Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Northern Ribs

Slowly but surely, I'm trying to get better at smoking meat on my Brinkmann water smoker.  It's a pleasant challenge because so many different things will affect the final product.  While the prevailing wisdom around here is to smoke food with hickory wood, the Internet told me that Yankees prefer oak.  Since some of my best Internet friends are from up there, I decided to try it.

A freshly sharpened, antique blade of very few carbide teeth on the RAS made short work of creating chunks of white oak for the effort.

Up till now, ribs have been problematic because they fit a Brinkmann smoker poorly.  Fortunately there's Facebook - Candy, one of my friends from way back, posted a picture of a  simple concept that had eluded me until now - wrap the ribs with cotton string in a circle.

Between my latest sugar-based dry rub, and Candy's technique the ribs were outstanding.

Can't wait to smoke ribs with the right wood - I may just hit the competition circuit!



  1. so, reading between the lines...
    You did not like the oak. Oak is what is used in Texas. Everyone thinks it is mesquite, and sometimes it is, but oak is what is used most. Here in the mid Atlantic I use oak for beef, apple for pork, and cherry for poultry. Personally I prefer oak over hickory since the hickory tends to over power the meat with smoke taste.
    Use what you like and work with that.
    You used the water smoker for the entire cook...
    I smoke the meat for a good while, then wrap it in aluminum foil and put in a 200 degree oven for a couple hours. The baking tends to make the meat moister in the end. It also melts all the connective tissues making them fall apart in your mouth.
    Now for those rolled ribs, I think the fat would shed off instead of basting the pork in all it's goodness. Have you thought of cutting the slab to portion sizes? Two, three ribs per portion, then BBQ the portion instead of the entire slab...
    Tom, I always enjoy reading your posts! Keep up the great work.

  2. Frank knows his Texas Q. We use primarily oak here. I like using hickory (aka pecan) but usually mix it with oak,as oak is more plentiful and less costly.

    I never use mesquite for indirect cooking, it burns too hot, too fast, and can overpower the meat. But often use it for direct grilling when burned down to coals (which isn't BBQing, of course). :)

    For ribs, Frank is basically describing the 3-2-1 method. That's 3 hours on the smoke (at 225 or as close as possible), 2 hours in the oven wrapped in foil (again at 225 or so), and then 1 hour back on the smoke, with the foil unwrapped.

    The 3 hours on the smoke is both for cooking and for flavor, the 2 hours in the foil is for gentle steaming which makes them truly fall-off-the-bone, and the last hour on the smoke is to firm them up a bit because tender meat is good, but rib bones that pull out of the meat when you're trying to eat them are not so good.

    Personally, I dial back that last "1" part of 3-2-1, and make it more like 20 or 30 minutes. I also do it in the oven because I've usually killed the BBQ pit fire by then, unless I'm also smoking some sausage or yardbird or something. But simply opening up those foil-wrapped ribs in the oven for 20-30 minutes firms them up so that you can pick up the bone, but the meat is still juicy and tender and delicious.

    Anyway, as always, thanks for the post, always enjoy seeing what you're up to!


  3. Thanks, guys! I really appreciate your insights. it's great to hear from "both of youse" on using oak.

    Part of my goal was based on what I have seen on the TV show "BBQ Pitmasters" on cable TV. It appears that their judges do NOT want 'melt in your mouth' ribs; they APPEAR to want a LITTLE pull to get the meat off the bone, but not much.

    Am I just really off base with my current mind set about rib doneness?


  4. Here's some thoughts as to smoke and ribs and such.

    First, different woods have different flavor characteristics to the smoke. I often use mesquite for smoking (not for cooking) because it has a distinctly "spicy" character to the smoke. Hickory is mellow. Maple smoke is sweet and deep. My favorite is apple or citrus, both of which smoke up with subtle flavors (like hickory) but with a deep sweetness (like maple.) I encourage you to try different woods to see what you like best.

    I'm not a big fan of oak. Personally, I find that oak smoke tastes astringent, or like I burned an old shipping pallet. And I tried smoking over "whiskey barrel chips" one time. What a mistake - it was like smoking over a garbage fire.

    As for rib doneness: I like my ribs to be tender, but not falling apart. (If I wanted a pot roast, I wouldn't be making ribs.) So I hold them over the smoke at about 225 F or so until the meat is just starting to pull back from the tips of the bones. After that, they get transferred to a real slow oven in a large covered roasting pan until fork-tender - but NOT fall-off-the-bone or "melt in your mouth" tender. That's too much; I want the ribs that pull off the bone but not fall apart. The last step is to briefly crisp them up over a hot charcoal fire. I'll often baste them with the BBQ sauce for the last couple of minutes, not enough to burn or char the sauce, but enough to cook it on and let the heat evaporate some of the excess wet out of it. Hmm. My method isn't that far off from Marcus'.

    I used a Brinkman like yours for a long time. I had the one with the long tall smoking chamber. You can smoke quite a large amount of ribs in there using this trick: Hang whole racks of ribs like curtains from hooks. Dangle them from the underside of the top rack. I'll leave you to work out the details, but it works great.

    1. I hope Dave reads this(sorry to highjack Tom)
      Dave, please amp your blog back up.I LOVE IT!

  5. Thanks, Dave - I know I would have tried "whiskey barrel chips" had you not posted your observation.

    BTW, I tried hanging the ribs from a modified top rack a few times. Maybe the ribs I was smoking should have been smaller because the ones I tried to fit were just more trouble than it was worth.

    Maybe I should re-visit.