First Long Cook of the Year: Spare Ribs

Sunday Dinner – Mothers Day – 13 May 2018

Weber Kettle Smoke

For dinner on Mothers Day, along with the regular Sunday Dinner crew, we were pleased to welcome Claudia’s cousin Dan and his partner who were visiting from Florida. I prepared St. Louis Style spareribs, baked beans and coleslaw. Dan brought macaroni salad and Aunt Pat made an Angel Food Cake with macerated strawberries. Claudia also prepared some nice appetizers, including skewers of fruit, veggies and cheese. We also grilled some small peppers stuffed with cream cheese filling.

I got the grill going early, around 7:30 AM, and had the ribs on the rack by 8. I’d removed the silver skin and rubbed them the night before with my usual mix of Kosher salt, black pepper, Turbinado sugar, cumin, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. The grill was set up with ten unlit coals on each side of a water pan, five lit coals on top of each side, and some chunks of apple and hickory. Bottom vents started with two open and one closed, then I damped one as needed to keep the temp at 250°F. The sweet smoke smelled heavenly as we enjoyed our morning coffee.

I had knocked out both the coleslaw and crock pot baked beans on Saturday evening, but there still seemed little time for relaxation. Attending the ribs meant monitoring the temperature, adding coals as needed, and mopping the slabs every hour with a combination of apple juice, coffee and Schlitz from a spray bottle. We also had to attend some last minute gift wrapping for the moms, and Claudia and our daughter did some tidying and cleaning to prepare for company.

The cook was a classic 3/2/1 (three hours on a rack over smoke, two hours wrapped in foil, one final hour over smoke again to finish) and the ribs turned out great. The rest of the meal was fabulous as well, likewise the conversation.

In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much that we failed to take food photos, so you’ll have to use your imagination. :)

We had a bottle of Alma Andina Malbec first, which was just sort of alright. Then I opened a California Zin from F. Stephen Millier. It was scrumptious.

It’s hard to beat a long cook, particularly when you’re sharing the results with good company. I’m especially appreciative of time spent with Claudia’s family, and the opportunity to honor her (and her mom) again this Mothers Day. She has created an exceptionally happy and loving home. Very literally a dream come true.

Easter Brunch and Dinner 2018

Easter Brunch

We had Claudia’s folks and her sister’s family over for Easter this year. We started with Mimosas and Bloody Marys, and enjoyed a marvelous brunch including egg casserole, Kiełbasa, fresh fruits, baked goods and more.

Later in the day, we served ham, green beans, pasta and Wulff Salad.

Easter Ham

The salad, by the way, is named for Claudia’s mom’s family. She learned to prepare this simple vinaigrette growing up. It’s unique in that the ingredients are added directly to the greens, one-by-one, rather than combining in a cruet first. It includes oil (she generally uses EVOO these days, but it could be any vegetable oil), vinegar (usually balsamic or red wine), salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Nothing is measured, so far as I can tell.

I cook the ham on the grill each year, using Jamie Purviance’s Mustard-Molasses Glaze recipe from Weber’s Real Grilling. The first time I made this glaze, Claudia commented that it smelled like her grandma’s kitchen, which is about the highest compliment one can receive. Here’s the recipe.

  • ½ cup stone-ground mustard
  • ¼ cup unsulphured dark molasses
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Combine these in a saucepan and simmer a bit.

Score a 10 pound, bone-in (butt end) cooked ham with cross hatches, and place it cut side down in a foil pan. I add a can of 7-Up or ginger ale to the pan, and grill over indirect medium heat for two or three hours, brushing with the glaze after an hour or so, and again toward the end of the cook. This year I cooked it on the Weber Genesis gas grill, adding a few chunks of apple wood to the smoker box.

Claudia had baked an assortment of sugar cookies and almond/oat cookies. And of course, there were hard boiled eggs galore.

