This is kind of a few instructables in one. How to slow cook and smoke ribs, how to build a heat shield / smoke box, and how to do a sauce bar.
This idea all started from cooking food for our extended family. Mom in Law can't have anything spicier than a tomato, Wife likes it hot enough that most people can't stand within 3 ft of her without breaking into a sweat. Everyone else is somewhere in between.
The solution to keep everyone happy when cooking wings or ribs is to cook them naked (sans sauce) and set up a sauce bar.
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Step 1: Setting Up the BBQ
For ribs you should only slow cook them. Plan ahead and don't rush it. Those people who say to microwave or boil the ribs first to make them more tender just have never had the patience to slow cook them. Done properly, the meat is tender and delicious.
The trick to slow cooking is to use indirect heat- IE: the food is never over a flame. You use the BBQ like an oven. If you have a BBQ with multiple burners, put one burner on and put the food on the other side. The difference between a BBQ oven and an electric oven is that electric heat dries food out. Food cooked with propane, natural gas or charcoal will not dry out; It stays super juicy.
I have made a heat shield/ wood chip box. This gives me more area on the grill to use with the indirect heat you need with slow cooking. With this I have fit in huge prime ribs and even christmas turkeys. The flames from the one burner that is turned on are directed up through the heat shield, through the smoker box and up one side of the BBQ. There is no point in including any blueprints or templates as each BBQ will be a slightly different shape. I made my shield with stainless steel and it can be done with nothing more than a drill and an angle grinder with a cut off disk. Just be sure to cover the burner and follow the profile of the BBQ to direct as much of the hot air as possible to the side of the BBQ. Holes and slots are drilled and cut to help direct the flow through the wood chips.
The chips I use I get from a local tree company, I get a few yards of maple wood chips and spread them around our garden. The night before I cook I grab a few handfuls of the wood chips, wash them and soak them overnight. I find the maple smoke gives ribs an awesome but subtle flavor.
Step 2: Preparing the Meat
I really don't do much with the meat. Maybe a bit of garlic or some other spices. As I said before, I don't recommend microwaving or boiling. Find yourself a butcher and get your meat from him. My guy cuts the ribs out of the pig right in front of me and you can taste the difference.
I built a rack out of stainless steel so I can stand the ribs upright and fit more in. If I cut the ribs in half I can fit them across the grill. The 2 racks I bought for this meal were on the small side.
Step 3: Cooking
Stick a thermometer into the thickest hunk of meat you can find, being sure to not let it touch any bone. If you use a digital thermometer (one with the probe on a wire) you can save opening the lid to check on the temperature. Every time you open the lid, you screw up the cooking time.
Turn the heat on high under the wood box for about 2 minutes to start the wood burning. Then set the heat around 200 degrees. Keep an eye on this because if the temperature fluctuates too much, you won't be able to predict the finish time accurately. Things like rain, wind and direct sun affect your temperature by quite a bit.
For pork you are aiming for an internal temperature of 170 degrees.
If the sun is hot and you are having trouble keeping a minimum heat, I use a small rock from the garden to prop the lid open a bit and allow some cooler air to get in.
When they are cooked, I slice the racks into single ribs and put them in a bowl covered with tin foil.
Step 4: The Sauce Bar
This is the great part. Each person needs a bowl and a plate or some other vessel - lid combo. Sauces and spices are laid out and each person creates their own concoction. Drop a few ribs into the bowl, hold the lid over top and shake it like you are trying to figure out whats inside a christmas present. Open the lid and voila! Awesome ribs. Just do a few at a time and you can try more combinations of sauces.
The best part of this is that as long as you cooked the ribs well, no one can complain about the taste because it will be their own fault! Tell them to try again.
This also works great with wings.
Some sauce ideas:
- Honey, franks red hot chili and lime sauce, Greek seasoning, cayenne pepper powder and thai hot sauce.
- Parmesan cheese, ranch salad dressing, garlic powder, hot sauce.
- thai hot sauce, lots of raspberry vinaigrette.
I do this often enough that people now buy me rare sauces for my birthday and christmas. Enjoy!