3 racks 3 rubs 3 steps 3 results
As my friend Smoker pointed out, this fires been burning a long time. It's time to get the meat in to the cooker. This is the first time I'm cooking ribs on the Weber Smokey Mountain, and it's ready. The water pan is full. The smoke is sweet blue and it's holding temperature at 242 degrees. 242 degrees? Isn't that hot? Well, yes it is, but it's still within the acceptable barbeque temperature range.
The Weber Smokey Mountain has two cooking grates and for this cook we're going to use both. On the bottom grate, I laid flat the rack of ribs that has been prepared with the Butt Rub and applesauce. On the top rack, I placed the other two racks. Now the WSM is a little small so I needed to bend the racks of ribs slightly to make them fit. I could have used a rib rack to make them fit more evenly, but I didn't. Why did I put the Butt Rub/Applesauce ribs on the bottom rack? Luck of the draw, it was the first rack I took out of the kitchen. (Thanks to the folks at Virtual Weber Bullet for the cutaway picture of the WSM)
Now, put the lid of the Weber Smokey Mountain and walk away. Yes, walk away. One of the most common mistakes in barbeque-ing is that the cook can't walk away. He has to open the lid and look. And touch. And poke. Well, as my friend Chad at the BBQ-Brethren says, "If you're looking, you're not cooking." He's right. Everytime you take the lid off a cooker, you reduce the temperature of the cooker and increase the cooking time. So go do something with your family.
About once an hour, go back and check the temperature of the cooker. If you need to raise or lower the cooking temperature adjust only the bottom vents. Never close the top vents. This goes for every cooker I've ever used. If you close the top vent, or chimney, or stack, you will choke the fire and increase the risk of soot on your food and turn the smoke bitter.
After about 2 1/2 hours, take the baby back ribs off the fire. Bring them into the kitchen and wrap them in tin foil. At this point you'll want to adjust the seasonings on your ribs. What I usually do is add some brown or turbinado sugar. You'll also want to spray or mop your ribs with some apple juice or bourbon or chicken broth or whatever liquid tickles your fancy. Seal up your ribs and put them back on the fire.
Now the picture on your right is the ribs seasoned with the Kansas City Cowtown's Sweet Spot and the picture on the left is the ribs seasoned with Bad Byron's Butt Rub. You'll notice that the ribs with Butt Rub don't look particularly cooked, with Sweet Spot's ribs have a few dark spots and look almost syrupy. That my friend is due to the sugar content of Sweet Spot. Be warned, sugar burns!
Alright I hear the growls and groans from some of you. For the rookie, let me explain. Foiling your ribs, butts, briskets, etc. is another highly controversial step in the barbeque circuit. Paul Kirk, the Baron of BBQ calls it "The Texas Crutch." John Willingham says that if you foil, you're no longer Qing, but braising. Foiling will help tenderize your meat and will speed up the cooking process. Where do I stand on this highly controversial issue? Well, it depends. I usually foil butts and briskets but rarely ribs. Today, I'm in a rush so foiling it is. On the competition circuit, in my limited experience and from personal observation only, about 95% of the teams out there foil their meat, but you need to make up your own mind. Try it both ways and see which method results in the barbecue you want.
After you put the ribs back in to the cooker and have walked away for another hour or so, it should be time to take them off. Should be you say? Yes, should be. Another important lesson about barbecue, it's not the amount of time or temperature that determines when it's done, it's tenderness. For ribs, the only tenderness test I know of is the bend. If you pick up a rack of ribs from one end, it should bend easily. When the ribs are done, you should be able to almost fold the rack of ribs in half without it breaking. At this point in the cook, they should be bending easily with a bit or resistance. How much? Well that's something I can't explain. It's something you'll have to learn on your own. Trust me, you'll break a lot of racks of ribs before you master this technique.
So if the ribs are ready, take them off the fire and back into the kitchen. Unwrap the ribs, but be sure to save any juices that have accumulated in the foil. Take those juices and combine them with your finishing sauce. Notice that I didn't call it barbecue sauce. This can be anything you want it to be; I've heard of people finishing their ribs with a coating of grape jelly. For this cook, it will be a mixture of a couple of almost empty bottles of a commercial tomato based barbeque sauces. Brush your finishing sauce on the ribs and return them to the cooker for about another hour and walk away.
After about 30 minutes, check the ribs. I like to add another layer of finishing sauce because we like our ribs sweet and sticky. After another 15 minutes, check and sauce again. You should be very close to finished at this point.
You should notice that the meat has pulled back from tips of the rib bones. Pick up each rack and see how malleable it is. If the rack breaks in half, or you can pull the bones out easily, you're ribs are over cooked but will make some damn good eating. A perfectly cooked rib, should have a little tug to the meat and only the meat bitten off should leave the bone.
So, how's you do? How'd I do? Well, the family liked all of the ribs, but the hands down favorite was...... The Kansas City Cowtown's Sweet Spot. Emeril's rub was a close second and Bad Byron's Butt Rub was a distant third. To my NY family, Bad Byron's rub is just a little too spicy and salty.