Lets face it - almost anyone can grill a burger. You need only marginally better grilling skills to grill chicken (even less if you plan to eat all that blackened chicken skin), but to create a great rack of ribs is a culinary challenge. It takes time and patience to prepare this tricky cut of meat in order to render all of its delicious, tender love. For the home cook without a giant smoker, use a flavorful spice rub, a long slow roast, and a final trip to the grill to add a flavorful glaze and a crisp exterior that will leave you with sticky fingers and the satisfied feeling that all that patience was totally worth it. It takes hours to make a great rack of ribs, so plan ahead and take your time.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Brian Dioguardi, chef and owner of Baldy's BBQ on Century Drive, and he was happy to share his rib-making secrets. Dioguardi hails from Chicago, a city that is no stranger to great food and great BBQ, and started his culinary career at the tender age (no pun intended) of 15 working in a friend's barbecue restaurant. Soon he was traveling on the competitive barbecue circuit where he spent the next 15 years. He eventually bought the restaurant where he worked and gave up competing, but never lost his true passion to make "something really good."
Barbecued meats are cooked at low and relatively constant temperatures, between 195 and 215 degrees. This method is perfect for coaxing the flavor out of not-so-great cuts of meat like shoulder, ribs and brisket. Cooking them low and slow gives them a chance to let all the flavor slowly melt into the meat, creating pure culinary magic.
Baldy's ribs take three full days to come to delicious fruition. Brian starts with an overnight brine using apple cider, apple cider vinegar, salt, and spices. The ribs are removed from the brine and slathered with mustard, which acts as the glue for a dry rub that includes paprika, brown sugar, cayenne and granulated garlic. A day later the ribs are placed in the smoker and carefully watched.
Then begins the actual cooking process. According to Brian, you just have to "keep an eye on them and they will tell you when they're done." When the time is right and the ribs are done the bone will gently wiggle away from the meat after cooking for about two to three hours. He takes care during the last part of the cooking to not let the ribs get too much of a crust by gently covering them and giving them just a spritz of apple cider. He uses fruitwood like apple, cherry or even pecan when he can get it for the pork and chicken. He uses alder for his meats like brisket, tri tip and prime rib.
For the home cook, you first have to start by removing the membrane from the back of the ribs. Starting at the narrow end of the rack, use a blunt knife like a butter knife to loosen the membrane from the bones and then try to pull it off in one piece. I like to use a paper towel to get a good grip.
Next comes the rub. I have used many combinations that might include brown sugar, paprika, garlic granules, habenero or allspice, but you can also create your own rub by using such spices as fennel seed, coriander, cumin or cardamom... or how about an Asian-inspired rub with wasabi powder and five spice?
Wrap the ribs tightly with foil and, as Brian suggests, add a cup or so of liquid inside the foil. Roast in a slow oven (325 degrees) until the bone wiggles away from the meat, which will require two to three hours.
At this point you can let the ribs rest and decide what kind of sauce you want to finish them off. Sweet or smoky barbecue or Asian with hoisin, honey and soy? Teriyaki with pineapple, brown sugar and ginger, or maybe apricot jam with Dijon mustard and horseradish? Brush the ribs lightly with your favorite sauce and finish grilling outside on a hot grill to give them that final burst of flavor. Voila, the perfect backyard summer meal.
Lisa Glickman is a Bend-based in-home chef and a former instructor at Portland's In Good Taste. Her cooking is imbued with the flavors of her dining experiences from around the world. Learn more about Lisa and her business at her website www.lisaglickman.com