivable tributaries of it, dribbling down spine and brow with no remorse nor good will for common man. It’s rather wretched, and that’s a polite metaphor. But after a while you learn to accept it. Because deep down you know the sweat means winter is displaced. And a winter gone means things can grow again. There is life in the good tidings of summer’s bosom. Things like the deliciousness found growing in the pit side garden. Spires of green onions proudly pitched. Pole beans reaching for more lattice. Lush, plump tomatoes and deep-red strawberries dangling in the evening sun. Glory! I must say, what a privilege it is to tarry in the garden here, whilst blue-tinted pillars of hickory smoke catch in a summer’s breeze. That’s about how supper went tonight. Pleasant. And man it was good too! And after I refill my cup, I’ll be back and tell you more about it and how it went and came be.
I was given this spice gift a while back, and thought well enough of it to pass it along to you. It’s a homemade affair, and makes a great gift for your resident pit master. If you go to their site, http://www.theyummylife.com, you can print up the label thing in the photo. And from your local grocer, you buy yourself the jar and all the spices and what not, and kabam! A very tasty spice rub to give to family and friends. Anyways, if you want the recipe, you’ll find the link to their site below. We tried it on pork ribs tonight, and I don’t need tell you, but will anyways, that victory was at hand!
Now my elder brother, who sometimes is the focus of our grilling tome here, well let’s just say he’s come a long ways in the smokey arts. He’s got frozen hamburger patties and beef franks down pretty good. He’s not using green treated wood for smoke, and I don’t think he’s burned the chicken in some three months. He’s feeling rather endowed. So he mentioned the other day that the time had come, that he wished to try smoking pork ribs, and he wanted to know if it would be possible even, on his humble kettle grill. We occasionally get queried this – how to smoke ribs on a regular, old, back yard grill. Well, the Weber kettle is about as regular and back yard as it gets, and it’s also real easy to smoke a rack of ribs with. People have been doing it for ages. Many folk hold for some reason to the misguided belief that they need a fancy off set, or expensive water smoker to smoke ribs at home. Horse hockey! Here then is how to make restaurant quality smoked pork ribs on your old Weber kettle grill. And it’s as easy as taking out the trash!
As seen in the photo above, we set up the grill for indirect cooking. Light up about a half chimney of briquettes and deploy them equally on both sides of the pit. Then mix in a few unlit briquettes on each side as well. Two little minion fires of which to do your bidding. Lastly, add a chunk of your preferred smoke wood to each pile, and that’s all there is to it. We favored hickory today, the old pit master fall back and all-around great smoke wood.
After removing the membrane on the back, the ribs were dusted liberally with the 14-Spice Dry Rub, and placed bone-side down, and centered in the grate. The damper on the bottom was adjusted to maybe 50%. The vent on top, open full. Plunk the lid on and let the Weber magic do it’s thing. The little pit came up to 250-something degrees and then stayed there, as the wonderful tendrils of hickory smoke curled into the air.
Now when you put the lid on, be sure to position the top vent over the ribs, thus to draw the smoke where it ought to go, over your spoils. You can stick a thermometer in through the top vent if you want, and it should read somewhere around 250 -275, which is perfect. If it’s hotter than that, reach below and close off the damper there a little more. Close the top vent even, if necessary. The more you close the vents, the less oxygen runs through the pit, and thus the cooler it gets. Simple pit physics people. A pan of water placed between the coal beds can also act as a heat sink for you, helping to keep the pit temperature down. This old faithful kettle grill settled in at 250 however, with remarkable ease. And yours will too. All you have to do is ask nicely.
Let the ribs and the pit do their thing now, for the next three hours. Your only job is to stay out of the way. This age-old discipline usually involves frequent sorties to the fridge where upon you may wish to draw a glass of something cold to drink. Then it is usually good form to go take up roost some place comfortable and while away the hours there, and enjoy the natural patterns of wood smoke curling against a beautiful, blue sky. If you’re in a rush, BBQ is probably not the thing for you. But if you are one with a proclivity for loitering, at ease with long, protracted hours of peace and tranquility patron to the pit, well then, you can go far in the smokey arts my friend. And rest assured that the path there smells amazing.
On the Fourth Hour
After three hours, we foiled the ribs. Foiling the ribs isn’t necessary I suppose, but we like to do it that way. It almost guarantees a tender, succulent end game every time. The meat is steamed when in the foil, and let it be said, oh how it pampers it so. When you wrap the ribs, add some sort of steaming agent: BBQ sauce, honey, juice, cola, beer. What ever you like. Just a splash or two. This time around we foiled our ribs with butter and brown sugar, and boy let me tell you, that was a round trip ticket straight to my happy place! The butter and brown sugar marry together for a wonderful caramel effect, those flavors then merging with the dry rub and the wood smoke, mercy, the results are off-the-charts concerning pork ribs.
Also at this time, add more unlit coals to the fire if you think you need it.
Anyways, let the ribs dot their thing in the foil now for an hour at least, maybe even two. Check in on them after the first hour, and if they bend easy, or a tooth pick passes through the meat with little resistance, they’re ready. If bones are falling out of your plunder like teeth from an old man, it’s passed ready, tho still delicious. But before you jump the BBQ gun here, and dive head first into your ribs with the reckless abandoned that grips you , take them out of the foil and put them pack on the pit for a while longer. This engagement in patience will first off tighten the meat mass back up a little, and lastly caramelize the butter/brown sugar glaze it has been foiled with the last hour or so. And when we say caramelize, we mean caramel! For what, after all, is caramel made from? Butter and brown sugar for starters. So mind the meat carefully over the coals for a few minutes at the end here, and watch that sweet pit master magic take your ribs to yet again the next level of yum! Man, can you smell it people!
Let’s slice one off, shall we, and take a gander! Ps…No sauce necessary here!
Please refrain from drooling on your keyboard, as it is very difficult to clean later.
It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save for me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face. My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even, that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.
We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!
It was rather warm in Minnesota today, as day’s go I suppose. Ninety and one degrees they said, with the customary humidity to match. And I know, you folk way of Texas or the like, will do your finest to shed a single tear down your collective cheeks, post rolling your eyes towards the heavens. But hey, we’re bred for polar vortex’s up here, sub-zero wind chills, and days so bitterly cold, icicles form on the tip of our noses, amongst other things. That’s what we’re used to. So pardon thee if we sweat a little here, amid the thick green foliage, and steamy environs of a Minnesota summer.
It’s not all bad tho. There are some redeeming qualities, turns out, to living in a sauna. Such as an increased joy factor in root beer floats and ice-cold watermelons. Man that stuff is good! Also, we do not have to scrape ice off our wind shields in the morning, which is nice. Nor observe the humbling sights of small children with their tongues fused to subzero wrought iron railings. It happens folks. It happens more than you’d care to admit. And then there are the tomatoes. How I fancy taking a seat out at the pit-side garden and watching things grow there, and especially so the tomatoes. Who doesn’t like to gently rattle those plants from time to time, and smell that delightfully earthy, chlorophyll-tinted fragrance of a thriving tomato plant. Few aromas in this world lend more brilliantly to summer’s bliss, than this. It soothes thee amid soft summer breezes. It makes me happy.
Anyways, whilst I was inhaling my produce, the smoker was slowly coming up to the operating temperature of 225 degrees. Which strikingly was only 85 degrees removed from where it sat, “cold” as it were. We super genius types like to put our smokers out in the sun like that, to capitalize on solar manipulations. You Texas folk do that too, I heard, baking cookies in the cab of your truck. Nice. A gesture towards sanity, perhaps. Indeed, this is how you roll with the prevailing weather patterns, or stubborn dance partners if you will, who must always lead.
On the pit today, every smoke wizard’s prize – pork ribs! A pit master’s litmus test. They’re pretty easy to do too. So grab something cold, and pull up seat, and we’ll tell you all about it, and how it went and came to be, patron to the pit.
