Last week I decided I wanted to do barbecue ribs for dinner tonight. And by “barbecue” I mean “barbecue,” with real smoke and everthing. Bunny got two racks of ribs, and yesterday, I spent some time doing some prep work.
First, we need some chunks of hardwood to produce the smoke. We have a bag firewood Bunny brought some time ago, so I grabbed half a log, and on the table saw, split it in half, and then cut it into four chunks.
I wanted to use the bandsaw, but unfortunately, the tire on the lower wheel disintegrated, rendering the bandsaw temporarily out of commission.
I can't say I enjoyed using the table saw for this, but using the The Gripper for splitting the log, and the cross-cut sled for the chunks certainly helped to keep my fingers safe. But for wood sold to be used in a fire, it was very nice wood.
Then, just before bed, I spread some yellow mustard over the ribs—this will help the rub to stick. Then, the rub (brown sugar, salt, many, many spices—there are plenty of recipies out on the Intarwebs), then wrapped the ribs in foil and placed into the refrigerator overnight.
Around noon today, I started the barbecue. I don't have a smoker, but I do have a classic Weber Kettle Grill, which can do the job in a pinch. The method I'm using is the “snake method.” You arrange charcoal around the edge of the grill:
I placed one layer two bricks deep, then another layer on top that was two bricks deep. On top of that, the wood chunks are placed to provide the smoke. And yes, three chunks was more than enough to impart a smokey flavor to the ribs. You only need a few hot coals placed at one end to start things off. Over time, the coals will slowly catch fire down the snake and if you get it just right, you won't have to add any coals at all (the above lasted 4½ hours, which was enough to cook the ribs—more on that below).
I do recommend using a starter chimney:
All you do is spread some vegetable oil on some newspaper (makes it burn longer), wad it up, place it in the bottom of the chimney and light it on fire. Then walk away. Just walk away. It'll light the coals and when they're starting to ash over, pour them out at one end of the snake.
Once that's done, add a foil pan with hot water (I placed the pan on the level with the coals, then used an electric kettle to boil the water and pour it into the pan). This not only helps with the smoking, but it also helps to regulate the heat during cooking. Place the grill grate on the grill, and slap those ribs on it, as far away from the heat as possible.
Place the lid on, with the hood vents placed as far away from the heat as possible. This forces the smoke across the ribs. Also, you'll want to adjust the vents on the top and bottom to keep the tempurature as close to 250°F as possible (220° would be ideal). This may require some fiddling until you get it right. I checked on the them about every hour for the first three hours, then every 30 minutes thereafter. You can tell the ribs are done by sliding some tongs along the length of the ribs about half-way, and lifing them up. If the meat “cracks” then they're done. Slather any barbecue sauce you want on them, place the lid back on for another 5 to 10 minutes, then pull them off.
All that's left was to carve them up and eat.
As a first-time experiment, they were good, but there are a few things I will change for next time. First, the ribs were tender, but not “fall-off-the-ribs” tender, and I think that's because I left the rub on just too long. I think I would go no shorter than an hour, no longer than two, before cooking. Second, our grill was barely large enough to handle two racks of ribs (and I suspect these were larger racks—between the two of us, we only ate about 2/3 of a single rack), so next time, one rack.
Other than that, I think this was a success.