Smacktaculous BBQ Pork Ribs on a Kettle Grill

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Intro: Smacktaculous BBQ Pork Ribs on a Kettle Grill

In the entirety of the food kingdom i have a particular fondness for smoked food, but seeing as my residence on the 9th floor of an apartment complex is hardly the natural habitat of a smoker, I had to look for other ways to indulge my smoking desires. Luckily I have access to a small garden and a kettle grill at my parents' place, so I started researching and experimenting with the resources I have, and the results are in this instructable.
/DISCLAIMER: What I'm about to show you is a long process. It takes time, effort and more importantly patience. So if you proceed to replicate this method, do so only if you have the above three in spades./

Most of what I show you here is about the technique not the exact recipes or items I used, therefore anything you wish to change for your liking, feel free to.

So, without any further ado, let's make some ribs!

Step 1: Tools and Ingredients

In this section I will outline what is needed in order to successfully replicate what comes next. Despite what's written in this list most of the ingredients and some of the resources are subject of change for the simple reasons of availability and difference in taste. Beside this list I will also write down the ingredients needed for the individual steps just to make everything more transparent.

Tools and resources:

  • A kettle grill : the one we used was approximately 60cm (23.6inch) in diameter, had a built in thermometer in the lid and two vents.
  • A bag of charcoal briquettes
  • Charcoal starter chimney (optional)
  • Charcoal lighter
  • Wood chips of your choice (we used cherry)
  • A meat thermometer (it's only necessary if your grill doesn't have one)
  • A pair of tongs (preferably a sturdy one)
  • A heat resistant bowl or disposable aluminum tray
  • A rib rack (at least if you are working with grill of this size or smaller)
  • A sauce pan
  • Kitchen knives (one for chopping ingredients and one for doing some butcher work if need be)
  • A blender or stick blender
  • A silicone brush

Ingredients

  • The rib of your choice (in this case, we used a 4 kg (appr 8.8 pound) spare rib which was trimmed down to about 3,5 kg (about 7.7 pound)
  • Spices for the rub ( I will elaborate in the rub section)
  • Some sort of 'adhesive' that goes between the meat and the rub.
  • BBQ sauce ingredients ( will be expanded upon in the sauce section)
  • 1-2 litres (33-66oz) of liquid (in this case we used apple juice), depends on how much your heat resistant bowl or aluminum tray can hold.

Step 2: Setting Up Your Fireplace

What you'll need for this section:

  • Your grill
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Wood chips
  • A heat resistant bowl or disposable aluminum tray

First things first, we need a source of heat. In order for our ribs to cook/smoke properly we need a set up that lasts a long time and is low maintenance. Considering these options we have chosen a method called the snake. Basically you're using the shape of your grill and arranging your coals in a line along the wall of it. This arrangement of the coals is ideal for briquettes because it takes advantage of the fact that briquettes are the same size and density therefore they burn evenly. Once you light one side it'll slowly burn towards the other end, leaving more than enough time for our ribs to cook properly. Arrange the coals in a similar fashion to how it's on the picture, in our case we went with two layers. Two coals on the bottom and one on top, this will provide you with enough heat for the entirety of the smoking process. We are looking for a temperature range of a 120 -160 degrees C ( 250 -320 F). For the amount of ribs we were making this amount of coal provided enough heat for over 6 hours, in fact the coals were still lit when we were finished eating.
When you're finished arranging your coals set aside a few pieces for the ignition process.
Take 2 handful of your woodchips and soak it in a bowl of water and set it aside.
Take your heat resistant bowl or aluminum tray, place it in between your coals and fill it 90% of the way with your choice of liquid. Make sure your pan is stable, you don't want any liquid spilling on your coal mid cooking.

Onwards to the next step.

