Slow and Low is the Way to Go
I was in a local fast food restaurant the other day, picking up a coffee before a mini road trip to Saskatoon, and stood behind a man who could best be described as ‘impatient’ (a ‘total jerk’ could also work). He was berating the poor person at the counter because he had to wait five minutes for his food. He must be a pretty important person, with a jam-packed schedule and a team of people depending on him, because this five-minute wait simply was unacceptable, and he was letting the cashier know it.
“I thought this was fast food!” he bellowed at the end of his expletive-filled rant.
Beyond his obvious rudeness and the fact that someone must have urinated in his corn flakes that morning, I was most offended at this comment. Five minutes for a meal isn’t fast? Seriously? Have we become so conditioned to get everything as soon as we want it that waiting beyond ‘right now’ is unacceptable? And do you really want to eat something that is pretty much hot and ready to go the moment you think of it? It got me thinking – sure, fast food is convenient and there’s a place for it (road trips, running late and 3am, post-bar greasy meals to name a few), but what about the flavour that can only be coaxed out of food by taking your time?
It was time to smoke some ribs.
Don’t have a smoker? Don’t worry – with a little online research and some guessing and testing, you can easily convert your gas grill into a smoker.
I was looking forward to a day outside with the grill, but the real work starts the night before, preparing the ribs and the “mop sauce”.
The mop sauce is a magical elixir of flavour you apply to the ribs throughout the smoking process to keep them tender and tasty. I have tried a few different sauces, but this recipe on Drick’s Rambling Café is the best I’ve found so far:
Drick Perry’s Mop Sauce
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup brown sugar -firmly packed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
I also add a half bottle of dark stout.
Combine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir and put on a low simmer for 15 minutes. I put it the fridge to cool, then filled a food-safe spray bottle for easy application and sprayed the ribs every 45 minutes. Word of warning – be sure your spray bottle can handle the spices without getting clogged.
Next you need to prep the ribs. That means trimming the excess fat and removing the membrane that runs along the back of the ribs – this will ensure the rub and the smoke and smoke flavor get through. Simply slip your knife under the membrane to make a hole, slip in your fingers and peel off.
When the membrane is removed it’s time for the mustard massage. Cheap, prepared yellow mustard helps your rub stick to the ribs, forms a nice bark and all the mustard flavour goes away when smoked. Next apply the rub – you can buy prepared rubs and rub seasonings but you can make your own easily – all you need is some brown sugar and your favourites from the spice rack. I have made my own recipe through guessing and testing below:
2 cups firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 cup packed best brown sugar (darker)
2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon black pepper
Combine ingredients and rub into the ribs, cover ribs and refrigerate over night.
The next day I set up the BBQ. Smoking on a gas grill is all about low, constant and indirect heat. Only one burner is turned on, under the wood, creating the smoke. Under the meat place a tin lasagna pan filled with apple juice to keep the meat moist. You can pick up wood chips at any hardware store. I prefer sugar maple for pork. Soak the wood chips in apple juice and put them in foil packs with a few holes poked in them. Place them on the grill and get the temperature up to 250 degrees. That is your temperature sweet spot and you should keep it there throughout the smoking process.
Once the temperature is steady place your ribs on the grill (not under the lit burner, remember) close the lid and keep an eye on the temperature. If you can, only check your ribs every 45 minutes, when mopping with the sauce you made. Remember, you you’re looking, you ain’t cooking. It usually takes about 4 – 5 hours, but the longer you smoke them, the more the flavours develop.
The best thing about smoking ribs is that you can take a relatively inexpensive cut of meat and turn it into something amazing. And it’s a great excuse to stay in the backyard all afternoon, radio on and beer in hand, ‘working on the ribs’. It’s nice work if you can get it.
Once smoked, let them rest for 10 minutes, cut them up and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Trust me, you’ve never had a sweeter fruit. So take my advice: enjoy the great weather this spring and take a detour of the fast food freeway. Go slow and see what you’ve been missing in the fast lane.