Sunday, February 10, 2019

Kansas City Style Spareribs

One caveat at the outset of this post ... this is the very first time that I have smoked ribs of any kind.  While there are quite a few Savage Boleks BBQ posts, none of them involve the smoking of pork ribs.  Beef ribs, yes (already marked that off my list).  Pork ribs, no.  No baby back ribs.  No spare ribs.  Until now.  I am going to smoke some spareribs, and, do a little experimentation with the cooking method along the way. 

A friend from Kansas City bought me a pack of rubs and sauces from Gates BBQ, one of the legends of barbecue in the City of Fountains. (Let me just say, I am very thankful for the gift.) Those rubs and sauces got me to research and learn about the Kansas City style of barbecue.  If one had to write one sentence to describe KC BBQ, and be incredibly general about it, one could write (as one did in Wikipedia): the meat is "rubbed with spices, slow smoked over a variety of woods, and served with a thick, tomato-based sauce."  

There are over 100 barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area; and, many of them are well known.  There is Arthur Bryant's BBQ, whose namesake stakes the claim of the "most renown barbequer in history."  There is only one Arthur Bryants, which has stood at the corner of 18th & Brooklyn for as long as anyone can remember.  Then there is B.B. Lawnside's BBQ, a barbecue joint that may not have been around as long as Arthur Bryant's, but it still has developed its own lore.  And, there is Gates BBQ, which my friend swears is the best in Kansas City.

I did a little research into Gates BBQ and found that there are many others who think very highly about Gates' barbecue.  One writer noted, when discussing Gates' ribs:

The ribs are excellent, and like another of my favorites covered in this column, the Salt Like outside of Austin, they employ a less common hybrid method where they are slightly seared close to the live fire then moved away and slow smoked in a more traditional fashion.  Most ribs are overcooked and too tender or mushy, but these are perfect consistency, tender but with enough bite so it doesn't fall apart, and very flavorful. 

The use of dry rub is minimal by Kansas City standards, with more reliance on Gates' line of proprietary sauces, which you add at your discretion.  The sauces come in varying degrees of heat, but all are tomato and vinegar based, tasty and delicious and not as cloying or sweet as common supermarket sauces. The popularity of the sauces has in large part been responsible [for] the growth and success of Gates, and they are now widely available in bottles nationwide. 

With reviews like that, there was no choice to be made.  I would try to smoke my first spare ribs in the Gates style.  The only problem that I have is that I don't have the Gates' recipe.  Instead, I have to work from the above quote: slightly seared close to the live fire then moved away and slow smoked in the traditional fashion. The smoke would be between 225 degrees and 275 degrees Fahrenheit, but I started the smoker out at a higher temperature, between 300 to 325 degrees.  I placed the ribs on the smoker without the liquid bowl, which made it a direct cook.  I closed off the air vents to help bring the temperature down as slight sear took place.  After about 15 minutes (I did not want to go too long), I put the liquid bowl back in and got the temperature down to about 275 and proceeded to smoke "in the traditional fashion."

From what I tell, when it came to the wood, it appears that, just with the meat, a variety of wood can be used in K.C. barbecue.  I decided to use hickory wood, but apple wood could work just as well.

With everything in place, I made my first barbecue ribs.  The experiment was basically a success.  To be truthful, the ribs were slightly overcooked, as some of the bones came right out during the slicing of the ribs.  The thing with ribs is that thermometers really don't work well during the smoking process.  There is simply not enough meat and too many bones for them to work.  It takes practice to know when the ribs are done.  I guess that I need more practice and that is something that I will happily undertake.

Recipe adapted from many, including one by Tuffy Stone,
available on Saveur, and Aaron Franklin's Franklin's Barbecue, pp. 161-68
Serves 2

1 rack St. Louis-style spareribs (about 3 pounds)
1 cup of barbecue rub (Gates Spicy Rub)
1 1/2 cups of apple juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup of barbecue sauce (Gates Extra Spicy)
Chunks of hickory wood

1.  Prepare the ribs.  Trim the excess fat off of the ribs and remove the membrane off of the bone side of the ribs.  Sprinkle the rub over the ribs so that the meat is covered evenly on both sides and along the edges.

2.  Smoke the ribs.  Start the smoker at about 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the ribs on the smoker, meat side up and cook over the direct coals for about 15 minutes.  After that, remove the ribs from the smoker, add the liquid bowl and return the ribs to the smoker.  Add the hickory wood to create the smoke.  Get the temperature down to between 225 degrees to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the ribs for 3 hours, spritzing or mopping the ribs with the combination of apple juice and apple cider vinegar once every 30 minutes.

3.  Wrap the ribs.  Remove the ribs from the grill and transfer to two sheets of foil.  Cover the ribs with 1/2 cup of the barbecue sauce. Place the ribs meat side up and close the foil.  Return to the smoker for 2 hours

4.  Finish the ribs.  Uncover the ribs and discard the foil.  Return the ribs to the grill and cook ,basting with sauce after 30 minutes, until the tip of a small knife slips easily in and out of the meat for abut 1 hour.    Remove the ribs and let them rest for 15 to 30 minutes.


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