I had been sick the prior week and had barely been eating, so I overdid with all of the delicious goodies in the morning, and didn’t really get to enjoy dinner. But the ham was wonderful for days on end. Claudia made grilled ham and Swiss sandwiches Monday evening, and we used the bone to flavor some incredible split pea soup later in the week.

The Spinning Bird

Sunday Dinner – 25 March 2018

Rotisserie Chicken with PotatoesThis week for Sunday Dinner we prepared one of our favorites, Rotisserie Chicken with Drip Pan Potatoes. Aunt Pat was having problems with her knee, and I seem to have come down with the flu, so it wasn’t the most festive meal, but Grammy and Grampy did join us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the food.

I have been cooking on a Weber Kettle for decades, but it’s really only the past few years that I’ve had any clue what I was doing. My education came in the form of a rotisserie attachment that Claudia gave me one year for Christmas. Since I had no idea how to use it, I had to do quite a bit of research. Luck brought me to a guy named Mike Vrobel, and his excellent book Rotisserie Grilling. By learning to cook with the rotisserie, I became a better outdoor cook all around. For instance, I had never used a thermometer to test for doneness before. No wonder I had inconsistent results for thirty years.

Dry brined chicken was one of the first things I learned to prepare on the rotisserie, and, though simple, it remains one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever tasted. Prep involves seasoning the bird, inside and out, with kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic and onion powder and Herbs de Provence. Then we leave it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for a few hours (or overnight).

The grill is set up with a full chimney of charcoal, distributed in a horseshoe pattern around a foil drip pan. This time around we used a couple chunks of apple wood for smoke. The bird is trussed and skewered, and placed on the rotisserie with the legs pointing toward the closed end of the coals, breast toward the open end. This helps to cook the thighs well while not overcooking the white meat.

Claudia prepared about three pounds of potatoes, cutting them into 8ths, coating with olive oil, salt and pepper, and par cooking in the microwave for five minutes. After the chicken had spun for about half an hour, the potatoes went into the drip pan, soaking up all the nice schmaltz dripping from the bird.

This was a fairly large roaster (about 6 1/2 pounds) so I figured it would need to cook about an hour and a half. I began checking the temperature in the breast after the first hour. By the time the coals were mostly gone, it had still only reached 145 °F, so I placed it on top of the potato pan and moved everything to the Genesis gas grill to finish cooking over indirect medium heat. Once it hit 165, we brought it in and let it rest under a tent of foil.

We served this meal with steamed broccoli and lemon, and Wulff Salad. The wine was a Scott Peterson Rox Chardonnay.

Roast chicken is a Sunday Dinner classic, and you’ll never taste any better than what comes off the rotisserie. I’ve often said that if I had ever opened a restaurant, I’d want to have called it “The Spinning Bird.”

Ribs for Fathers Day 2016

plated-ribs-fathers-day-2016For Fathers Day this year I did another long cook. Our Jewel store had St. Louis Cut Spareribs on sale two racks for the price of one, so ribs it was.

I started the Weber Kettle early in the day, setting it up with ten unlit coals on each side of a foil pan filled about halfway with water. I added four or five lit coals to each side, along with some apple and hickory chunks. One bottom vent was wide open, one completely closed and one open about halfway. Top vent was wide open as well.

Once the temperature stabilized at around 250 F, I put the slabs on a rib rack over the drip pan. I’d seasoned them the night before with my usual rub recipe. From then on it was a matter of monitoring the temperature and spraying the ribs each hour with a mist of apple juice, cider vinegar and coffee. After three hours, I wrapped them in foil and moved them to the Genesis to finish.

kettle-smokingThere’s something magical and Zen-like about a long cook. The smell of the smoke and the sight of it wafting over the patio is an experience unto itself. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve acquired the skill necessary to maintain an even temperature over several hours of cooking, and the other fairly specific skills needed to turn out a perfect plate of ribs. The pace of the cook affords time for relaxation and proper anticipation of the delicious meal to come.

