The end of May has arrived much quicker than I would have ever imagined. This means a lot of things around our house. Its the beginning of Gibson’s swim season, Vacations, Birthday’s and most importantly BBQ starts to go full swing. I never really shut down in the winter but I will admit I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as being ableget some yard work done and enjoy a cold beer while Q’n some random cut of meat. Today…was one of the days I long for after coming out of the subfreezing St. Louis winter.
On the menu today was something I have never done….Spare ribs trimmed to the St. Louis Style. When you talk ribs around here I typically go for Baby Backs. The last few cooks I have been getting weird results with BB’s. This is for a couple of reasons I think. First, the crio packs that I usually buy at Costco never really contain uniform slabs. They come in packs of three and are very decent quality but they seem to always vary greatly in weight from slab to slab. This results in at least one of them being over done and dry no matter what I do. Spare ribs are the section below the baby backs and tend to be more uniform and have a little bit more fat on them to render off during the cooking process. They do take a bit more prep than baby backs but I think now they might be worht the trouble.
I had Ali pick up two packs from Diebergs as opposed to Costco out of connivence. They looked pretty darn good. They came pre trimmed with the bits and pieces neatly arranged in the pack. The one thing I do like about the Costco Baby Backs is the membrane is already removed. If you are cooking for a lot of people this is a real time saver. I can t speak of their Spares but would assume they also have the membrane pre removed.
For this cook I wanted to try separate rubs for each slab to figure out what might be the “ringer” for the season. I do like Charlie Virgo’s rub and use a variation of my own but did not have any on hand so went with the jar I picked up at Figuero’s. The other was “Blues Hog” rub that I received from my Brother In-Law for Christmas. Also I decided to only sauce one slab and chose the Blues Hog to hold the honors. Arthur Bryant’s (mostly salt) was chosen to season the trimmings. I pre rubbed the ribs about 24 hours prior to the cook.
As far as cooking….I planed to go with the “Texas Crutch” or 3-2-1 method for both slabs. This involves cooking the ribs low and slow at around 225-250F for 3 hours, Wrapping the slabs in HD foil and adding liquid (in my case 1/2 can of beer to each slab). This allows the liquid to flash to steam and really break down the connective tissues and a. Then the next step is to un-wrap and cook for an additional 1 hour to help firm up the outer skin and create some bark. That was at least the plan.
I started the cook as usual following the Minion Method to bring the cooker up to temp. Foiled the water pan and added cold water and assembled the cooker. Added the ribs using the handy rack I picked up at Cabbala’s and set the remote thermometer to keep an eye on the cooker temp. As far as smoking woods…I used a handful of Mesquite and one good chunk of Pecan wood. Notice the word “Chunk”….avoid the chipped woods in the smoker…they just burn up rather than slowly burn. Also no real need to presoak the chunks, just throw them in.
A bit on the thermometer….I found this gem on Amazon and it allows you do do a couple of things….one is monitor the cooker temp and the meat at the same time wordlessly with the included module. Second, you can set it up to alarm when the cooker drops below a given temp or when the meat is nearing a determined temp. This comes in handy for over night cooks. I recommend it for anyone running a smoker. For this cook, I only used the cooker probe to monitor the temp at the upper grid. Yea, I am that good. One thing I noticed during this cook that I had not experienced prior…the temps were much, much harder to control. The cooker wanted to run hotter than the target temp. It got to the point I shut down two vents entirely to maintain the 225-250 target temp at the upper cooking grids. The Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker has two cooking grids…one in the middle and one at the top. These two grids do have different temps while in operation…the lower grid runs cooler than the upper. This is due the water pan sits right below it acting as both a heat sink and indirect barrier as well as the convective action of the smoker itself. The upper grid runs at least 10-15 degrees warmer and the very top of the cooker dome is hotter still. I usually see another 10-15 degree increase from the upper grid to the dome. See the cutaway view Below.
Every new WSM manufactured now includes a factory installed thermometer in the dome lid. While its a great tool to indicate temp you need to do a little math if you are going to rely on it to determine what the cooking grids really are seeing. Back to the temp trouble today…..One thing that was different today than in the past was that the wind was really whipping around and for the first time we had temps over 90. In fact when I pulled the cover off to get this whole thing started, the temp gauge on the lid was already reading 130 just from sitting in the sun.
Back to the cook….at the three hour mark I pulled the slabs and foiled them. Added the Beer and put them back on. It was at this point I found the drawback of the 18.5″ Dia. Weber….In order to make them fit on the cooking grid they needed to be turned on their sides. With the ribs out of the foil this is not a problem (See Photo to left) but once they are wrapped and the liquid is added, there was the possibility of the foil ripping and spilling the liquid down the sides of the cooker and hitting the hot coals. When this happens, the coals release tons of ash into the cooker and that is never good on the food. The HD Foil really is a necessity in this case….not one pin hole or rip while manipulating them into place. Mostly luck I think. Weber also offers a 22.5″ Dia. Smoker FYI.
I sprung a little early to unwrap the goods due to the cooker running hotter than usual and during the process to my surprise the first slab I grabbed literally pulled apart with the tongs. Hmm. I ended up pulling at least two bones right out of the slab. They were done at this point for sure. They had been on the cooker for 4.5 hours at this point. Rather than running the cooker wide open to boost the temps for the finial portion of the cook I decided to fire up the kettle and put a little direct heat on them to help firm them up. Smeared some Tennessee Red Sauce on and gave it some heat to help the sugars caramelize give a little bark. This process literally took 3-4 minutes. So the 3-2-1 method really turned in to the 3-1.5-.5. If I could have stabilised the cooker at the target temp, I think the ribs would have not been so loose and would have held their shape through the whole process. Regardless, this was not competition quality it was taste I was going for.
What came off the grill can only be described as heaven. The Ribs rubbed with Blues hog and slathered with Tennessee Red Sauce were un believable. The sauce really did change flavor once the heat got to it. It melds fantastically with the rub and the pork. Literally every rib fell off the bone and so juicy words don’t due it justice. Minus a few little problems, this one was a great start to summer and most definably will be repeated again!