Thursday, May 26, 2011

Gas or Charcoal Pits

Okay, so whats best for BBQ cooking, gas or charcoal. Hands down charcoal with wood, such as mesquite, oak, pecan, hickory or other varieties, whatever your taste buds demand. Using gas is not really BBQ in my opinion. There is nothing like cooking ribs, pork butts or brisket over wood and charcoal. The flavor gained from longer cooking periods far outweighs the speed of cooking with gas. Gas grills are okay, if you are doing hamburgers, hot dogs and things that don't require much preparation, but if you want flavor, wood and charcoal is the way to go.
How to BBQ Baby Back Ribs
I have been around BBQ all of my life. My dad was a Sunday BBQ man so the smell and aromas that permeated our yard and house were embedded in me early. The smell of hickory and mesquite smoke is irresistible and sure is to get you some new “friends”. I also had a small BBQ catering business in SW Florida so I have big pit practical experience as well.
Over the years I have experimented with different methods of BBQ ribs. In my early day’s pork spare ribs were mostly what I cooked. I never even heard of baby backs until about 20 years ago, but I didn’t start cooking them until the mid 90’s. If you prepare the ribs properly and know how to use a pit, then they can’t be beat. I have developed my own dry rub for this as well. I can cook them on small back yard pits and large competition style cookers as well. Knowledge of how a pit cooks is important. The right combinations of heat and smoke will impart “fall off the bone” performance ribs almost every time. I can use direct heat and indirect heat, but I like indirect the best. Indirect is when your pit has an offset smoker where you’re charcoal and wood go and where the fire is not directly below your meat. I use Kingsford Charcoal and Kingsford charcoal lighter fluid. I have read many articles that teach people not to use charcoal lighter fluid because it will impart lighter fluid flavor to the meat. This can be true if you don’t let the fluid burn off completely and this is done when the charcoal has turned gray, so be patient.
The Ribs
I usually buy baby back ribs from chain discount stores like BJ’s, Costco’s, Sam’s or Wal-Mart. BJ’s usually has the best selection in my opinion and the best pricing. They usually are packed 3 sides together. A side will usually feed 2-3 people on the average unless you are a hearty eater. So if you are planning a cookout you can figure 2 -3 people per side of ribs depending on mix of people, children, men, and women. Most outdoor BBQ’s come with side dishes that include potato salad, corn on the cob, baked beans, and Texas toast if you come from where I am so this calculation is fairly accurate.
Preparation is the key that unlocks the ultimate door of the finished product. I like to prepare mine and refrigerate overnight for the next day’s cooking. I have developed my own dry rub through time and testing. Although I use a dry rub, it turns to a really nice “mucky rub” after refrigeration. This is due to the olive oil that I coat my ribs with before I apply the rub which is a mixture of various dry ingredients. Once you have applied your rub to the ribs, put in a glass casserole dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. If you don’t have the proper dish, you can just wrap the ribs tightly in aluminum foil and then place on a cookie sheet to catch any rub that drips out while in the refrigerator. This is where mucky comes in. The combination of the olive oil and dry rub will create a paste or a slather. This paste when cooked will create a bark on the meat that is primo delicious.
The Pit
The pit to the pit master is what a hammer is to a nail. You must know your pit. For the purposes of this writing, we will use a Weber charcoal grill. Although the Weber does not have an offset smoker we can use it anyway. Make a pile of briquettes to one side, using approximately 30-35 briquettes. Soak the briquettes thoroughly and liberally. Replace the grill and wait about a minute and light. Let the coals turn gray and then remove the grill add your smoking wood of choice on top and replace grill. The reason I leave the grill on why the fire gets to cooking stage is that when I put the meat it will sear the meat, helping lock in more flavors. Take the meat out of the refrigerator and lay it meat side up on the opposite side of the fire and put the top back on the pit, open the bottom draft all the way and close the top draft about ½ ways. You may have to adjust drafts periodically.
Now the essence of Texas BBQ is low and slow. However, in this example, I use a faster technique which requires a bit more watching than an offset smoker where your ideal temperature is around 225-250 degrees. With the method I’m explaining with the Weber, the heat will be around 350. This will reduce the cooking time approximately in half from 6-7 hours to 3 hours as opposed to cooking at 225-250. If you do this correctly you will get the same product in half the time. This takes practice and you will need to check the progress periodically since this is on a smaller pit at higher temps.
It is not necessary to flip the ribs. The combination of smoke and heat and open drafts circulates them both adequately to all sides. DON’T add any BBQ sauce (if you want any at all) until the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. If you do this too early the sauce will burn as most are heavy in sugar.
The Finished Product
How do you know when the ribs are done? There are 2 basic methods. When the meat draws down on the bone about ¼ to ½ inch or when you pick up one end of the side with your tongs and it bends and breaks in half, you’re there. Of course you will have to try it to know it but these are the basics to get you started- MAY THE Q BE WITH YOU!
My old friend Bob Wilburn in Baton Rouge, La reminded me that I left out one important element- The BEER- Of course who ever heard of BBQ without beer, I’m getting old in my old age! Thanks Bob—BTW, anytime I’m passing through Baton Rouge, I have a suite at Bob & Monette’s home his wife, called the Riley Suite- quite the Life of Riley! Leave the light on--
Posted by Je

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