Wednesday, August 12, 2009

8 SIMPLE things recreational grillers can do to make better ribs

Here's a grilling tips post for all the fabulous kitchen cooks I have been reading, but want to try their hands at backyard cooking. That Weber grill can do some amazing things, and it is a shame to waste this fabulous workhorse just making burgers and dogs.

There are some fabulous toys out there that make grilling easier and more fun. Some are very expensive, some are specialty items that you will only use once a year. You've heard the phrase, "kid in a candy shop", well, I am the kid in the Smoker/Grill specialty store. If I had $20,000 to spend, I still would leave wanting more toys. You can spend a fortune.

But I want to give out a few tips that the occasional griller, someone willing to step out of his/her comfort zone and try something new. All of these tips are things that you can do with just the items in your pantry now. No need to buy additional stuff. Add these tips to your arsenal of cooking skills to show off to your friends, family and that obnoxious bas*ard that acts like he knows everything about grilling.

  1. PLAN AHEAD. Low and slow will get juicier, more tender meat. Start to finish, fridge to grill to table will take hours. I plan 8 hours for baby back and 11 hours for spare ribs. If you are planning lunch, do your prep work the night before, but you will have to be up by 6 AM. You can do them faster, but you will sacrifice quality.
  2. INDIRECT GRILLING. Ideally, you will go out and spend several hundred (or thousands) on a top quality smoker, but ANY standard grill (gas or charcoal) can be set up to cook using indirect heat. One of my favorite celebrity grillers, Steven Raichlen has a terrific website with easy to follow directions for setting up your grill... Click HERE, or cut and past this address.
    Your goal is for your cooking surface to have a temperature 250 degrees. There is a link to a terrific low and slow cooking timetable chart in my Important Link section to the right of this post, or you can find it by clicking HERE.
  3. RUB. There are lots of commercial rubs available, but there is no mystery to making your own rub. And I would bet you have plenty of quality spices to make your own. A RUB does two great things to your meat. It will penetrate the meat, adding flavor. A rub will also (as your ribs cook) form a bark or crust around the meat which helps to hold the moisture in, guaranteeing moist and tender meat. Here's a simple rub that is very tasty...
    1/2 cup of ground coffee (really, ground coffee makes a terrific base for your rub, and forms a fabulous bark
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    2 tablespoon chili powder
    2 tablespoon garlic powder
    2 tablespoon Paprika
    2 tablespoons Salt
    2 tablespoons Pepper
    That will do, but you can add almost any spice, and it will work fine. One of my favorite things is to take a 4 ounce shaker of Cajun spices (I get a can free when I buy a jar of Cajun injector butter, but any shaker of flavored spices will work, Cajun, Jerk, seafood spices, etc) and mix that with the coffee and sugar. works great.
    When you rub your meat, be generous, rub the bone side first, all the sides, and then flip the meat. Generously cover the meat, and then rub this in for a few minutes. I allow this to set for 20 minutes, at room temperature (do not refrigerate). By that time, the juices from the meat will glaze the rub and make it more liquid, like a glaze. I add a second layer of rub over this glaze. Not as much as the first rubbing, but enough to cover the glaze. there are lots of expensive rubs out there. Be bold and try making your own. there are plenty of more detailed recipes out there that you can find with a simple google search, but this will get you started with the items in your pantry.
  4. APPLE JUICE MIST. Hopefully, you have a thermometer on the outside of your grill, so you can monitor temperatures without lifting the grill lid. Every time you lift the lid, you affect the temperature inside. But, you will need to add 10 coal briquettes each hour to maintain temperature if you have a charcoal grill. Whenever you open the grill lid, add some moisture. I use a spray bottle with apple juice, and spray down the ribs every time I look at em. If you don't have a spray bottle, either brush it on, or if you don't have a brush, take a napkin soaked in the juice and squeeze and drizzle. If you don't have apple juice, you can use any juice, some beer or even whiskey (Jack Daniels host one of the most prestigious smoking tournaments in the country).
  5. WAIT til the last hour to sauce your ribs. Actually, saucing ribs will pretty much stop or greatly retard the cooking process. Once you sauce the meat, you are bringing the sauce up to temperature. But sauce will burn if it is cooked too long. A very common mistake beginning grillers make is to sauce the meat at the beginning of the cooking process. The sauce gets over cooked and makes the meat taste more burnt than flavorful. Personally, I do not sauce my meat while I cook. I have a couple different kinds on the table for those people that like sauce, but moist tender rubbed ribs do not need a sauce to taste great, and if you followed these steps, you will have moist, tender and great tasting ribs as they are.
  6. Know when the ribs are done, and keep cooking til they are (or take them off sooner if they are cooking fast. The cooking time chart is very accurate, but occasionally, a more dense piece of meat will take longer to cook. the idea of falling off the bone tenderness is actually a mistake. Those are overcooked. Ideally, your ribs should be just starting to pull away from the bone at the base, but inside the meat still is grabbing at the bone. When you get to within an hour of the finishing time, take one of the bones and jiggle it. If the bone pulls away from the meat a little, your ribs are done. If all of the meat still holds tight to the bone, they still need a little cooking time.
    In the photo above, notice how the meat has obly just started to pull away from the bone. These are PERFECT right now... Don't over cook em like these