After a surgical removal of the membrane (read how to do it here), we dusted the rack over heavily in Famous Dave’s Rib Rub, and placed it bone-side down on the pit. For smoke wood today, we used a blend of hickory and cherry wood. Apple works great with pork ribs too, but we didn’t have any of that on hand. If you want to learn more about smoke woods, and what goes with what, don’t forget to check out our smoke wood page we created just for you, at the top of this site. Or just click here.
Once the heavy black dome of the Weber Smokey Mountain was put in place, and the top damper tweaked, I went ahead and assumed the proper BBQ posture – in the man chair, feet propped up, and a cold beverage in hand, thus to while away the enchanted hours there. No sense, after all, putting these important matters off. This is our time! And as you delve into the BBQ arts, you will begin to concur that good BBQ indeed takes a requisite amount of time. It just does. Time in which the pit jockey proper will have to partition off from an otherwise overly, and no doubt busy schedule, for the heady business of watching smoke curl. And mind you, a good rack of ribs can take between 4 to 6 hours at 225 degrees. If you are a hurried soul, BBQ may not be the thing for you. Consult your nearest microwave.
Some where along the line, I forget exactly when, we tossed on a few chicken thighs as a matter of course, to keep the pig company in there. After about three hours on the pit, at 225 degrees, the rib meat had a nice mahogany color to it, and had pulled back on the bones some, poised suitable now for step 2: The foil.
Also known as the Texas Crutch, we foiled up the ribs with a hearty splash of apple juice to act as a steaming agent. This is where the magic happens, folks. This steaming process really loosens up that toughened meat, rendering the collagen, and escorts your unruly pork by the hand, down the aisle and unto its promising marriage with all that is good and right and savory. Oh yes!
After an hour and a half or so in the foil, I sliced off and sauced a small portion in which to partake in that long-standing custom better known as the pit master privilege. Our moment before the opus, as benefactors of the meat, away form the eyes and mouths of onlookers and meat thieves alike, to bask momentarily, yet with great effect, in the succulent climax of our smokey spoils. It is good, nay it’s the suitable thing to do, to secure the choicest morsel for the pit master. You deserve it after all, what with napping in your chair and such, whilst the warm sunbeams pendulum across a pastel sky. And the breeze which flutters through the Aspen leaves, only to stir your soul, like the tweety birds which sing and flirt in the dapples of the dogwoods. Not to mention the Mallards yonder, and handsome Drakes that which chortle on the pond. Ah summer. These the ambient cast patron to the pit, where the wood smoke rises, and the tomatoes so gently grow. Amen.
Every once in a while, a pit jockey develops a hankering to cook something big. Something epic. A festering itch not particularly, nor suitably scratched via anything you’ll find in the simple realm of hamburgers or hot dogs. Nay, it is a bit more involved than that. It usually requires big, obscene chunks of pig, and it usually takes protracted quantities of precious time. And such was the case today, under gorgeous, blue, Minnesota skies, and darting tweety birds, that we would mark off an entire day from the calendar for the simple pleasure of slow smoking some meat, and then of course, ingesting it at day’s end. It would be a long and taxing day, and would test my wares of loitermanship, beverage reservoirs, and patience with the pork. I was motivated, tho, you see. I had the itch to go big. We’re talking slow-smoked pulled pork here, and BBQ pork ribs. Its everything we get into BBQ for in the first place. The real thing. And it’s what we’re called to do! Let’s get after it shall we.
So it was, I arose on my day off at the most ghastly hour of 5:30 in the blessed morning in which to ply my craft afield. Still in my man pajamas, and whilst the morning sun caught the dew off the freshly hewn lawn, I stoically gathered my coals in one accord, taking flame to the political section that which made residence up the rusty arse of the old, charcoal chimney. Smoke signals soon spiraled aloft, declaring the day’s journey in meat thus embarked. And speaking of bark, lets head inside and rub the butt down again.
