Independence Day. July 4th.
Known by many names, the true reason for the 4th of July is to celebrate the birth of our nation through the sacrifice of those who believed in liberty. Liberty and BBQs? That’s for the history books to decide.
While Memorial Day kicks off the official BBQ season, the 4th of July acts as a convenient addition to the series of serious eats. And that’s why I am going back to barbecued ribs; they never get old.
I know that last year I wrote about barbecuing ribs by way of a moist-heat method and I still stand by the questionable tried and true method for the beginning step in that previous recipe. But one of the first things that I was taught in the early eighties was that there was more than one way to skin a cat, and ribs to be more precise.
Among the task of making the perfect rack of ribs is the tiring task of removing the skin from the back of the ribs, not necessary but still preferable. Yet another is to go low-and-slow so as to break down the meat to its succulent and tender state. Ultimately the job of any BBQ master is to look to the end to decide the means. Every little detail matters.
As you can see in the picture, this past weekend was a free-for-all at my second and sometimes third job at Bellehaven Country Club in Alexandria, Va. With over a thousand mouths to feed, and not being interested in heat-and-serve frozen food, it was back to the drawing board to figure out the fresh vittles upon which the members would sup.
Homemade salads of many varieties were only the beginning of the long buffet set at various stations throughout the building. Freshly-baked cookies, brownies and cupcakes only accentuated the homemade touch of the fresh brisket, ribs, grilled and barbecued chicken and of course the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken breast sandwiches.
The food production simply never seemed to end, and after a couple of us 40-plus year-olds loaded and unloaded literally tons of ice, soda, beer and palettes off and on the trailer on the loading dock, it was time for a much needed rest. Much to the chagrin of the family, I was spent on the following day, but we still managed to see a wonderful fireworks display at Showell Park, now part of our annual ritual; it sure beat the Ocean City traffic suffered in years past.
But suffer as we may getting stuck in the inlet traffic, let us not forget the true meaning of this important day. Upon hearing from a dear friend that his son was responsible for saving the lives of two fellow service members this week, I was staunchly reminded of the importance of this annual celebration; not the ribs or the potato salad, but for those brave souls who are still fighting the fight for us.
Another Independence Day has passed, and I can only hope that we can all take the time to reflect on our own lives, the lives of those lost in the defense of our country and our way of life, and upon that which we can do as a community to better the lives of others.
But you still need to eat, so grill in style; grill on, America!
BBQ Baby Back Ribs
1 rack Baby Back pork ribs
3 Tbsp. Homemade dry rub (recipe follows)
½ c. BBQ sauce (recipe follows)
Rub the rack of ribs and let sit for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight
When you are ready to smoke the ribs, fire up the smoker and set to approximately 180-200F
Smoke the ribs for somewhere around five hours
At this point you can remove from the smoker and package if they are for a later date or get ready to throw them on a hot grill to finish
Now the grill should be fired up, so all you have to do is take the rack of ribs and place on your charcoal chariot
Brush the ribs on both sides with sauce and cook until the ribs are hot and tender and there is a noticeable crisp on the skin of the ribs
If you want to use your grill as a service station, simply turn the temperature down to 150-ish degrees and voila, you are ready to sit back, enjoy a cold beer and some serious ribbage!
Simple Dry Rub
2 tbsp. Paprika
1 Tbsp. Chili powder
1 Tbsp. Each, garlic and onion powder
1/4c. Dark brown sugar
1/4 c. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Ground cumin
1 Tbsp. White pepper
Combine all ingredients well and set aside in an airtight container until ready to use
1 c. Ketchup
1/4 ea. Red onion, diced
1 Tbsp. Dry ground mustard
1/4 c. Dark brown sugar and/or molasses
1/4c. or to taste Apple cider vinegar
1 Tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer
Cook until the onions are tender and then zap with a stick or immersion blender (same thing; different nomenclature)
Bring the sauce back to a simmer to check taste and consistency. If too loose, allow to reduce until thickened, watching for scorching to avoid any bitter tastes