Step 3: Rub It In

Ingredients for this step: Spices for the rub

  • 1 - paprika
  • 1 - garlic (granulated, without salt)
  • 0.5 - ground anise seeds
  • 0.5 - cumin
  • 0.5 - chili (something mild but flavourful, in this case I went with ground ancho chili)
  • 1 - salt
  • 1 - ground black pepper
  • 1 - brown sugar
  • 1 - summer savory (dried and crumbled)

In order for the ribs to taste good, we have to build up flavour, this is done in layers. One of those layers is the rub, the spice mixture which will be applied to the surface of the ribs before the smoking process. The components of this mixture are not set in stone, it's just the combination I like the best, but I encourage you to experiment and create your own spice blend. One thing to keep in mind when you are putting your mix together or
experimenting with your own, is to be careful with the very aromatic spices like anise, cumin, allspice, cloves etc., they can very easily overpower the other spices of the mixture.

You probably noticed that I did not write any measurements for the ingredients. That's because the amount is entirely up to you, the numbers are only ratios. Take the spices put them in a container and shake vigorously. Once you're done set it aside for the next step.

Step 4: Prepping the Meat

This step will work with the following:

  • The rib of your choice

  • The rub you prepared in the previous step
  • 'adhesive' - in this case we used a mild olive oil that had sun-dried tomatoes soaking in it, but it can be a lot of things, mustard, different oils, butter, i leave that up to your imagination
  • A kitchen knife for butchering (if necessary)

We have arrived to the star of the show, the ribs. If you have a preferred butcher shop tell them what you are doing and they will most likely help you out with a good cut, and probably trim it for you too. However if you get your hands on a cut that needs some work, here is what you should look out for. Blot off any excess moisture from the surface. Trim any large pieces of fat from the meat side. Check the bone side for a membrane that runs along the length of the bone side, if there is such a membrane remove it by separating one end of it with a butter knife or the end of a spoon, grab the loose part with a paper towel and slowly but evenly pull it away from the bone side. Spare ribs often have parts that belong to the neck area, you can trim those off, they contain a lot of joints and cartilage, and those are not exactly good eats. Trimming them is easy, you can feel with your hands where the bones end, slightly above that you can feel the parts that have the joints and cartilage in them. Run your knife along that line and separate the piece from the ribs. If you encounter a joint along the way place the heel of your knife on the joint gripping your knife by the handle, and with your other hand give it a few whacks on the back of the blade, that ought to do it. I have trimmed off any large pieces that didn't had any bones in it just so I can make the piece more manageable, but you don't have to if you don't want to. Also sliced the piece of rib in half so it's more easy to fit it into the grill.

Now that the trimming is done, it's time to apply the seasoning. Take your adhesive and apply it to the surface of the ribs, you don't have to slather it, just put on enough that it coats the surface. Once you have applied your adhesive, take your rub, sprinkle it all over the surface, and work it in with your hands. Repeat as necessary to achieve full coverage (check the pictures for reference). Don't forget to cover the sides as well. If you feel you have covered every square centimeters of your ribs with rub, set aside and let it rest while you prepare the next step.

Step 5: Saucing It Up

In my opinion a barbecue rib is only worth having if it has a BBQ sauce on it. While there are plenty of premade BBQ sauces out there that are not half bad, I'm partial to making my own. So I'd like to share with you my own recipe for BBQ sauce which is the result of a long trial and error process.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium Onion (i like Red, but practically any kind will work)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 cup (250ml) of plain tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup (appr 83ml) Whiskey (whatever you like to drink will be good in this too, i used Black Velvet a Canadian kind, it slightly tastes of maple syrup)
  • 25 g of Dark chocolate (don't skimp on this, make it at least 80%)
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) plum preserves ( you can use other kind of fruit preserves like cherry or sour cherry, the only criteria is that it should be preserve and not a jam or marmalade)
  • 1 Tbsp Molasses (if you don't have any or can't find molasses you can substitute it with the same amount of dark brown sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 0.5-1 tsp Smoked salt (this is optional, but it adds to the flavor)
  • 1-2 Tbsp paprika (preferably smoked)
  • 1-2 tsp chili powder (i use ancho, but chipotle or pasilla is also good, it's more for taste rather than heat)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger (optional)
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste (keep in mind that this is generally a sweet sauce)

Preparation:

