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Rib Diaries; step by step BBQ technique

by guest blogger John Crowley

This past weekend I was invited to a friend’s family cottage to make my BBQ ribs. I decided to document the steps I take when preparing my signature recipe. Exact details of rib rub and sauce ingredients omitted for reasons of secrecy. I buy only, non seasoned, baby back ribs for this recipe. Baby back ribs have more meat, and is a tender cut. Takes on seasonings very well.

Any good rib recipe starts with a quality dry rub. Over the years I have been experimenting with various spice combinations. This most recent rub, tried for the first time this batch, was a hit and will become my standard going forward. Prepare your dry rub at least a few days before use, to give the spice flavors a chance to work together. Typically I make more dry rub than required for the amount of ribs I have on hand.

A key step in rib preparation is the removal of the membrane. Perhaps not that appealing of a process for most, but it is necessary if you want that “fall of the bone” effect. The trick here is to use a sharp-pointed knife, to first begin the separation of the membrane from the rib. Starting from the narrow end of the rib rack, once you use the knife to give you enough membrane to hold on to with your fingers, you should be able to easily remove the entire membrane with a single pull. This is about a dozen racks of ribs, taking approximately 3 minutes per rack for membrane removal, using the aforementioned process.

I recommend putting the dry rub you will be using for this process in a bowl for easy access, and to eliminate the chance of contaminating your main batch with the raw meat you are handling. Using clean rubber gloves is an important step to follow when applying the dry rub to the ribs. Most rubs, including the one used here, contains a significant amount of hot spices which can penetrate your skin while rubbing into the ribs. Apply dry rub liberally to both sides of the ribs. Since the membrane has been removed from the rib, the rub will penetrate the meat with ease.

Dry rub should be given time to absorb into the meat. Tenting is a good way to speed up the rub absorption process, and protects meat from any house flies that could be buzzing around.

One of the secrets I will share with you, is a significant piece to creating the flavor profile I strive for. I have used other dark ales, but I find Guinness to be more effective, and plus it just sounds good when you tell people that Guinness is used in the marinating process. The alcohol in beer will help the dry rub penetrate the meat on your ribs, giving you a consistent flavor bite after bite.

At this point the dry rub has been working into the rib meat for approximately 2 hours at room temperature. The dry rub pulls the moisture out of the rib, displacing it, adding the rub flavors. The next step is preparing the ribs for marinating with the Guinness. I prefer to use large zip lock bags for this step. Full rib racks are each cut in half to fit in the bag. 2 racks, or 4 half pieces, fit into each zip lock bag.

Pour 1 to 1 and a 1/2 cans of Guinness into each bag. Seal each bag tightly, removing as much air as possible, when sealing. I recommend leaving the marinating process overnight in the fridge, giving the Guinness and dry rub a chance to completely soak into the ribs. As good as zip lock bags are, there is still a chance for juices to leak out. I recommend putting the bags in a container before refrigerating overnight to avoid a mess.

So now that the ribs are quietly marinating in the fridge, it is time to make your BBQ sauce, which will be applied in the grilling process later on. BBQ sauces take time to perfect. I have been using the same sauce concept for many years now, tweaking here and there, adding different ingredients to play with the flavor profile. My sauce is a ketchup base….that is all that I am going to share about that. This picture is the sauce with all ingredients, of which there are approximately 15 items. My sauce has a sweet and spicy flavor profile.

Ribs should be flipped during marinating process to ensure the Guinness makes contact with all of the meat. After marinating overnight, the next step is to bake the ribs. I forgot to take pictures of this step (something to do with getting into the beers at this point of the afternoon) but the process is quite simple.

Ribs should be removed from bags and moved to baking pans with raised sides (IE: casserole dish), adding some of the marinade to the dish. Cover the pans tightly with tin foil to provide a steaming effect when baking. Baking time is approximately 2 hours @ 350F.

By the time the baking process is complete, the ribs are nearly cooked 100%. Cooking to completion on the grill is our next step. Rib grilling should be done using an indirect heat method. Here I have 12 pieces, or 6 whole racks, positioned on either side of the grill. Only the center burner, where there are no ribs directly above, should be on at this point. Apply BBQ sauce liberally to all sides of the ribs. Here (above) I have moved the ribs around just to apply the sauce evenly.

Be sure to move ribs back to either side of the grill, avoiding direct contact with heat. Both the rib rub, and rib sauce, have a significant amount of sugar which will burn quickly if left over direct heat. Grilling process takes about 1 hour, with the last 30 minutes of this time used to apply the BBQ sauce. s aromas float around the air, your guests will have a hard time not taking a peek for themselves. And some want to say they “helped”.

Finished product is a beautiful pile of BBQ Baby Back Rib Heaven. This batch earned me a new nickname…Juan Castillo (Spanish for John Rib). I may add chicken to the Norway Bay event next year so that all of my initials are used…J.P.C. – Juan Pollo y Castillo.

I hope this sharing of information inspires you every BBQ season. And no, I am not sharing my rub or sauce recipes.




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August 2012
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