We’re in the Gray Farms CSA this year, and one of the cool things about it is that we get a lot of produce that we likely wouldn’t think to try otherwise. It’s like this lovely surprise package every week. This week, we had both turnips and collards, which neither of us had ever cooked before. We diced the turnips and roasted them on the plancha, and the collards we cooked in a Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven on the Genesis. I cooked up some onions and garlic in the pot for starters, then added the collards, a dried cayenne, some stock and a couple of smoked ham hocks and let them simmer for a long time.

These turned out really delicious and they’re something we’d definitely make again.

I also melted some Brie on a cedar plank with a little blackberry jam drizzled over the top for an appetizer.

It’s always a pleasure to cook for the folks on Sunday, but it was especially fun to do a full day of cooking for my wife’s dad on Fathers Day. Since my own father passed away when I was very young, I feel especially grateful to have a wonderful father-in-law in my life, and appreciate every chance we have to spend time with him.

Prime Rib On The Grill for Christmas Dinner

prime-rib-on-the-grill

I made another run at Prime Rib for Christmas Dinner this year. I prepared and cooked it very much as I had the first time, except that I used apple and cherry wood for the smoke, and also I seasoned it the prior night to let it dry brine a bit.

Once again, this had a great flavor, and once again, it was tough in the middle (though cooked to the proper temperature). I can’t blame the cut, as this was from a great butcher shop in our county.

After researching again, I think I would cook lower and slower next time. Many of the instructions I saw online said 350 F, but I’m finding some now that say to cook the cut like you would brisket or pork shoulder.

Due to the cost, it’ll be awhile before I try this again, and I’ll want to experiment with a smaller roast next time. This one was over 13 pounds.

Smoking Pork Shoulder

For Sunday Dinner this week, we thawed a 5 1/2 pound pork shoulder roast and smoked it.

I used the same rub as usual, but varied the process a little this time. It turned out much easier to maintain a constant temperature between 200 and 250 F.

I put ten unlit charcoal briquettes on each side of a drip pan filled 3/4 with water. Then I lit six briquettes, and put three on each side, along with some apple and hickory chunks. One bottom vent was completely closed, another was about half way open and the third was slightly open. The top vent was wide open this time. I checked the roast every hour, turning it over each time and spraying it with a mop of apple juice, cider vinegar and brewed coffee. I also added some unlit coals and a couple more chunks of wood after about two hours.

After four hours, it was up to around 130 F at the center. I wrapped it tightly in foil and put it on the gas grill over indirect low-medium heat. After another couple hours it was between 195 and 200, and ready to come off and rest for an hour before serving.

This turned out really tender, but not quite as flavorful as usual. I think this was because the roast wasn’t completely thawed until morning on the day of the cook, so I didn’t get a chance to rub it down the day before. It still had a decent bark, but needed some sauce to kick it up a little.

We served it on buns with mustard potato salad, tangy slaw, bean salad and pasta salad as sides. I’d picked up a bottle of J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (on a great sale – only $13) and it paired well with the meal.

I’ve been wanting a Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker for quite awhile, but I’m beginning to think that it’s really not necessary. I’ll be tempted to try a beef brisket again before long.

Bratwurst and Italian Sausage

brats-and-italian-sausages-on-the-grill

For Sunday Dinner this week it was an old standby, grilled sausages. The cooking method was simple. I grilled the sausages over direct medium heat for about eight minutes, and then put them over indirect with an appropriate bed of vegetables (grilled onions and peppers for the Italians, and sauerkraut for the brats) to finish cooking. I also put some Apple wood chips in the smoker pan.

We served this with a nice artichoke and pasta salad that my wife made, and some wilted spinach and black beans, a recipe that I found over on Another Pint Please.

The sausages were from a local market that is renowned for the quality of their products, Southside Meats in Momence, Illinois. The difference between these and typical supermarket fare makes the thirty-minute drive worthwhile. I didn’t sample the bratwurst, but the flavor and texture of the Italian Sausage was incredible.