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Thursday, January 22, 2009

How NOT to Smoke Ribs

While I tout my grilling prowess on this site quite a bit I am also human and I do screw up from time to time. This is one such case back in November of 2008...

As the weather got colder the local grocery store was blowing out their ribs. I bought a couple packs of spares and threw them in the freezer. A few weeks later it was to be a warm Saturday so I thawed the ribs out on Friday, pulled the membrane from the back and marinaded them in Apple Cider, garlic, black pepper and some Worcestershire Sauce in a ziplock. Here they are going into the fridge for the evening:
And the next day we have the ribs laid out and ready for a rub:

You can see some rib tips that will be what I call chef's prerogative during the smoking process.

Here are the rub ingredients:

Normally I do a paprika/garlic/brown sugar (or turbinado sugar) rub. I decided to change it up a bit here and experiment with Cumin, Curry, Chili Powder, Turbinado Sugar (or Sugar in the Raw), Ground Cinnamon, Granulated Garlic and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes. As usual I never add salt to my rubs. I add a pinch of coarse salt to each side of the ribs independent of the rub and then apply the rub as you see here:

I made enough rub to slather the meat and more for later when I cover them with syrup and more rub before putting them in foil to create a nice bark.

While I prepared the rub I had my charcoal in a chimney getting hot. No need to haul out the big horizontal smoker for two slabs so I just used my Weber with Charcoal Bins on each side to keep the temp down and cook/smoke the meat indirectly:

Then I put my grill grate on that has flip up ends which makes it MUCH easier to add fuel and smoke wood throughout the grilling process which for this session was planned to be a 6 hour process - 3 hours smoking, 2 hours foiled with syrup or honey and more rub, and 1 more hour with no smoke just to harden that amazing bark:

I shut the lid and let the temp come down as displayed on my remote thermometer:

I was looking for anywhere between 200 and 225 on this so 217 will work just fine.

For this session I used a rib rack that holds 5 slabs. One note about rib racks, a quick spritz with some Pam prior to putting the ribs on will make clean up a lot easier. Here are the ribs nestled in the rack with a couple of apple chunks in each charcoal bin:

I placed the lid on the grill and opened the vents to allow the smoke to escape. This raised the temp to 223 with more oxygen hitting the fire:

And here we have an absolutely beautiful sight with the smoke billowing out of the grill:

So far so good. I came back about an hour later and the temp had dropped below 200. I added some more coals and another couple blocks of wood and opened the vents to get the temp back up. And this is where it went south for this smoking session. While waiting for the temp to come up I went inside to get a refill of my beer and then got distracted by something. About an hour later I went back out to check the grill. To my horror here's what I saw:

I had no idea how long it had been at 288 or if it had been hotter for a while. I opened the lid and the wood was on fire rather than smoking. I had a bark already, but not one I wanted. I decided to forgo the last hour of smoking to try to salvage the ribs and foiled them after only 2 hours. Despite over cooking them right away I went through the process I had planned on originally just a little earlier and the rest of the steps got shorter. So I took one slab and put it bone side down on some foil:

Then I slathered the meat with syrup:

Then I applied more rub. In this case I was hoping the rub would mask the rub the was burnt:

Then put the other slab on top of the first slab, again, boneside down and repeated the process:

Meat pulling away from the bones is normally a good thing. After 5 hours. Not 2 hours. Here we have the second slab slathered in syrup and more rub:

After about an hour in the foil I pulled them and put them back in the rib rack to firm up the bark. If I were just to serve them at this point the rub would be a gritty, greasy mess. So back on the heat for a little while to firm up the bark.

In the end the ribs were ruined. This is not how the ribs should look:

And here they are sliced:

The ribs were fall off the bone and the ribs in the middle of the slabs weren't bad. The ones on each end of the slabs were inedible.

What I would do differently:
  1. I don't own a green egg. I can't walk away from the grill for that long. If the temp had dropped I could've easily recovered from that by just increasing the cook time but the temp spiking is a fatal error that is pretty tough to recover from.
  2. I probably should've just slathered them with syup and skipped the extra rub. That way I wouldn't have had to put the ribs back on the heat at the end to firm up the bark. The last thing those ribs needed was more heat.

Nobody is perfect. Especially the GrillinFool. I'm just glad I got those ribs on sale. Paying full price would've really pissed me off for neglecting them while on the grill.

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