Posted by: timscooking | June 1, 2010

Bring On the Ribs!

Memorial Day marks the official starting date for outdoor grilling here in Michigan. And while Detroit may not seem like the most likely destination for good barbeque, we have a long tradition of outdoor cooking that goes back as far as I can remember. All you need do is drive down the streets of the lower east side on any day of the week  to see a group of men sitting around a large converted 55 gallon oil drum with sweet wood smoke pouring out the stack to know that something good is happening and if you pull up to the curb, they’ll probably sell you a half slab of ribs or a half  chicken with some white bread for $5. When I was a teenager, working summers in a factory, the older guys would argue for hours about which bar had the best “Q”. The holy grail back then was the Tunnel Bar-B-Q across the river in Windsor, Ontario. More recently, Slows Bar-B-Q on this side of the river has built quite a reputation for itself. It has been featured in a number of publications and on the Travel Channel.

There are three key components to any good barbeque rib recipe, the rub, the grill, and the sauce. Most restaurants worthy of praise use a dry rub to season the meat before cooking. Again, there is much debate about this, but I’ve found that, unlike the brining method I use for poultry, ribs like dry best. Secondly, I use a gas grill. Unless you have an elaborate smoker type grill that cooks the ribs using hot smoke and indirect heat or, like those guys with the converted oil drum, you can sit and watch the ribs all day, it is much easier to regulate the temperature over a long period of time (usually 5-6 hours) needed to make ribs properly. Finally, the sauce should be applied with a light touch, almost like painting a wall rather than just slopping it on.

The Rub

There are plenty of commercial varieties available but I’ve been trying to get away from prepared foods because, if you read the ingredient list, a disproportionate amount of salt is in most of these pre-packaged spice mixes. I used a rub recipe from Alton Brown.

1 part each:

     ground coriander, cumin, chile powder, garlic powder

1/2 part each:

     toasted and ground celery seed, onion powder, dried rubbed sage, confectioners’ sugar, file’ powder

1/4 part each:

     Toasted and ground white pepper corns, toasted and ground black pepper corns, toasted and ground red pepper flakes

You can make as much or as little as you want, just keep the proportions the same. Combine all of the ingredients, store in a container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in a cool, dark place. This will last the whole summer season.

The Sauce

Again, store-bought is okay, homemade is better because you control the final product. Here’s one from Pat and Gina Neely. You can find hundreds on the internet.

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce


In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 hour 15 minutes.

1. Soak 4 cups of wood chips of your choice in water for 1/2 hour. Make four 12-inch square pieces of foil. Drain the chips and distribute evenly among the four foil squares. Bring two sides together and seal tightly, fold up the opposite sides to make small packets of chips. Poke 5 – 6 holes in the top of each packet to allow for the smoke to escape.

2. Preheat a grill to 250 degrees F. Use an oven thermometer to regulate your temp. Don’t rely on the grill thermometer, they are notoriously inaccurate. prepare the grill for indirect cooking. Turn off the burner on one side or if you have a warming rack, just turn both burners down low.

3. Spread 1 tsp. kosher salt even over a 3 lb. slab of baby back ribs. Coat the surface with a 1/2 cup of the rub. Spread evenly with your hands.

4. Place a wood chip packet on the hot side of the grill, place the ribs on the cool side or on the warming rack. Close the lid. Check the ribs every hour to see that they are not getting too well done. Add a new packet of wood chips to maintain the smoke.

5. After approximately three hours, remove the ribs and wrap tightly in foil. Return to the grill. In one hour, open the foil, check the rib meat. It should spring back when you push on it. Use a brush to baste the sauce on the ribs, close the lid.

6. In 1/2 hour, remove the ribs from the grill, let rest for 15 minutes and cut 2-3 rib portions for each person.


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