First on the pit is the eight pound bone-in pork shoulder, often called the “butt“. I know. What can you do. Anyways, the evening previous, the shoulder/butt was slathered in a cheap mustard, and hit with a commendable mass of Grill Mates, Sweet and Smokey Rub. Then we wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone in the fridge to marry over night with its new flavors. And here this morning, it’s time to hit it up with additional rub yet again. The rub is one of the most significant contributions you can make to the flavor profile of the pork, so do it up good. Ye need not hold back here. For the more liberal the rub, the better your bark tends to be later on down the road. And most pit keepers worth their tongs, always aspire for a robust bark.
The fire bowl of the Weber Smokey Mountain was set up accordingly. A chimney full of fiery coals dumped right smack in the middle of a ring of unlit coals. For you newbies, and budding pit masters alike, this is what we call the Minion Method. And it is an extremely effective technique for long, sustained smokes. To learn more about this method, and you really should if you plan on delving far into the BBQ arts, do read our write-up, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion, to get the low down on this classic technique.
Anyways, the butt was gently placed on the lower grate of the WSM, fat side up. Tossed some hickory and apple wood chunks on to the coals, put the lid on, and then did the only sensible thing I could think of at the moment – I went back to sleep!
About five hours later, two of which were spent belly-up counting little pigs jumping over white picket fences, I gradually came to, stretching like a lazy house cat in my soft, easy chair. Ah the rigors of BBQ. I scratched my belly and glanced out to the patio, gazed momentarily, and smiled. Nothing is quite so fine as waking up in your man chair to see your pit stoically puffing away in the afternoon sun. It calms a man, and settles well in his soul. It really does. Morale is always at a high, when wood smoke gently curls for the sky. Anyways, time to get up again. For there are pork ribs to prep. And here is how we did it.
The first order of business, naturally, is to remove that ornery membrane. That thing is on there tighter than a tick on a hound dog, but you can do it. The reasoning to remove it is two-fold. One, because chewing on it is rather like gnawing on the important end of an old, plastic fly swatter, and two, removing the membrane will promote better penetration by your rub and wood smoke. Say what you will, but this thing should be pulled off. The trick most folk do is slip a butter knife in on top of a bone, but underneath the membrane, wiggle it on in there, and pry it upwards. Then, and with a paper towel to assist in grip, thus peel the membrane down the length of the ribs. Mission accomplished. You might not get it at first, but after a few times, and a smattering of patience, you will wax of an old pit maestro, adept in your craft.
Once the membranes were peeled, we dusted over the racks accordingly. One in a fair amount of Famous Daves Rib Rub, and the other rack we made a bit more of a production of. Firstly, sprinkling on a light layer of brown sugar, then a layer of Grill Mates Sweet and Smokey rub, then yet another layer of brown sugar, to seal it all in. Mercy! At around five hours into the pork shoulder, we put these ribs gently on the top rack of the Weber smokey Mountain, and added a couple more chunks of hickory wood. Things were chugging along nicely now, and precisely as they should. Time for a lovely beverage and yet another pit-side repair.
Here is where most smoke wizards are at their very best. Down time. Frankly, it’s half the reason we BBQ in the first place. That hallowed slot of clock in which our feet thus prop like a gentleman of leisure, and all the world seems to spin fairly about thee. It is a time where a man proper can spend exorbitant and considerable amounts of it, doing seemingly nothing at all. It’s a case-in-point example, where as my elder brother would say, “doing nothing sure feels like something“. And it does. Just watching the smoke curl from the pit, with a cold beverage in hand, we are at once and assuredly at ease. Head master of our own protein-rich kingdom. For a while at least, and maybe more than that, we want for nothing else. Say what ever you will, but that is no small thing. And the cloud shadows quietly parade over the house tops and the thick green grasses below.
