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.

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.

So, How’d The Turkey Turn Out?

So, How'd The Turkey Turn Out?

My apologies for not posting this earlier. I’m sure that you’ve been waiting impatiently to hear how our Thanksgiving Turkey turned out on the rotisserie.

I did make some adjustments from the trial run, using a fresh turkey, taking care to properly dry brine and stuff the bird, using hickory wood for smoke, and icing the breast prior to cooking to help keep it rarer. After the charcoal was nearly gone under the rotisserie, I moved the turkey to the gas grill to finish cooking so that I could use a probe thermometer to monitor doneness more easily.

In short, it turned out really well. Here are just a couple of observations.

1) I’m not sure that I’d spend the money on a fresh bird again. This one turned out better than the trial run bird, but I’m not sure that it can be attributed to a fresh bird. I expected it to be “out of this world” better than any turkey I’d ever tasted, and it just wasn’t. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing notable in texture or taste that is distinctive to it not having been frozen. If a frozen bird is good enough for Alton Brown, I’ll save myself $60 next year.

2) My wife thought this was the best turkey she’d ever tasted. My father-in-law thought that the dark meat was a little dry. I thought that the doneness and texture was perfect, but it was missing a savoriness for me. This may be because I’m used to turkeys that come “pre-basted.” We’ll see if next time the combination of pre-basting for flavor and my own dry brining for additional flavor and texture will strike the right balance. The worst thing you can say about a Butterball or other pre-basted bird is that you’re essentially paying for brine. As cheap as supermaket birds are, I won’t object to that.

Part of the issue may be that I’m comparing the rotisserie turkey to rotisserie chicken, which always seems to turn out mouth-watering delicious. I want the turkey to be like that. Guess we’ll just have to keep working at it.

Or maybe I should cook chickens for Thanksgiving next year.

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.

Cherry Smoked Prime Rib

Rib Roast was on my short list to prepare on the Weber, and I finally got around to cooking one for dinner last Sunday. The approach was simple: rub the roast with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence; cook in a pan over indirect heat on the kettle with some cherry wood chunks; and, make some us jus gravy from the drippings.

I had my butcher cut a three-rib USDA Choice roast (about 7 1/2 pounds). Yes, there was some measure of sticker shock involved.

I’d watched several videos and studied dozens of recipes and blog posts on how to cook the cut, briefly considering the rotisserie. In the end, though, I decided to stick to the basics, setting up the grill for indirect cooking with half a chimney of charcoal split between two baskets, a pan of water in the middle to help moderate the heat, and a few chunks of wood for flavor. Once I got the grill stable at around 350 F, I put the roast in the center of the grill, on top of some soup bones spread out in a foil pan. I took it out of the pan when the internal temp measured 125, and covered with a foil tent to rest and finish coming up to rare.

Now it was time to make the gravy. Again, it was about as basic as you’ll find. I removed the soup bones, cut some shallot into thin slices and added it to the pan (still on the grill), stirring up the drippings until the shallot got melty. Then I added some additional salt, pepper and herbs, a dash or two of Worcestershire Sauce, 2/3 cup of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 1/3 cups of beef broth. I took this over to the gas grill and let it reduce over medium direct heat for awhile. I wouldn’t change anything about it.

The roast, on the other hand, was a little too rare for my taste. It had a wonderful flavor, and a nice crust, but the inside was just a bit chewy and red. If I ever cook this cut again, I’ll be tempted to take it up to 130. Although since I’m using an ancient analog meat thermometer, it’s possible that it was off a bit as well. I also think I would carve the roast a bit thinner next time, despite most recipes calling for half inch slices.

This wasn’t bad for a first attempt, and I wouldn’t change the overall approach next time. Maybe a little searing directly over the coals before placing the roast over indirect heat might have added something. In any case, it’ll be awhile before I feel like shelling out almost sixty bucks for a roast like this again – though it did serve five nicely, and there were leftovers for roast beef on our salads last night, plus a delicious soup made with the bones and unused broth.

St. Louis Style Ribs

St. Louis Style Ribs

Messy to eat and a lot of work to cook, ribs are what many people think of first when you mention the word “barbecue.” The ability to turn out competition quality ribs is what separates the serious outdoor cook from the dabbler. It requires the use of a multitude of techniques, along with precision in timing and temperature control from start to finish during an all-day process. When done correctly, the result is a complex of flavors and texture that cannot be found in any other dish.

I have to admit that I have never been a huge fan of ribs. They’re like longhair music to me. I appreciate the artistry, but they’re just too much bother. I’d rather listen to light Chamber Music or Showtunes, and I’d rather eat pulled pork.

Still, the lure of developing the high-specific skills necessary to prepare the dish was too much for me, so I had to give them a try.

I won’t claim that they were the best ribs I’ve ever tasted, but they were certainly in the hunt. The meat came off the bone fairly easily, but it didn’t “fall off.” To me, this is the perfect doneness for ribs (although my wife would have preferred them more done). They were the rib equivalent of “al dente” pasta – tender and yielding to the tooth rather than overdone mush.

As to the flavor, that would be hard to top as well. As you can see from the photo above, there was a nice smoke penetration. They were well-seasoned (even unsauced), although I would use more rub next time and likely add some mustard before the rub to help create a denser bark.

We served these with a delicious cole slaw that my wife made, roasted garlic bread from Grammy, and some Texas Baked Beans that I made on the grill (my wife’s Aunt Nancy’s recipe).

What would I change? Not much. Other than the change with the rub mentioned above, I might leave them to braise a few minutes longer next time. I also might try my hand at making my own sauce.

I doubt that these ribs would win any medals, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve them to the champs. Not only that, the process itself was a pleasure. It’s hard to beat a cool, bright day spent with the sound of the Allman Brothers Band and the smell of Cherry wood drifting over the patio.

racks-of-ribs

Welcome To My Patio

I’m happy that you’ve dropped by. Pull up a chair and have a drink while I turn on the radio and fire up the grill. We can swap stories, recipes and memories of days gone by. If you’re not in a rush, maybe we’ll even light a campfire and get the guitars and ukuleles out. In any case, we’ll share some good food and great company.

Make yourself at home.