Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rib Scientist

With this cook I wanted to try to establish a few things. First of all, I've used Smithfield baby back ribs before and found them to taste really salty. I'm guessing it's however they're processed or whatever they package them in. So on this cook I wanted to do some fresh from the butcher at Costco and some which were pre-packaged to see if I had a preference.

The other objective was to use foil on some ribs and not wrap the others. So in one afternoon I wound up with four types of ribs.

1. Smithfield foiled
2. Smithfield unfoiled
3. Unprocessed foiled
4. Unprocessed unfoiled.

In an effort to establish as much control across all 4 ribs I rubbed with my own version of Steven Raichlen's "Basic Barbecue Rub" from How to Grill.

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sweet paprika (all I had was regular paprika)
3 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons coarse salt (I stopped at two)
1 tablespoon hickory-smoked salt or more coarse salt (I skipped this)
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons celery seeds (didn't have it)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

I set up the Egg with an indirect cook using my adjustable rig. After the coals were going pretty well I tossed on a handful of apple wood chips which had been soaking in water for an hour or so. The drip pan had a mix of apple juice and apple cider.

From here I was following Car Wash Mike's method to the letter, which gets us to the scene below. Given the adjustable rig was going to put some ribs closer to the fire--and at greater risk for drying out--those lower-level guys were automatically dubbed foil-bound ribs. I wanted to maximize the smoke flavor, so I kept the dome temperature right around 200f.

Every hour I was coating the ribs with a 50/50 combo of apple juice and apple vinegar.

Two hours in I wrapped a rack of Costco ribs and half of the Smithfield rack in foil. I poured in a nice little brew for which I drew inspiration from a number of sources and then added some of my own touches. Foil ribs went downstairs. Naked ribs went upstairs.

The foil bath:

1 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Texas Pete sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder

I had to heat it all up a bit to get the honey to blend in.

After an hour of being in the foil, the unprocessed ribs were nearly falling apart. In fact, that rack tore in half as I was removing it from the foil.

At this point I returned them to the grate and slathered some Stubb's spicy BBQ sauce on all ribs in attendance. I'm green enough (and was hungry enough) that I wasn't sure when to pull them. I knew the foiled ribs were pretty much done, but I wanted to give the sauce a chance to caramelize on everything, so 30 minutes later I took everything off.

So you can decide for yourself, which look better. The first ones pictured were foiled. The darker set stayed naked the whole time.

I'll tell you that the Smithfield ribs again tasted really salty to me like they had been brined or whatever in the juices that they package them in. The general consensus was that the unprocessed ribs were superior.

Now there's call for doing a final round at a later date without the Smithfield ribs, because I had a hard time deciding which of the unprocessed ribs I liked better. My wife preferred the foiled ribs. They were really tender, juicy and fall-off-the bone. No doubt they tasted really good as well.

The other ribs had more of a smoky flavor and a generally more pleasing texture in my opinion. They were still very tender, but had a little crust on the outside that gave you something satisfying to gnaw through.

Overall it was a great way to pass the afternoon and a tasty way to spend the evening. This was a really fun cook that lends itself to a little experimentation. You can easily have a couple of variables going on during one cook, so that makes it feel all scientific and stuff. I'm grateful for the support of the During the week I had posed a question about foiling ribs that got a fairly lively response. You can check it out here. It's noteworthy that Car Wash Mike himself weighed in with a comment. Such is the caliber of discourse to be had on the forum. I love it. Thanks for reading!


  1. Experimenting like this is the way to learn more in one session than in 4 separate sessions. Reading on the forums, other blogs etc is one thing but doing it yourself like this? Priceless.

    For the record, I HATE any ribs stored in any brine solution or called "enhanced", they come out hammy tasting. Where the Smithfields labeled like that?

  2. Yeah it really was fun to have a few things to compare from one cook.

    I'm with you re: brined ribs. I thought maybe it was me, but having done these side-by-side I can say that they're borderline gross. Hammy tasting is a great way to put it. Blegh.