  1. Take the onion and dice it up finely.
  2. Take a sauce pan and melt your butter on medium to low heat.
  3. Once the butter melted add the onion and sweat it to translucent under a lid.
  4. When the onion reaches translucent state take off the lid, bring your heat to low, and caramelize the onions slowly. It'll take somewhere between 10-20 minutes depending on the size of your onion and the size of your pan. While the onion is caramelizing prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  5. Mince your garlic.
  6. Chop the chocolate.
  7. Take your blender and aside from the chocolate, the fruit preserves and the garlic put everything in it.
  8. When the onion looks almost done add the garlic and fry it with the onions for a few minutes, the moment you can smell the garlic in the pan you are done, take it off the heat.
  9. Add the onion & garlic to the blender.
  10. Give it a whizz until the onions disappear.
  11. Add the plum preserves incrementally and blend it in, tasting it every time to check for the level of sweetness you want to achieve
  12. When you are done pour the sauce back in the sauce pan, and bring it to a boil.
  13. After reaching boiling point lower your heat and simmer it until you reach your desired thickness ( keep in mind you will have to apply it later so don't make it too thick).
  14. Take it off the heat and mix in the chocolate.
  15. Let it cool down and bottle it.

Now that every preparation is done let's move on to the last leg of our journey.

Step 6: Smokin'

As this is the last step on our journey it will use everything we have prepared so far.

  • The grill with the coal snake and the pan
  • Rib racks
  • The soaked woodchips
  • The ribs
  • The bbq sauce

Take your grill and set it up in a well ventilated area. Remember those few pieces of coal set aside from the second step? It's time to light them! You can use, whatever lighter you prefer, lighter cubes, those compressed paper and wax cubes or even a few vegetable oil soaked cotton balls will do in a pinch. I don't recommend using lighter fluid though, it can impart strange flavors to food. Put you starting coals in the starting chimney and light them up. Once the outer layer of the coals turned to ash you are ready to use them. Place the lit coals to one end of your snake overlapping with the unlit coals. Take a handful of the soaked woodchips and scatter it evenly on the first third of the coals. What you can see on the picture is a bit of a blunder, we overestimated the amount of smoke from the amount of chips scattered on the coals, we ended up adding more throughout the smoking process. Put the grill with the rib rack over the coals and position it opposite from the lit coals. Take your ribs and place them on the rack. Cover the grill with the lid and turn the lid so that the vent on it is above the ribs, this way you're creating a path for the smoke through the meat. If you have another vent on the bottom of your kettle grill, try to create a cross breeze like effect so the coals liven up a bit, once the inside temperature is starting to reach the upper end of 140 C (around 280 F) you can partially close the bottom vent. Now comes the waiting game, the smoking process is long and if you are looking you are not cooking which means don't disturb it unless you have to. In the first hour and a half you have barely anything to do, monitor the temperature and adjust the vents accordingly, other than that kick back and relax a bit. After one and a half hour check on the ribs, rotate them if necessary to keep it opposite of the main heat source. If it looks like you are running out of woodchips top it up, you can move the dying coals aside or into the ash collector, when you are done place the lid back on, adjust the vent and go back to relaxing. Repeat this process every hour or so. Around the 5 hour mark you should do a quick check of your rib's doneness, signs that indicate that you are close to done: the bones are starting to poke out of the meat; if you lift the ribs with a tong positioned halfway across and let it bend by it's own weight you will see the meat starting to separate from the bone; take a toothpick and push it in to the meat the least resistance you encounter the closer the ribs are to done. When you feel there are 30ish minutes left to done, take off the ribs from the rack and start to apply the bbq sauce. About two layers should do the trick. Apply a layer and place it closer to the main heat, put the lid back on and let it caramelize for 15 minutes, then repeat the process one more time.

Once you are done remove the ribs from the grill and set it aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
Carve and Enjoy!

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    2 Discussions

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    bbqandbeer

    Tip 8 weeks ago

    Good recipe and write up. Your trimming skills needs work. its better to "Square" off the ribs and make them into St. Louie style for even cooking and serving. Cheers!

    1 reply
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    Lionallbbqandbeer

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Thanks for the advice, yeah i know my butcher skills need improvement, i'm more comfortable with chicken and smaller cuts of beef and pork. But i'll keep in mind what you said for the next time :) Have a nice day!