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Monday, February 13, 2012

Competition Style BBQ Ribs

Nothing says BBQ like ribs. There are two main cuts of pork ribs, spare and baby back. Most competition teams stick with spare ribs and cut them St. Louis style. St. Louis style basically means cutting the ribs the length of the longest bone and removing any of cartilage that you find at the end of spare ribs. This is mainly for presentation and makes for a more uniform shape which allows the meat to smoke more evenly. I am going to show you how to prep a whole spare rib rack and turn it into what the competition teams turn in for the rib class. I bought 3 whole spare rib racks at the local market. I looked for ones with some good fat marbling which adds flavor and helps to keep the ribs moist. This recipe can be used with baby backs if you prefer that cut. Jen my wife prefers baby backs. I can tell you she loved these, I made sure she got the ribs that I would have put in my turn in box had I been at a competition. 


2 full racks of spare ribs
1 squeeze bottle of yellow mustard
2 cups of your favorite bbq rub (I use my own Crawdaddy's Butt Crust BBQ Rub sorry no recipe for that all good pit masters need to keep a few secrets)
1 small bottle of apple cider
1 squeeze bottle of butter
1 squeeze bottle of honey
1 squeeze bottle of your favorite bbq sauce

I like to pick a package that has some good fat marbling. Fat marbling helps to keep the meat moist plus adds flavor to the meat. If you are turned off by fat remember if the ribs are prepared properly the fat will render down and melt into the meat. I take the ribs out of the package and inspect the ribs on all sides I will trim off any loose fat pieces. I flip the ribs over and remove the small flap of meat that will be sticking off the back. I typically save this and add it to the smoker with ribs and use it as an appetizer for me while I am smoking the ribs. 

The next step is to find the end of the longest rib bone. I insert my large kitchen knife and cut straight across the rack. You have just turned your spare ribs in to St. Louis cut.

For a good competition display I like to cut the last small bone off the end to make sure the ribs are nice and square. This is just my preference. The next step is to remove the membrane on the back of the ribs this is important for two reasons. Reason 1 the membrane does not allow any rub, sauce, or smoke to permeate through so your ribs will end up on seasoned from one side. Reason 2 is that when the ribs are smoked the membrane turns out to be very plastic in texture and it is impossible to bite through. The easiest way to remove this membrane is to take a butter knife and gently insert it in between the 3rd and 4th ribs wiggling it back and forth until you can get a grip on the membrane. I like to use a paper towel to grip the membrane and then I just peel it off and discard.

Now that the ribs are prepped it is time to begin layering the flavors. Take the squeeze bottle of yellow mustard and squeeze a good amount on the ribs then rub it into the meat. The mustard serves 2 purposes one is adding flavor. Most bbq rubs will contain dried mustard powder. The second is the mustard helps the rub to stick to the ribs. I put this on both sides of the ribs and apply a liberal amount of dry rub to both sides of the ribs also.

I like to let the ribs set for a while with the rub and mustard so that the flavors soak into the meat. I wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight if you prefer. As always I will take the ribs out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour prior to smoking letting them come up to room temperature. This helps the meat smoke more evenly. I prepare a 3 zone fire and place a good size aluminum pan between the 2 fires and fill it with water. This will help create steam which aids the smoke in penetrating the meat. It will also help prevent the meat from drying out. The temperature of the fire should be between 225-250 degrees. 

I use a rib rack and like the ribs to sit vertically. I place them in the middle of the cooking grate with the bone side of the racks facing the fire. At this point I add a handful of water soaked apple and pecan chips to each fire.

As you can see I take the trimmings from preparing the ribs and smoke them also. This is good meat and tastes very good. I don't like to waste anything. I will typically let the ribs smoke for 2.5 hours adding more charcoal to maintain temperature and some more wood chips to keep the smoke going during this time. At the end of the first 2.5 hours I will take the ribs off and place in foil pouring a small amount of apple cider over each rack. I wrap them tightly and place them back on the grill for another 2 hours. Now the most important part of making really over the top competition quality ribs. Remove the ribs from the foil the meat should have shrunken back from the bone about a quarter inch. I then take squeeze butter and apply a good squeeze on the top. I then rub the butter into the ribs. The meat will soak up the butter adding both flavor and moisture. 

Next I will do the same thing using honey. This will help make the sauce glisten and also create a nice crust  when they go back on the smoker.

I then do the same with bbq sauce and place the ribs back on the grill for about 10 minutes letting everything melt together.

Now after all the hard work it is time to get messy! Take the ribs off the grill and pair with your favorite side dishes. I like to cut into individual bones and serve with sauce on the side. I have found since I have been making ribs this way you will not need very much sauce. With all the layered flavors you put into the ribs you don't want to over power it wit too much sauce. Enjoy

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