It's Super Bowl Sunday and people everywhere are throwing watch parties and gathering with friends and family to watch the game and the halftime show. It really has become the biggest night in television, which is another excuses to cook mass quantities of food and party. Usually, I host a big party but not this year. One of the big hits at my party and any gathering I have is ribs. So if you plan on making ribs for tonight, if you want to do it low and slow here are a few pointers.
1. Remove the membrane. No matter if you are doing baby backs, spare, or St. Louis Style removing the thin membrane from the bone side is important to getting prime tenderness and to allow the smoke flavor to penetrate all sides of the rib. There are many videos on youtube to help you do this. Check this one out.
2. Season with your favorite dry rub. A little sweet and a little heat always work well with ribs. Of course I am partial to my rub, which I believe are the best on the market and you will too once you try them. Make sure to season both sides. I focus most of the rub on the meat side with a lighter coating on the bone side. Give them a good rub down as well to make sure the flavor can work its way into the meat.
3. Get your smoker fired up. Use what you have available, but I prefer no propane. If you want to do that might as well use your gas oven! I prefer a combination of charcoal and apple wood. Once you get it fired up. You should let it run until it gets to the ideal internal temperature. I like to cook my ribs at 250 degrees. Throughout the course of smoking if it stays between 225 and 275 I am happy. Anything below that and you aren't really cooking and anything above that you are going to cook too fast!
4. Get your meat on the smoker! Once your smoker has been consistently sitting at your ideal temperature you want to add your meat. I always put mine on meat side up. This allows the smoke that works its way across the top to flavor the top of the meat, and allows the smoke beneath which sometimes can be more intense to work it's way up through the bones and where the membrane used to be. Before adding the meat, make sure you have a water pan to keep the air in the smoker moist otherwise you are cooking with dry heat and can either dry your meat out or give them a really charred look. The placement of your water pan will differ based on the type of smoker. It can be under the meat to also serve as a drip pan so the natural flavor circulates. The only real rule is to make sure the water pan does not block the flow of heat and smoke from your meat. Once you get the meat on, CLOSE THAT LID and get some wood on the fire to get some smoke going.
5. Let the meat cook and monitor your temps. At this point in the process grab yourself a beer or whatever your beverage of choice is. Now you just let the meat smoke. DO NOT OPEN THE LID, as that will let the heat and smoke out and add to your cook time (can be as much as 30 minutes everytime you open up), because then it has to get back to temperature which does not happen instantly. You will want to check your fire box every 1 to 1.5 hours to make sure you have fire and smoke and that your temperature is not dipping below 225. Remember 250 is ideal, but anything between 225 and 275 works just fine.
6. Wrap time! You don't want to overload your ribs with smoke so you dont have to have smoke on them the whole 5-6 hours you are smoking. After letting them smoke for a 3 solid hours you want to take them off the smoker and wrap them in foil. Before you wrap them add some moisture. Some people add butter, some add apple juice, I add some sauce. Then wrap them and place them back on the smoker for another 2 hours. This allows them to keep cooking, stay moist, and not get overloaded with smoke flavor. This is real important if you only use wood, since you can't stop the wood from smoking. If you are only using coals with some wood chunks you can get away with not wrapping by not adding anymore wood chunks and just let the coals continue to add heat.
7. Finish 'em up! Here is where it gets interesting because it matter is you are going for a 5 or 6 hour smoke. If you are going for the 5 hour smoke then after 2 hours of being wrapped you want to take them off the smoker so they can rest before you cut them. If you are going for a 6 hour smoke you want to unwrap them and let them cook the final hour unwrapped. This allows the heat to let that layer of sauce cook into the meat versus when it is wrapped and like a sauna inside the foil. The determination for the time is really your temp. If you have been cooking closer to 275 degrees 5 hours is about the right time. If you have been between 225 and 250 6 hours is about right. For health reasons, the ideal internal meat temp is 160 degrees, but peak tenderness comes around 180 and 190 degrees. If your meat is consitently between 180 and 190 you need to pull them whether it is 5 or 6 hours or you will over cook them. There is also a bend test you can use to determine doneness. Pick the ribs up with some tongs and bounce them. Done ribs will bouce some and crack (but not break) along the bone lines. Whatever method you use, whether temp or bounce. Let the ribs rest before you cut them.
8. Cut and serve. After you let them rest turn them bone side up and cut them along the bone line to serve to your guest. You should have a pink smoke ring on the outer edges of the meat but the center should be white. The photo below is not the greatest as these were slightly overdone and the picture was not taken right away so whiteness is not as evident.
Here is a secret that a lot of people don't know. I don't actually eat ribs, but really enjoy smoking them. My guests have never complained and they are usually the first item to run out. The secret to good ribs to me is having fun while doing it. It can be a long process, but having a cold beer on a nice day while hanging with friends is what it really is about. There will be trial and error, but the more you do it the better you will be. Smoke on my friends and don't forget to Throw Some D's On It while your at it.