Monday, May 19, 2008

Smokin' hot ribs ... signs of summer

Do you smell smoke?
Anytime a walk through the neighborhood makes you think of barbecue, that means it's approaching summertime in the south.

"The warmer it gets, the more time we'll be spending with family and friends on porches, fire escapes, decks and lawns across the country," said Sandra Grey, public relations and marketing communications manager for CUTCO Cutlery. "Embrace all that summer has to offer by preparing your own blue-ribbon barbecue just steps outside the back door."

Judith Fertig, CUTCO Culinary Advisory Board member, cookbook author and one half of the famed Barbecue Queens, offers her expertise on grilling, barbecuing and smoking meat.

There are a few points to clear up first. Technically speaking, she said, grilling and barbecuing are not the same, but barbecuing and smoking are. And while you can barbecue foods that you grill, you shouldn't grill foods that you barbecue. Got it? It's an excellent point, so keep it in mind when you plan your summer eating.

In the book "The BBQ Queens' Big Book of Barbecue," which Ms. Fertig co-wrote with fellow queen Karen Adler, the differences between grilling and smoking (barbecuing) are made clear.

These techniques aren't really that dissimilar, she said. The difference is direct vs. indirect heat, and knowing how and what to cook will allow you to get the most flavor out of your food.

Grilling is hot (300 to 500 degrees) and fast. Meats that are best suited for this direct-heat method of cooking are already tender, like chicken breasts, pork chops, pork tenderloin, steaks, fish fillet, shellfish and vegetables.

Smoking, on the other hand, is "low and slow" (200 to 250 F for several hours) next to a low fire with fragrant wood or herbs added. Meats that perform well with the indirect heat used in smoking are those that require a longer cooking time to tenderize, like beef brisket, pork loin, spare ribs and pork shoulder or butt.

"The great thing about smoking, however, is you can also smoke foods that you grill," Ms. Fertig said. "These foods may take longer to cook but they'll take on the flavor of the wood smoke."

While grilling may seem like second nature, the details of smoking may be, well, a little smoky. So Ms. Fertig has offered a few pointers to help clear the air about smoking meat on the grill at home.

Gather the right tools.

  • Cleaver or Butcher Knife to separate ribs before cooking.
  • French Chef Knife to mince herbs for smoking.
  • Long-handled Barbeque Tools, like a spatula, tongs and fork to manage the coals and meat during cooking, and keep your hands safely away from the heat of the fire.
  • Carving Knives for smooth slices brisket or loin.
  • Of course, have the Table Knives at the ready to savor the delicious results.

Set up your grill for an indirect fire.

  • Charcoal grill: Prepare a direct first. Once the coals are hot, create an area of the grill that's free of the direct heat of the coals, whether you choose to move the coals with a long-handled barbecue spatula to one side or to bank them in two piles on either side of the grill. Place a disposable aluminum pan filled with water on the direct heat side, next to the hot coals because long cooking times call for extra moisture for the meat. Place hard wood chunks, chips or pellets for wood smoke flavor on top of the coals and replace the grill grate. Be sure to leave the grill vents partially open. Closing them will extinguish the flame.
  • Gas grill: The grill must have at least two sets of burners to cook with indirect heat. Light the burner on one half of the grill. If the grill has three burners or more, light the outer burners and cook in the center of the grill rack. Add water-soaked wood chips, dry compressed wood pellets or even herbs to a foil packet pierced with holes and place on grill rack over the direct heat. Also place aluminum pan filled with water over the direct heat, again to maintain the meat's moisture.

Enjoy this award-winning recipe for Simply Smoked Pork Ribs from the Barbecue Queens.

Simply Smoked Pork Ribs

Suggested wood: A combination of hickory and cherry. Serves 8

3 whole slabs (about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each) baby back ribs

1 cup barbecue spice seasoning mix

1 cup clover or other medium-colored honey

1 (12-ounce) squeeze bottle margarine

1 (14-ounce) ounce bottle smoky, spicy barbecue sauce
The day before cooking, remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. Sprinkle with the rub on both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare an indirect fire in your smoker.

Cover and smoke the ribs at a temperature of 225 to 250 degrees F.

After 2 hours, the rib meat should have pulled back from the tips of the bones. Turn the ribs over, drizzle the ribs with half the honey and margarine and brush all over the surface of the meat. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Turn the ribs again, drizzle with the remaining half of the honey and margarine and brush on the surface of the meat. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. As a final glaze, brush the ribs on both sides with some of the barbecue sauce, then smoke the ribs for a final 15 minutes. To serve, leave as whole slabs, or cut into individual ribs. Serve the remaining sauce on the side.