    See how the middle set of ribs has so much of the bone showing. these will be fall off the bone tender, but they will be tougher and dryer than the rack in the first photo.
  7. Finally... My beloved TEXAS CHEAT (OR CRUTCH). This is the easiest thing you can do to save slightly undercooked ribs (they will cook on their own for a bit), or juice up (add moisture) and tenderize slightly overcooked ribs... 2 hours before you are going to serve them (remember what I said about planning ahead), pull them from the smoker. mist them again with the apple juice, then drizzle a couple tablespoons of honey (makes a pretty glaze) on the ribs. Wrap them in tin foil, sealing as best you can, and allow them to rest for the 2 hours. This final step hides a lot of sins you may have committed during the cooking process. It makes a huge difference, and I always apply the Texas Crutch to my ribs.
  8. And my 8th tip is hopefully in my comment section. Any of you regular grillers have any tips that I left out? Drop me a suggestion and let's add some new back yard cookers to the growing list of backyard kings (or queens)!
There you go, no need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of new stuff, use what you got and you too can produce ribs to be proud of! I own several hundred dollars worth of the fancy toys and whistles, but mastering these simple tips is what really set me above the rest of my neighbors.

So, kitchen cooks, I have taken a great deal of inspiration from your specialties, and I thank you. Summer isn't over yet, Give ribs a try!


  1. I had a friend who used to boil his ribs first - that was his secret. What do you think of that?

    I'm generally indifferent about ribs; they're not something that usually turns my crank. I will eat them is someone else makes them, however.

  2. Thanks for the good advice.I've cooked ribs maybe 3 times on the grill;the first time last summer and they were't tender enough, but had great flavor. I followed one of Raichlen's recipes and I think after reading your post that I just didn't cook them long enough.A couple of weeks ago, I followed someone else's advice and grilled them wrapped in foil. They were so tender, but lacked the great flavor I wanted. So, I will try again, following your advice! Thanks!

  3. Coyote, while many people will boil these, you would be boiling the flavor out of them. Think of the difference of the taste of an onion in a stew. If you start the stew with the onion in it, the onion will have little unique taste when it is done, the water has all the onion flavor. When you eat the onion out of the stew, it will taste like the carrots and taters more than like an onion, since all the tastes mingle in the water. But if you add an onion at the end of the process, the onion retains it's flavor. Don't boil the flavor out of the meat.

    And Lynda, let me know how it works, any more advice I can offer let me know

  4. These look mouthwatering!! Thanks for all of these amazing tips!! I am bookmarking it for future the coffee in the rub...that's one of my favorite things to do, too!

  5. A very informative post on the techniques of low and slow smoking. I like the idea of the apple juice misting. We like dry ribs so sauce on the side. I use this rub on my ribs. It's called the "Renowned Mr. Brown" from Smoke and Spice by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. I substituted smoked paprika for the paprika in the original recipe.
    1/4 cup ground black pepper
    1/4 cup sweet smoked paprika
    1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
    2 T. table salt
    2 t. dry mustard
    1 t. cayenne pepper
    I do a lot of grilling and smoking, but rarely have the time to blog about it. After reading your blog, you have inspired me to try harder. You have a great sense of humor and I have enjoyed reading some of your posts. The chicken video is a scream! Thanks for commenting on my blog-Cafe Lynnylu.

  6. #8 - Remove the membrane. I posted a video on an easy way to do this for loin back ribs (not my favorites but was what my wife brought home that weekend) in this post: