Re: Memorial Day Weekend

As much as we would have liked to get away last weekend for Memorial Day, it just didn’t seem worth the price of gas to book it down to the beach.  Given the fantastic, utterly perfect weather, we maximized our long weekend at home by picking up some perennials and planting them into the flower bed in front of the house.

Oh yes, there was something else, involving pork.

On Saturday, my neighbor held a small Memorial Day weekend gathering to inaugurate his new grill.  Seeing the opportunity to smoke some ribs without the production of having a lot of people over at our own place, I offered to bring barbecue.  The offer was gladly received, and on Friday we picked up about four racks of spareribs.

Here’s the thing about true barbecue – you need time and heat, and the actual mechanics of the process are more art than science.

Last summer, I treated myself to the only smoker that I will ever need to buy – a 200lb behemoth of welded steel, with an offset firebox and enough cooking area to feed a large party.  At the start of spring, I went and picked up a couple of boxes of hickory, and a recent Costco run yielded a nice double-pack of charcoal.  To say that I was ready for barbecue season would be an understatement.

On Friday, I filled a contractor’s bucket with water from my garden hose, and sunk about 8 logs of hickory into it.  For barbecue, it’s important to soak your wood before you begin, because if the wood is too dry, it will burst into flames instead of smoldering gently, which is what you need it to do in order to get a decent smoke going on.  I also whipped together a double batch of my rub, which is a mixture of cane sugar, paprika, garlic and onion powders, and a few other things which I am conveniently forgetting to list here.

On Saturday morning, I woke up and took the spareribs out of the fridge to let them rest on the kitchen counter (you don’t want to put cold meat into a hot smoker, because there’s a chance that creosote, a black tar-like substance, will condense onto your meat).  I took some time to clean out the smoker from the last session, emptying it of ash, and lit a bunch of charcoal in my chimney starter.  When the charcoal was ready, I dumped it into the firebox, opened up all of the vents, and let the smoker come up to about 225 degrees.

While the smoker was warming up, I cut the sparerib racks into manageable pieces (I would prefer to leave them whole, but with so many ribs, I had to use rib racks to hold the smaller pieces upright).  A heavy dusting of rub on both sides, and they were ready.  I carefully moved them into position in the smoker and closed the lid with a thud.

The best part of barbecue is the first addition of wood to produce smoke.  I fished out a nice-sized piece of hickory from the water bucket and put it on top of the charcoal in the firebox.  Within moments, faint wisps of blue smoke started piping from the smoker’s stack.

Put simply, smoking barbecue meat requires a sustained temperature of 180 to 220 degrees, fired by wood and charcoal, for several hours.  It’s a nice day spent at home, that’s for sure.  So, for most of the day on Saturday, I tended to the smoker, adding charcoal when the temperature got too low and wood when the smoke subsided.

By the time we delivered the final product next door, the ribs had gone for about seven hours, and were so tender you could pull the bone out with a gentle tug.

In case you are wondering about the picture, another thing that benefits barbecue is a good baste, or mop.  This time, I decided to make a mop of cider vinegar, onion, garlic, and Victory Hop Devil beer.  Good times.