Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some great pointers on Cooking Ribs

I came across these great pointers on a website www.chefs.com on the subject of cooking ribs.

by Steven Raichlen
From Raichlen on Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs

Ribs are easy to cook, but there's more to the process than simply throwing them on the grill. A proper rack needs to be trimmed and peeled, seasoned or marinated, and mopped and sauced at the right intervals. You also have to know when they're done. Here's an eight-point game plan.

Trim the ribs
Chances are, if you buy pork baby backs or beef ribs at the supermarket, they'll come already trimmed. If you see any large lumps of fat, sinews, or loose pieces of bone, cut them off with a paring knife.

Spareribs, on the other hand, often come with the rib tips (cartilaginous ends) and point (a triangle of small bones and sinewy meat at the loin end of the rack) attached. Using a sharp knife and following the line of fat at the base of the ribs, cut off the rib tips. Then cut off the pointed end of the rack of ribs. This will give the rack a neat, rectangular appearance (the point and the rib tips can be cooked separately). And, if the rack has one, remove the tough flap of meat (the skirt or flap) from the bone side. You can use it to flavor baked beans or for making stock. The more evenly you shape the rectangle of the rack, the more evenly the ribs will cook.

Remove the membrane
Most racks of ribs come with a papery membrane on the bone side. I recommend removing this for a couple of reasons. It impedes the absorption of spice and smoke flavors, and it's tougher than the rest of the rib meat. Two good tools to help you get under the membrane so you can pull it off are a butter knife or the tip of a meat thermometer. You'll find detailed instructions for removing the membrane in each recipe.

Season the ribs with a rub or marinade
You can cook ribs seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. Most pit masters opt for the more complex flavors of a full-blown rub or marinade. Rubs are blends of spices, herbs, and often salt. You sprinkle one over the ribs, then rub it onto the meat, which is why it's called a rub. Rubs can be applied right before cooking, in which case, they act like a seasoned salt. Or they can be applied four to six hours—or even a half day—ahead, in which case, the rub cures the meat in addition to seasoning it. Throughout the book, you'll find many recipes for rubs

A marinade is a wet seasoning, comprised of flavorful liquids, like wine, soy sauce, fruit juice, or olive oil, to name a few, plus spices and aromatic vegetables, like garlic, ginger, or chiles. Marinades are often used to make Asian-style ribs, but they're also frequently used by pit masters in North America. I like disposable heavy aluminum foil drip pans or large resealable plastic bags for marinating.

Always keep meats in the refrigerator as they marinate. Avoid reactive metal containers—unlined aluminum, for example, or cast iron—for marinating, especially with such acidic ingredients as tomatoes, citrus juice, or vinegar. And, never reuse a marinade that's been in contact with raw meat as a baste or as a sauce unless you boil it briskly for three minutes to kill any bacteria. Strain the boiled marinade before using.

A wet rub features the best of both; it's a seasoning paste that's thicker than a normal marinade and wetter than a rub.

Use a rib rack
Only two racks of ribs will fit flat on most kettle grills, but there's an easy way to double the capacity (and the number of people you can feed): Cook the ribs upright in a rib rack.

Mop the ribs
Direct and indirect grilling and smoking are inherently dry cooking methods. One option for keeping ribs moist is to mop them with a mop sauce. Mop sauces contain little or no sugar, so you can apply them throughout the cooking process without them burning. Use a barbecue mop or basting brush for applying mop sauces. Or, you can pour the mop sauce into a spray bottle and squirt it on the ribs.

Wrap the ribs, if necessary
Depending on the size and weight of the ribs, the heat of your grill, and the intensity of the smoke, among other factors, ribs may start to dry out before they've reached the optimal tenderness. Don't worry if this happens—there's an easy solution: Wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and continue grilling. Wrapping seals in moisture because the steam captured will help tenderize the ribs. Be careful when you unwrap the ribs; the escaping steam can burn your fingers.

Sauce the ribs—or not
Purists will argue that a great rib doesn't need sauce. Nonetheless, most people prefer their ribs with at least a light basting of barbecue sauce. What I often do is grill the ribs indirectly until they reach the desired tenderness, then lightly baste them with sauce and move them directly over the fire to sizzle the sauce into the meat. The idea is to use the sauce as a sort of light varnish for the ribs, rather than a thick gloppy coating that camouflages the meat.

Learn to recognize when the ribs are cooked
The two keys to master grillmanship are learning to control the fire (and consequently the heat) and to tell when the ribs are done. We use a three-part doneness test at Barbecue University. Here's what to look for:

A. An exterior that's darkly browned and crusty.

B. Meat that has shrunk back about 1/4 inch from the ends of the bones (or a little more on large beef ribs). I call this a rib's built-in "pop-up thermometer."

C. Meat that's tender enough to tear apart with your fingers. Remember, a rib should have some chew to it.

In addition, if you're smoking ribs, when you cut into one you'll see a layer of reddish pink just beneath the surface. This is called the smoke ring, and it occurs naturally when you expose meat to wood smoke for an extended period of time. I call it the "red badge of honor" of barbecue: If your ribs have one, you've done them right. Display the smoke ring proudly to your guests, taking full advantage of your bragging rights.

The next time you intend cooking ribs - remember to apply the above pointers !

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