Ok, so this past winter has given me a lot of time to think about (and salivate) about BBQ'in. During those long cold months I stumbled upon a few Ideas and wanted to get some input from the Brethren.
Basically, it all comes down to optimizing the flavor of each ingredient used to season or flavor the Q. For this example I'll be using spare ribs.
- The majority of herbs, spices and seasonings used vary widely from one cook to another, but most of them fall into this category. For ribs, I focus in on the sweet/savory spices like Clove, Fennel, Garlic and Onion. Not only do these ingredients affect the tastes of the meat, but they also greatly affect the aroma of the finished product, which is in turn a huge part of how we preceive taste.
- most people I know or have spoken to don't care for a particularly propounced salty flavor in their Q. If used at all, it should be applied to the meat as early in the process as possible to allow the flavor to mellow and blend, say as part of the rub, or the first layer in a multi-layered rub. This also allows the salt to work it's magic on the meat- pulling protein laiden moisture to the surface of the meat, which enhances flavor.
If using "enhanced" ribs as some of us are unfortunately forced to do, they are already injected with salt water to enhance tenderness. If used at all, I would greatly reduce the amount of salt used in preparing the ribs.
- Some cooks don't use any sugar at all, some swear by it. Again, it all comes down to what you're looking for in your finished product. But if what you're shooting for is a well-balanced flavor profile, you can't ignore the fact that some form of sweetener is necessary to achieve it. In my humble opinion, sweenters are best left to the very last step in the cooking process- usually the sauce. If sugars are used in the rub, they may burn from the heat of the cooking process or as I've recently read, caramelize and prevent other flavors from penetrating into the meat. Whether or not you apply the sauce while the ribs are still on the grill is entirely up to you.
- Vinegar is the go-to ingredient for providing acidity and bitterness in BBQ. It is in most BBQ sauces and can even be used in brining liquids.
- This is another element best left to the sauce, although there are some edible berries which can be dried and ground to use in the rub to provide some bitterness. Sumac is a common in middle-eastern and mediterranean cooking and has a tart, fruity taste. I'm going to experiment with it this summer.
So, I'll walk you thru cooking a rack of spares using some of the things I just talked about
1) Fuel up the drum and light it up.
2) I pull out a rack of enhanced spares from the fridge, open the cry-o-vac bag and drain all the juices out.
3) Rinse the meat thoroughly. I notice a slightly slimy coating on the meat when I use enhanced ribs- I rinse in cool water for as long as it takes to get this coating off the entire slab.
4) Trim the flap meat off, remove the membrane and cut into St. Louis slab.
Some people swear that you'll get better results by leaving the membrane on. I have cooked them both ways and the only difference it made was that when I left the membrane on, it prevented the rub from sticking to the meat and just knowing it was still on there while I was eating, made me want to take it off. Besides, why leave it on if it's going to prevent the flavors of the rub and the smoke from getting at that side of the meat?
5) Sprinkle everything with a good coating of my home-made no salt, no sugar rub. I don't "cake" it on but give all sides a generous sprinkle and pat on.
6) Everything goes into the smoker. Close it up and get ready to cruise for the next 4 hrs. If doing a full load, I let it go for 5 hrs before checking.
7) The only thing I've checked at this point is the thermometers that give me the internal temp of the smoker. After 4-5 hrs of smoking, it's time to see where we stand by checking the internal temp of the meat.
After checking the meat temp, I move the trimmings to a foil pouch with a few tbs of apple juice and quickly return it to the smoker. I close the lid of the smoker in between to lessen the effect on the cooking environment.
Depending on what the internal temp was when I checked it, 30 minutes to an hour have gone by. Time to check the temp again- do it as quickly as possible. If you have a digital probe thermometer, you don't even have to open the smoker to do this. I'm looking into buying one for this season.
9) Another 30 minutes to an hr have gone by and the ribs are generally done by now. I check the temp one last time. If it's good, I do a
"bend test." If everything's good, off the smoker it comes for a 1 hr rest.
Notice- no foiling, no spritzing. Honestly, in my experience and from what I gather from reading this forum, the best thing you can do to produce good results is keep the smoker closed as much as possible for the entire cook.
I like a good bark and a little bit of bite on my ribs as much as the next guy, and I'm not saying that you can't produce great results with these methods, I'm just saying that the trade off for all that heat and moisture loss isn't worth it for me.
10) After resting, I uncover the ribs and cut them up into singles.
11) This is the point when I apply my sauce. I usually go for the cheap, store brand stuff - something that has brown sugar or honey in it.
Crazy talk? Not really- the predominant flavor of these sauces is usually the bitterness of the vinegar. They're not overly spiced or peppery and have the right amount of sweetness. They provide the right combination to fill out the flavor profile I'm shooting for.
12) Serve and enjoy!
Question? Comments? Opinions? Always welcome!