Project Wonderful

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

So I decided to pick up smoking.

I've been kicking around the idea of trying my hand at smoking meat, so the other day I picked up a slightly used smoker on Craigslist for 15 bucks. I've been reading up, doing some research and it looks like the particular smoker I just picked up is plagued with problems in its design. There are a bunch of simple modifications you can do to make it a kick butt smoker,  but in the meantime, there was a this smoker: Just sitting there on my deck; Not being used. 

So I proclaimed in my best manly voice, "Damn the mods, we will smoke TODAY!" I then kissed my confused girlfriend, hopped on my motorcycle and sped off to "harvest" 3 lbs of St. Louis cut pork ribs.

Beef ribs give you that classic Fred Flintstone, caveman look, but they just cant compete with the juicy tender awesomeness of properly cooked pork ribs. And I figured this was a fairly straightforward way to test out the smoker. Even a failure would still be pretty tasty.

Now, the schools of thought about smoking meat are as varied as the snowflakes I never get to see. If you ask 100 different people, you're going to get 100 different answers for what they think is the best. The recipe I used here comes from BBQ Pit Boys and turned out to be a really nice way to cook the ribs: Sweet, a little tangy, a hint of some spice, but not overpowering. Its a winner.

The key thing to remember here is timing. The ribs are going to cook for about 4 hours, but it takes two hours of marinating the meat before that, so if you're planning this for dinner, you need to factor that time in. Points are usually not awarded for dinner after 11:30pm.

First we start with meat.

This cut of ribs is officially listed by the USDA as "Pork Ribs, St. Louis Style." They are categorized this way because a guy named Steve Olson - whose job it was at the USDA to draft the name for this particular cut of meat - was a Cardinal's fan. True story. 

This is about 3lbs of St. Louis style pork ribs. This style removes the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips, leaving an almost rectangular section of ribs. 

To prepare the ribs you have to remove that tough layer of membrane on the inside section of the ribs. Some people argue that this membrane is beneficial to holding the meat together as it cooks. Some say the membrane should be removed because it prevents the rub from getting into the meat. My reason: its a hunk of gristle I'd rather not spend time chewing. So I remove it. I get a butter knife under it and pry up a corner. then  grab a hold of it with some paper towels and pull up. The membrane should tear away in one piece. 
Its a little hard to remove the rib membrane and take a picture of the process at the same time. Just thought I'd mention that. 

Aye, there's the rub. This is a super simple recipe that delivers some wonderful flavor to the pork:

1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of paprika
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs salt
1 tbs chili powder
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs onion powder
2 tbs ground cumin

Sprinkle the mixture on the meat and rub it into every nook and cranny. Dont forget the sides!

Pop this seasoned bad boy in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to marinate. 

Soak the wood chips in water while the meat is marinating. When you sprinkle this on the hot coals, the wet wood will smoke instead of burn. I decided for apple wood this time around. Also, I recommend wood CHUNKS over wood chips as it produces more smoke over a longer period of time. But since this was a test smoke, we were just experimenting. 

Here's she is in all her glory.  This design uses a pan of water hung over the coals which helps regulate the temperature inside the smoker. The problem with this design is that there is minimal air flow to the coals, and the way the fire box is designed the ashes block the little air vents underneath the smoker and end up snuffing out the coals. Still, I was able to get an 8lb bag of charcoal to last about 3 hours at my desired smoker temperature of  220-240 deg.

On the smoke. The ribs are placed on the grills and away we go.

I made a mop sauce of 1:1 apple cider and apple cider vinegar, then a tablespoon of yellow mustard. Ever hour I basted the meat by mopping on this solution to keep things hydrated. It also imparted a wonderful flavor to the meat itself. The rub was a sweet outer crust and the meat was a slightly tangy apple flavor. 

Oh yes, they were pretty freakin awesome.

After 3.5 hours, the ribs were ready to come off.  Wrap em in tin foil and let them rest for at least 10 minutes.

In hindsight, I recommend that you flip the ribs and mop the meat every hour. Dont lift the lid at any time before that. Use the old adage: "Lookin aint cookin!"

I didn't manage to take a photo of the ribs nicely assembled on a plate with a little dash of sauce and the vegetables and fork and napkin. Strangely enough, I was overcome by a feeding frenzy that had been building for 4 hours.


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