We are sooo glad that football season has finally rolled back around. Before you jump to conclusions, we are not those die hard football fans that sit around and watch football all weekend, morning, noon and night, every single game that comes on regardless of who’s playing. No, I watch my Baylor Bears (and Mrs. G has become a supporter in the last few years), Mrs. G likes to watch UT and we might watch other Big 12 games. Pro football is the Cowboys (although Mrs. G says we may need to watch the Redskins so we can continue to see RG3 play). To me it means more than just football. It’s a time to get together with old friends and hang out. Time to fire up a grill or smoker (like I ever need a reason for that ;) ). And it marks that time of year when summer is finally drawing to a close and cooler weather is on its way.
Football season officially started for me Sunday night at 5:30 when my Bears took on the SMU Mustangs. And what better way to watch it than with my cousin Eric who went to SMU? So we invited him, his girlfriend Brittany and his kids over for the game. I knew I wanted to smoke something for the game, but I didn’t want it to be an overnight affair, so I opted for ribs. Usually, we do spare ribs because there is more meat, they cost less ($2.99 vs $4.99 a lb when I checked at the store) and when done properly are every bit as tender as baby backs. But its been years since I’ve done baby back ribs, so this time I opted for them.
To prep the ribs, the first thing you want to do is remove the membrane from the bone side. I won’t go into that as there are plenty of videos on the net on how to do that. Next, slather the ribs with a thin coat of mustard. This allows the rub to stick to the ribs and helps form a better crust on them. Don’t worry, after 5 hours on the smoker, you won’t be able to taste the mustard at all. Then liberally apply a rub of your choice. I was planning on using Dizzy Pig’s Dizzy Dust on mine, but when it came down to applying it, I realized I was almost out. With no time to get more, I improvised and mixed 2 parts DP, 2 parts Stubb Rub and 1 part Fiesta Rib Rub (What can I say? I’m trying to use up all my store bought rubs so I can start blending my own again).
I set up my Big Green Egg to smoke them at 250F using a blend of hickory chips and apple wood chips for the smoke.
After a couple of hours, I threw on some Atomic Buffalo Turds as an appetizer. You’ll notice some of them are lacking bacon. Did I mention that my cousin is a vegetarian? Pescatarian? Whatever. Those are for him and his daughter.
When reading about how to smoke baby back ribs, you will often come across the 2-2-1 method (for spares its 3-2-1). What this means is that you smoke the ribs at 250F for 2 hours. After that time, you wrap them in foil, often with some type of liquid and maybe some butter) and throw them back on the smoker for another 2 hours. This allows them to braise and become more tender). For the final hour, unwrap the ribs, maybe apply a bit more rub and throw them back on the smoker (without the foil). This final hour allows the bark on the ribs to firm up a bit as it usually softens up during the braising process. I’ve never had good results with either of these two methods. Sure, they work if you like falling off the bone, mushy ribs with no texture whatsoever. This is a sign that you have overcooked your ribs and contrary to what the restaurant Chili’s wants you to believe, are not good ribs. I don’t like that. I like my ribs to have a bit of pull to them when you take a bite. There should be just a bit of tug to them when you bite them.
So to get the results I was looking for, I modified it just a tad. I cooked them naked (straight on the smoker) for 2.5 hours. I then wrapped them in foil with just a bit of beer and a tbsp or two of butter and threw them back on the grill for a half an hour. I then unwrapped the ribs, threw them back on the smoker and sprinkled just a hint of rub on them. I wasn’t sure exactly how long they would take to cook with this modified method, so I kept an eye on them. I use the “bend test” to tell when my ribs are done. Take a pair of tongs and lift up your ribs by the end. If they bend in the middle and the meat on the surface begins to crack, they are done. Mine passed the bend test at 4.5 hours (half an hour quicker than the 2-2-1 test that always resulted in over done ribs for me).
I am not going to debate with you about whether to sauce your ribs or not. Some people like saucy ribs, some don’t. It’s a personal opinion and I’m not going to be able to change your mind (although I think you should try them dry just once, with sauce on the side). So if you like sauce, you may sauce them towards the end, usually the last 30 minutes of so, as the sugar in the sauce can burn. Me? I like to provide sauce on the side and allow the guests to choose whether they want it or not and which one they would like. I provided a BBQ sauce that my aunt used to make and sell at her restaurant in Storey, Wyoming, Meyers Spicy BBQ sauce, Stubb’s BBQ sauce and Salt Lick’s Spicy recipe (that’s what was opened in the fridge. Can you believe we had 4 open bottle of bbq sauce in the fridge? I may need an intervention.)
I like to slice my ribs into two bone sections before serving. No real reason, although I guess it does give better portion control. You’ll notice they didn’t get much of a smoke ring. I’m still scratching my head about that one. They got plenty of smoke and had a nice smoke flavor, so not sure what happened there. I think the hickory and apple wood were a nice combination. I thought the apple by itself might not be strong enough, hence my reasoning behind adding some hickory. Texture-wise, I think they were spot on. By shortening the time braising time in the foil, it ensured that the ribs were not over cooked and mushy and that they had a bit of pull, yet still pulled cleanly off the bone with teeth. I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor from the rub. The combination of the three added some depth and complexity that each rub did not have by itself and reaffirmed my decision to start using up all my rubs so I can start experimenting on blending my own again. I am so glad that football season is here, if for no other reason than just to have an excuse to fire up the Egg. Now if it would just hurry up and cool down a bit…..
I felt sorry for the dogs as they watched us gnawing on the bones, so after dinner, I retrieved some steak bones from the refrigerator and let them go to town. Always funny to see a tiny dog with a huge bone in his mouth.