Pork ribs are one of the most popular menu items at any barbecue restaurant. They're sticky, sweet, full of flavour and best of all they need to be eaten with your hands! The catch is that most of that sweet and stickiness comes from a generous lashing of barbecue sauce and sugar. Unlike a beef rib which is rich and packed full of flavour pork ribs need a little flavour boost. There are three main cuts of pork ribs being spare ribs, baby backs and the St. louis cut. They all vary in shape and length but similar principles apply when cooking them.
One trick to pork ribs is knowing when to pull them off the grill. The meat shouldn't fall off the bone, it should pull away from the bone with some resistance when you bite the flesh. Unfortunately with pork rib meat being thin a digital thermometer won't necessarily give you an accurate reading so you have to rely on feel. It's something that takes a bit of practice but keep at it, the results are worth it not only for ribs but for all the low and slow cuts.
Depending on how much you trim the ribs you will usually have one or two smaller ribs at one end. I like to use that end rib as a guide to how well the other thicker ribs are cooked. If you give that end rib a wiggle and it pulls away from the rest of the rack with a small amount of force then the thicker ribs should be about spot on. Again, this feel takes time but practice makes perfect. Another more popular method is the bend test which suggests that the ribs are done if you pick up one end of the ribs, the rack bends and the meat cracks on the surface. Again, not a black and white technique and one that takes time to get your head around.
The other trick to pork ribs is whether to wrap them, then unwrap them and keep cooking, what to add to the ribs when wrapped or to ignore wrapping and cook them straight through. A popular method, particularly in the US, is the 3-2-1 method. The idea being to cook the ribs for 3 hours, wrap for 2 with sauce/sugar/honey then unwrap and cook for a further hour. Here in Australia typically our ribs aren't as thick so cooking pork ribs for 6 hours will over do them.
For me I prefer to cook them straight through, adding a light basting of sauce about an hour before taking off the grill so it has a chance to glaze up. I don't see a great benefit in the wrapping method. I'm also not a fan of too much sauce and sweetness so the idea of wrapping the ribs with sugar, honey and a sweet sauce doesn't appeal. As with all things barbecue, and cooking in general, it's all about experimentation and finding what works best for you.
The spicy SmokeyQ Chipotle Rub blends salty and sweet with the earthy flavours of coriander and cumin. The heat kick comes from the chipotle chilli powder, chilli flakes and paprika. It also works wonders on all pork cuts as well as chicken. Brushing the ribs with a thin layer of mayonnaise will help the rub stick to the ribs better than oil and will produce a more flavoursome Maillard reaction.
- Remove the silvery membrane off the underside of the ribs. This will not breakdown during cooking and will become tough and chewy. Check out Meathead Goldwyn's article on how to remove it here.
- Fire up your smoker and aim for 250f/120c-275f/135c.
- Lightly brush the ribs with mayonnaise or olive oil and rub the racks with the chipotle rub and put them in the smoker along with a couple of chunks of your chosen wood.
- Cook until a nice bark appears with a dark red brown colouration, 2 to 3 hours. Baste the ribs with a mix of BBQ sauce and Burnt Bees (4:1 ratio).
- Cook until done and serve with plenty of napkins!
Photos and recipe by Messy Benches. Visit www.messybenches.com