Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rib Rub

I'm Southern, and we love our pigs. In fact, there's a little joke about it:

Q: What parts of the pig are edible?
A: Everything but the squeal!

We even have a grocery store chain named after pigs, and I am the proud owner of two Piggly Wiggly T-shirts. Some people even believe that bacon is a vegetable. Well, not really, but add a little bacon/salt pork/fat back to your next pot of beans, greens, or cabbage, and you're well on the way to some tasty vittles. Also, real barbecue is made of pigs. I'm sure to get some flak for that one, but it is fact. Beef doesn't have the same fall-apart-goodness that pork has. FACT.

About a year ago, Darren decided that he wanted some ribs, and as a die-hard Southern (who happens to have lived in several regions of the country at this point), I assure you that you cannot get good Southern barbecue in Southern California. In the two years we lived there, we tried chains and local places, including Jay Bee's, a joint that was featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Don't get me wrong, Jay Bee's sauce tasted really good, but the meat didn't have that fall-apart-goodness that I was craving. The closest we found was at the Mississippi Picnic in LA, which is an annual event that occurs in September, so we decided we would have to make our own. I had never cooked ribs before, so I looked to the internet for some guidance.

The original recipe I started with was courtesy of Jamie and Bobby DeenPaula Deen's boys. I thought they couldn't steer me wrong because I trusted in their Southernness, but I thought their rub had entirely too much cumin and not enough heat or depth. I have come to the conclusion that BBQ is a deeply personal thing. One day, I hope to ask Lewis Grizzard about it in heaven. He knows that it's a sin to serve sorry barbecue.

Over the last year, I have combined bits and pieces of many other people's rub recipes and come up with something that Darren and I both enjoy, and a cooking method that makes the ribs super tender. The primary secret to making good BBQ is low and slow. If you need some elaboration on that, cook your BBQ very slowly at a low temperature.

I will share my recipe with you, but I urge you, with all of my BBQ-loving heart, to take it and make it your own. And to share the fruits of your labor with family and friends. That's what BBQ (and food in general) is all about to Southerners, food brings families together.

My rub has brown sugar, salt, pepper, chili powders, cayenne, lemon zest, and some other stuff. Gather up all of your ingredients, a set of measuring spoons, and a 1/3 c. measuring cup.
I like to mix all of my ingredients in a plastic bag so I can knead it to evenly mix the spices.
 Then I shake, mash, pinch, knead, etc. to mix everything together. Make sure you break up any clumps of brown sugar or lemon zest.

I think this could be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two, but I always use it the day I make it. For ribs, I normally use baby backs, because that is what is easy to find in our local store, but today, I am using spare ribs.

I rinse the ribs in cold water, remove the membrane from the back side, and trim away any big chunks of fat. Then I pat them dry with paper towels.
Next I score the meat and sprinkle on some liquid smoke, from a couple of teaspoons to a couple of tablespoons, depending on the size of the ribs.
This slab of ribs was gigantic, so I also cut it into two pieces. And laid each piece on a double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Then I put a handful of rub on each piece and smeared it around, adding more as necessary.

It already smells really good! I also put some rub on the backsides, because I had plenty to use. Then I wrapped them up in their foil packets and placed each on a foil lined baking sheet. Let them stand for 2 hours or more before cooking. If they will be standing for more than 2 hours, place them in the refrigerator.
I tend to err on the side of caution with foil when making ribs, because the sticky, gooey rub is not easy to clean up, especially not once it mixes with the meat juices and fat. Save yourself some time and energy, and cover the baking sheets with foil. The packets almost always end up leaking.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the ribs in the oven and set the timer for 5 or 6 hours depending on the size/thickness of the ribs. I suggest 6 hours for a large slab like this. At this point, open a packet and check the temperature with a meat thermometer. It should read around 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Put them back for additional time, if needed.

If the ribs are done, open the packets and fold back the foil, and put the ribs back in the oven for 20-30 minutes. This will help them form a nice crust on the outside.

Remove the ribs from the oven, and let them stand about 10 minutes before cutting into portions and serving.
Now go make some barbecue, and bring your family and friends together.

Also, if you are traveling through the South/Midwest, here are some BBQ places that I am either a fan of or would like to try and become a fan of: Country's BBQ in AL, Little Dooey in MS, Ubon's in MS, Pappy's Smokehouse in MO, Sprayberry's in GA, The Rendezvous in TN, and Leatha's in MS. According to Lewis Grizzard, when you walk into a BBQ joint, the more the people look alike, the better the BBQ will be. I'd hazard that family tradition just might have something to do with good food. ;)

I'm sure there are dozens of other places, especially those that are of the hole-in-the-wall variety that have mastered the art of BBQ. Let me know if you have a suggestion of where to get the best BBQ in your area. Maybe one day, I'll go on a pig tour.


  1. There is nothing like good pork ribs. They are more money than I like to spend so I rarely get them. Plus, I live in California. Yeah.

    I did try to make ribs once myself in the slow-cooker. They came out okay, but nothing like the experience I was going for.

  2. I think actually smoking them is really important, but liquid smoke does okay. I probably won't change my rub anymore, but I will probably experiment with other cooking methods.