Last weekend I attended my first BBQ competition. It was a big money KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) event right here in Fort Worth: The Inaugural Sam's Club National BBQ Tour with $20,000 in prizes. It was fun watching the teams compete and trying some of their BBQ samples.
After tasting that great 'cue, I decided it was time to step up my own backyard BBQ techniques.
I mean, I am no BBQ slouch. This is Texas and I do have two smokers in my backyard. But after attending this event I was inspired. I had watched a rib demo by Troy Black, so I decided to try trimming my ribs up like I saw in the demo. I have normally used commercial BBQ rubs and sauces. This weekend, I would try making my own. In the competition, most teams wrapped their meat in aluminum foil toward the end for tenderizing. I'll try that, too.
At this point I was thinking I might need a little help, so I contacted the KCBS and they pointed me to Paul Kirk, their education chair and winner of 17 World Championships. Turns out Chef Kirk has a BBQ book called Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue. It also turns out that they even have a kindle version (BBQ is getting so hi-tech). A quick look through the book and I see rubs, BBQ sauces and cook times and temps. Did not see anything on foil wrapping the ribs (it is a very big book and I could have missed it). I think I will try the foil anyway. I asked about it at the competition and think I have the gist of it (that being not to do it longer than an hour or the ribs will be mushy). Looks like I am set.
Rub-a-Dub-Dub, time to make a rub.
I checked the rub section of Paul Kirk's book and decided to make a variation of his BBQ pork rub (one of the themes in his book is experimenting and adding your own spices). I decided to go with a 2-to-1 ratio of brown sugar to paprika. To add a little Fort Worth flavor, I added some Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chile powder.
Here are the ingredients: one cup of light brown sugar, half a cup of paprika, one tablespoon of dried mustard, one tablespoon of onion powder, one tablespoon of celery salt, one tablespoon of season salt, one tablespoon of fresh cracked black pepper, one tablespoon of Pendery's Fort Worth Light Chile powder and a couple of slices of crystallized ginger that I hand crumbled then fine chopped. I hope the ginger will add a little pop to the rub along with the Fort Worth Light Chile powder.
Mixed everything by hand in a bowl then ran it through a spice/coffee grinder for a final mix.
10-2-4 BBQ sauce!
The first BBQ sauce recipe in Kirk's book is a Bare Bones BBQ Sauce to use as a base to add your own flavors. Sounds like just what I want. The BBQ base has one cup of ketchup, half a cup of light brown sugar, three tablespoons of vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar), one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, one teaspoon kosher salt, one teaspoon garlic powder and one teaspoon onion powder (I rounded up a little on the last two ingredients).
I started by heating up the Dr Pepper in a pan and letting it reduce for about 30 minutes. Then I added the rest of the ingredients, letting it come to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes. After the sauce cooled, I put it in a jar and into the refrigerator. I notice a strong vinegar smell when it was cooking and was afraid I might have used too much. Once it cooled down everything was fine. Actually, it was more than fine. It turned out great!
Time to make some ribs.
Normally when I get a slab of spare ribs I leave them pretty much as is except for trimming away a little of the excess fat. In Troy Black's rib demo last week he cut the ribs into a St. Louis cut by cutting off the breastbone, cartilage and rib tips making almost a perfect rectangle. That seemed like losing an awful lot of meat, but it does give you a more consistent rib shape and thickness. I am guessing it is important for competition. So I decided to give it a shot.
I normally leave the meat flap on but Troy said to take it off, so off it goes.
Everything prepped except removing the membrane that covers the rib bones.
Some experts say you should leave on the rib membrane to help hold in the moisture in the ribs, and some say to take it off to let the seasoning and smoke penetrate the ribs. Both Troy and Paul say to remove the membrane, so I did.
My rectangle did not turn out as nice as Troy's, but I guess that should come as no surprise.
Time to rub the ribs.
Mustard, oil or water? When applying rub you can use mustard, oil or a little splash of water to help the rub stick to the ribs. Just like the rib membrane, there are lots of opinions on which is better. Some think oil helps transfer the spices into the meat, others think mustard helps make a better crust. And if you dont believe one of those, just use a splash of water. This being Texas I stuck with mustard.
Put a good coating of rub on the ribs.
Time for the smoke!
I have a Traeger Texas pellet grill that is probably the easiest smoker to use. It feeds wood pellets into a firepot, maintaining whatever temperature I set on a digital thermostat (did I mention how hi-tech BBQ is getting?). If you have a gas grill you need to use indirect heat and use wood chips in foil packets or a smoker box to generate the smoke.
I set my Traeger for 225ºF and let it preheat for 30 minutes (I am using Hickory pellets).
I put the ribs in and let them smoke for 30 minutes to help let the rub set. To add a little moisture, I spray a little apple juice on the ribs with a squirt bottle every 30 minutes for three hours.
Time to wrap!
After three hours I wrapped the ribs with a little apple juice in foil (meat side down) and put them back in the smoker to cook.
After 45 minutes I unwrap the ribs and put them back on the smoker to set for another 30 minutes.
Time to sauce!
Thirty minutes out of the foil, it is now time to sauce. I flip the ribs bone side up and apply a good helping of the 10-2-4 BBQ sauce. Then I flipped them meat side up and apply another good helping of the sauce.
Turned the heat up a little bit and smoked another 30 minutes.
Time to pull the ribs.
Did a quick check by lifting the ribs with tongs from the middle, if they bend with the ends pointing towards the ground they are done.
I let them rest 10 minutes after pulling. I noticed a lot of brush marks on the ribs left by my silicon brush. Maybe a pastry brush next time or thin the sauce a little? The color looks good.
Sliced a couple off to try with a Dublin Dr Pepper. I have to say that the BBQ sauce tasted so good that I was afraid it might be just the pride of making my own rub and sauce that is clouding my judgment. Family, that is the test.
So I took the ribs over to my mom's and they were a big hit. My brother said he could taste a little hint of the Dr Pepper after I told him it was in the sauce. Of course my mom loved it. I guess the true test was my wife, Susan. She thought the ribs were a little too sticky... Which made me wonder if the KCBS judges also judge the stickiness of the BBQ?
I think this BBQ thing might be even tougher than I thought.
On the plus side, everybody is getting BBQ sauce for Christmas!