I just went from barbecue hell to barbecue heaven in 4-6 hours. By barbecue hell, I mean Central Virginia, where what passes for barbecue is really the slow painful death of pork as we know it. The barbecue here is just not good. I must say, however, that I am a BBQ snob, having grown up in East Tennessee, where the pork powerhouse Calhoun's restaurant makes the world's best ribs, and I spent four years in Birmingham, Alabama where enlightenment can be achieved with a pulled pork plate from such incredible joints as Full Moon Barbecue, Dreamland and Jim & Nicks. It just has to be a certain way.
I have been thinking a lot about this dilemma lately, and I think my one year old son has been mulling it over as well. Recentlly, he looked at me with a look that clearly said "Hey Dad, it's me, your 13 month old son. The barbecue here sucks, and I am counting on you to do something about it. I don't think I'll thrive in a home where the rub isn't crusty and spicy and the sauce isn't tangy sweet and tomato based. Please don't let me down by continuing to settle for mediocre meat. I expect so much more........and save money for my college. Love, your boy." There was no mistaking it.
So, I gathered my thoughts about what makes barbecue great for me, and I scoured the internet for advice on how to get a decent smoker for a small budget and settled on the Brinkman Vertical Smoker as my weapon of choice.
This smoker has a charcoal pan and a water/drip pan in the bottom cabinet and two grates in the top for the booty. It has adjustable vents on either side of the top and bottom. I followed advice from a forum about this grill and didn't put water in the drip pan, but rather just covered it in tin foil to make it easier to clean. I chose to ignore two other tips that multiple bloggers referred to as "Critical." They didn't sound that important. More on that later.
I asked Preg Leg what type of barbecue she wanted for our maiden voyage, and she gave me a look that clearly said "RIBS." Who am I to argue with that?
We went with Baby Back ribs, due to the shorter cooking time, because we were getting a fairly late start for the day. I rinsed them, peeled off the silver skin (a gross, shiny membrane on the underside that is hard to eat), patted them dry and cut the rack into two pieces that fit the grill. Then it was time for the rub.
I like a sugary, spicy Memphis style rub, so I used the recipe from Stephen Raichlen's Barbecue Bible. I rubbed it on there and let them sit in the fridge for 22 minutes. Rub Recipe at the end.
I tried to let the smoker heat up, but it just wasn't going well. The coals looked good, but the built in thermometer didn't ever read higher than 200 degrees. I needed about 275 at least. I put the ribs in anyways. I know, right? That Justin....he SO crazy. After 45 minutes of watching the temperature drop and drop and drop, I decided to take action. I haven't seen temperature drop so fast since I dispensed Viagra to a 85 year old woman at the pharmacy for her 86 year old husband.
The charcoal pan that came with the smoker was just a bowl. Small, with no ventilation or capability for the ash to fall down. Once the coals burned low, they drowned in their own ash. The forums all said, "Hey stupid! Replace the bowl with a vegetable wok from Lowes. It's perfect!" I had purchased one, but I didn't use it at first, because I don't like being called stupid. Especially from some blogger. Well, when the fire was going out, I wised up. I swapped the pan for the wok (a harrowing experience, considering they were both full of raging inferno brisquettes of fire), and almost instantly, the temp started climbing. Next thing you know, it leveled off at a perfect 300 degrees, the soaked hickory woodchips were making a perfect blanket of smoke, and we were in bidness. I added more chips whenever the smoke stopped, and four hours later, the ribs looked like Cash Money.
We paired the ribs with local corn on the cob, salad and Yuenling beer (me, not Preglociraptor), and our favorite store-bought sauce, Guy Fieri's Kansas City style. I anxiously awaited Pregceratops' verdict, and when she gave me the thumbs up, I knew we had a winner. We have that kind of honest relationship where if it wasn't pleasing to her, she would have spat it out and slapped me backhanded. They were spicy, competition style in firmness, yet effortless to eat, and delicious. Right up there at the top with the best things I have ever cooked. On my first try, too. Ya, be jealous, it's okay.
My boy looked up at me across his disgustingly slimy ear of slobber corn and gave me a little wink that said it all........
Memphis Style Rub
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 1/2 teaspoonsful black pepper
3 teaspoonsful dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoonsful salt
1/2 teaspoonful celery salt
1/2 teaspoonful cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoonful garlic powder
1/2 teaspoonful ground cumin
Mix thoroughly and sprinkle onto both sides of ribs. Rub in vigorously, almost to the point of feeling uncomfortable about it. When ribs are about 1/2 to 1 hour away from being done, sprinkle on additional rub.