After fashion, about two and one-half hours I should wager, we wrapped the beautiful, mahogany-colored ribs in foil, along with a hearty splash of apple juice for a steaming agent. This simple trick will take your unruly pork by the hand, and escort it unto the savory realms every time. Reminiscent of taking them to the spa, if you will, and pampering every last muscle there. And an hour and half of this treatment is about all you need. Use your pit master instincts. Remove from foil, and place them back on the pit to tighten up a bit. Only during the final half hour did we lather on the Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory and Brown Sugar sauce. Man! And yes, that’s chicken thighs you see there on the pit. Hey, we like meat!
Oh buddy! You must excuse us here whilst we make the acquaintanceship of this smokey pork rib. It’s for quality control reasons you see, and a pit master’s privilege.
Now this is what you call a most suitable bark on your butt. Mercy! To the uninitiated eye, it will parlay thoughts of great remorse in your behalf. Onlookers may even want to buy you supper, they feel so sorry for your mass of blackened rubble there before them. But this is how it should be. Ten hours of low and slow therapy, people, gently curling wood smoke, two naps, tweety birds, slanting sunbeams, and a good share of manly beverage, equals sublime smokey pork satisfaction. Or something like that. You know what I mean. The shoulder/butt was brought to 197 internal, until the bone came out clean. Mission accomplished. And amen.
*Let the meat rest a while before you pull it, to redistribute its delicious juices.
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.
A female Cardinal lit on the bird feeder yonder, pecking at the seed. The sun hung like a fiery chandelier in a blue Minnesota sky, dappling through the Spruce, and budding Cottonwoods, and glittering off the pond whilst a pair of mallards conspired for lunch along the edge of it. Chickadees flirted to and fro the suet I had hung for them, and a broad-tailed hawk spiraled upon the thermals far above. I stirred quietly in my BBQ chair, coming to for a moment to hear the tweety birds sing sweetly in the breeze. It felt good to loiter at the tail end of a sun beam today. To make the acquaintance of this old friend removed, from a winter long-standing. I stretched like a spoiled house cat in my chair, and took a sip of cool beverage, whilst casting an eye at the smoker thermometer. 225 degree it said. Which was perfect for the kind of loitering I had in mind today. Smoking ribs is hard work don’t you know, and I had been at it for a couple of hours already, and I do believe I could fancy another nap, as the BBQ rigors this day were decidedly high. Thus, I tipped my hat back over my eyes and resumed the proper BBQ posture, feet kicked up, at ease with the world, and the abiding aroma of smoldering hickory in the air. Welcome to rib smoking 101, POTP style.
Now I suppose, iffin you’ll let me, that I should go back to the beginning and show you few things about today’s smoke. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world you can choose to lay in a cooker and subject smoke to, and a man has got to reckon that a rack of succulent ribs might be the very best. There is nothing quite so fine as pig on the bone, perfectly smoked, married in a deep flavor profile, and yet tender to the teeth. Many a backyard pit keeper aspires towards ribs, often at first intimidated by the unruly cut of meat. Many a professional pit master, likewise, has spent the better part of their adult life pursuing this perfection in pork. No matter where you are on the rib ladder, one thing is for sure – ribs are good, and the journey, dare we say, is half the fun.
Things started out by firing up the big 22 1/2 inch WSM. As usual per my pit tendencies, I was in the mood for a little low and slow. The scenic route on the highway of BBQ. I set up the fire bowl using the Minion Method of course, because I had a lot of napping I wanted to get done today, and didn’t want to be bothered with the business of lighting up more charcoal again later. And let it be said, a Weber Smokey Mountain set up with the Minion Method affords a fellow a good deal of opportunity for napping. Its real easy to do too. Simply pour a chimney full of lit charcoal right smack in the middle of a bunch of unlit charcoal. Depending on how much coal you use, and how you tweak the vents, your cooker can burn at 225 to 250 for a very, very long time. Its a worthy technique used by many. If you want to learn more about it in-depth, feel free to waddle on over to our write-up, The Long Burn:The Method of Jim Minion.
