Everyone, other than vegans and vegetarians, loves a good rack of pork ribs that has been cooked to perfection.
The trouble is, how does one achieve this on the barbecue without making them tough and dried out? Ribs need low temperatures in a moist environment for a long period of time to become tender and juicy. Outdoor gas grills and charcoal barbecues, however, never produce moist heat and this is where you, the home chef, come in.
A wet liquid called a "mopping solution" will need to be applied to the ribs regularly as they cook. I make a simple mopping solution by combining 1/2 cup beer, 1/2 cup vinegar, four chopped garlic cloves, a few slices of onion, and a tablespoon of dry meat spice rub. This is enough mopping liquid for two racks of ribs and can be easily applied with a basting brush.
You will be cooking the ribs over indirect heat, so purchase only enough racks of ribs to fit on your grill/barbecue in this manner. Indirect heat means there will be a heat source that will not be directly under where the ribs will be. On a gas grill this would be achieved by having the lid down and keeping one or more burners on, but placing the ribs over the one or more burners that will stay off. On a charcoal grill this would mean using a heat deflector.
Decide on a good dry meat rub (spice mix) or make one yourself - there are tons of recipes available online. Coat both sides of your racks of ribs with this spice rub.
Preheat your grill/barbecue to approximately 275 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. You are going to need to be able to maintain this temperature for three to 3.5 hours with the lid down.
Place the spice-coated ribs bone side down and cook indirectly for a half hour. Lift the lid and "mop" the tops of the ribs, then close the lid and cook for another half hour before mopping again.
Basically, you are going to generously mop the ribs at the following times: half hour, one hour, 1.5 hours, two hours and 2.5 hours, cooking with the lid closed in between these times and maintaining the suggested temperature.
Once you hit the threehour mark, lift the lid and coat the tops with your favourite sauce. Close the lid and cook for 10 minutes, then sauce again, cook another 10 minutes, sauce once more, and then cook a final 10 more minutes.
Carefully remove the cooked tender ribs and let them sit for five to 10 minutes before serving. These ribs won't be as tender and delicate as ribs that are braised in liquid in the oven, but they will definitely have more "flame-licked" taste. Charcoal grills are great for adding real barbecue flavour, while gas grills tend to be lacking in this department.
Buying a smoker box designed for your gas grill with soaked wood smoking chips will improve this. I recommend soaking your wood chips for at least one hour before draining and using.
The cooking times and temperatures mentioned in this column are approximate and will depend upon the quality of grill or barbecue you are using and the accuracy of your grill thermometer. What you are trying to achieve is a slow-cooked internal meat temperature of 190 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit before resting and serving. A good instantread thermometer will help you accomplish this. Digital ones are easier to read and thus a good quality one will be worth the investment for many recipes in the future.
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