After the smoker had gotten up to 225, and after I had ripped the membrane off the back of the ribs, and after it was liberally dusted over its entirety with SuckleBusters, Hog Waller Rub; after all these things, and procuring another cool, lovely beverage, the ribs were lovingly placed in the pit, top grate, like laying a new-born baby down on the diaper table. Well maybe not quite like that, but careful even so, so as not to knock off any of the precious rub. Lid on, and at once the Hickory smoke began to curl, bringing that signature scent to a man’s pit that equals sublime harmony with elevated levels of protein. Thus, and under very blue skies, I repaired to my BBQ easy chair, found something to kick my feet up on, and proceeded henceforth to ponder the day. And a sweet, pit-side nap was soon enough forthcoming.
You all know the old saying, “good things come to those who wait“. Probably true. But I also suspect that maybe crap can show up right away. Oh how many of us, at one time or another, have rushed our beloved rack of ribs. Pressing them along too fast, or too hot, only to render them into flanks of inedible boot leather. That is not how to do ribs, or much of any good BBQ for that matter. Let us at once revel and thrive in the slow ways. Dare to practice thy patience. May your rendering collagen be bathed in sweet time, and your bark emerge like the glaciers of yesteryear. For the smokey arts are rather a beautiful past time when you think about it, so what then would be your hurry to rush haphazardly through it. Nay! Now is our time, as patrons of the pit, to slow it all down, and tarry in the good favor of rising wood smoke and the savory aromas of sizzling meat. It is our highest privilege, to take the scenic route and try if we can to pause the sun momentarily in the sky. And we will.
Now one of the most common mistakes to procuring perfect ribs is over-cooking them. Folks tho do rather love to gloat that their ribs were “fall-of-the-bone perfect”. But as any competition rib bloke knows, if they are falling off the bone, you have done went and over-cooked them. And the judges will dock you accordingly, because it took less skill. They still taste amazing tho, no doubt, because at the end of the day, good is good, and ribs are good. And back yard pit keepers, well, they don’t really care anyways, so long as they can muckle themselves some rib meat at cook’s end. But if you want to challenge yourself, and hone your pit craft some, try to smoke them so they have some meat retention left on the bone. You want the meat to easily rip of the bone with each bite, yet be tender and succulent to chew. Such perfection lurks in a narrow window, its panes fogged with smoke, and so you must check in on your ribs frequently then, and further more you must know when they are done.
When a rib is done is a fickle business, because ribs vary, and smokers do to. Many like the bend test, and that is when you hold the end of the rack in your tongs and let them bend, like a fat man walking out onto a diving board. When the meat starts to split open at the bend, they are probably done. Likewise, others fancy the toothpick test, where the picker pokes his pick in the pork, and if it slides through real easy, its probably done. Others like to twist on a bone. Others go strictly by the clock. What I like to do is just by-pass the wondering all together, and cut myself off a hunk and try and eat the thing. You’ll know pretty quick what you’ve got on your hands.
Anyways, after about three hours of supreme loitermanship, for good measure, I tossed on a pot of peach baked beans and some chicken legs, and I also went ahead and foiled the ribs with a splash of apple juice. Foiling them, or the Texas Crutch, never seems to fail in loosening the meat up a little. Often times, its where the magic happens. You certainly don’t have to, but its success ratio is too good to ignore. So foil them and be not ashamed. I checked in on them after about 45 minutes, and by golly, they were eager little things turned out, and ready it seemed for their destiny according to my belly. I was kind of dismayed the smoke wasn’t going to last longer. But that is the nature of the BBQ arts. It is done when its done, as they say. And boy these ribs were done just right! I proceeded then to remove them from the foil and lay them back on the grate and then to sauce them with SuckleBusters Original BBQ Sauce. Brush strokes of love, upon my own personal, Rib Rembrandt.
Nothing quite like meat on the bone to set a man straight. Succulent. Tender. Smokey goodness! I took this sample back to my BBQ chair from whence I have loitered so well, and needless to say, had my way with it. Truly a pit master privilege. I smiled contentedly, BBQ sauce strewn across my face and over my belly. I kicked my feet up again, content with what I had done. And the mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. Amen.