Best-on-the-Block Baby Back Ribs

Smoking meat might be one of the oldest methods of cooking known to humans. Not only is smoking a means of preserving meat, it also greatly improves the flavor. And for that alone, it’s no wonder that smoking meat is still is very popular today.

I’m in love with smoked meat and my smoker. Just recently, I brined, rubbed and smoked some sharp-tailed grouse and pheasant legs and thighs, and the results were simply scrumptious.

If you’re a fan of smoked meat but don’t have a smoker, don’t fret. You can smoke meat on a grill. And a new book from Jamie Purviance (“Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill,” Sunset, $21.95), will provide a lot of answers to some frequently asked questions about smoking meat on the grill — as well as some pretty tasty-looking recipes.

For example, here are five must-know smoking tips from the book as well as a tried-and-true recipe for baby back pork ribs.

Go low and slow (most of the time). True barbecue is cooked low and slow over indirect heat with wood smoke. It’s the traditional way “to make sinewy meats so moist and tender that you hardly need teeth.” But Purviance advises, don’t miss out on adding wood smoke to foods that cook more quickly over direct heat.

Don’t peek. Each time you open the grill, you lose heat and, more importantly, smoke. Open the lid only when you must.

Keep the air moving. If using a charcoal grill, keep the vents open and position the vent lid away from where the coals are. Having the vents open draws smoke from the charcoal and swirls it around the food.

White smoke is good; black smoke is bad. White smoke indicates smoldering wood. Black smoke can mean the juices are burning and tainting your food.

Let the bark get dark. This is especially true with ribs and large chunks of beef and pork that should have a “dark mahogany, borderline black crust called ‘bark.’”

Best-on-the Black Baby Backs
Rub (see directions)
4 racks baby back ribs, 2½ to 3 pounds each
4 large handfuls hickory wood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, divided
FOR SAUCE:
4 slices bacon
1 cup ketchup
½ cup unsweetened apple juice
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Hot pepper sauce (optional)
FOR MOP:
½ cup unsweetened apple juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
To make the rub, combine 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons mustard powder, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon celery seed and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper.
Remove the membrane covering the back of each rack of ribs. Lift and loosen the membrane, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Season the racks evenly with the rub. Arrange in the rib rack, standing each rack up and facing in the same direction. Let the racks stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. Soak the wood chips during this time.
Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat, 300 to 350 degrees.
Brush the cooking grates clean. Drain and add 2 handfuls of the wood chips to the smoker box of a gas grill (or add chips to the charcoal that has been prepared for indirect heat) following manufacturer’s instructions, place it over the heat and close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, cook the ribs over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, for 1 hour. Maintain the above temperature.
Meanwhile, for the sauce, in a medium skillet over low heat, cook the bacon until brown and crispy, turning occasionally. Drain the bacon on paper towels and eat the bacon whenever you like, but reserve 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the skillet and let it cool to room temperature.
In a medium saucepan, combine all the remaining sauce ingredients, except the hot pepper sauce. Whisk in the 3 tablespoons of bacon fat and cook sauce over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add hot pepper sauce, if desired. Remove the sauce from the heat.
In a small spray bottle or bowl, combine the mop ingredients. After the first hour of cooking, drain and add the remaining wood chips to the smoker box. Lightly spray or brush the ribs with the mop, particularly areas that are looking a little dry. Close the lid and cook for a second hour, maintaining the same temperature.
After the second hour of cooking, lightly spray or brush the ribs with the mop, particularly areas that are looking dry. If any racks are cooking faster than the others or look much darker, swap their positions for even cooking. Cook for another 30 minutes or so.
After 2½ hours, the meat will shrink back some from most of the bones. If it has not, continue to cook until it does. Remove the rib rack from the grill. Close the lid of the grill to maintain the heat. Remove the ribs rack and lightly brush on both sides with some of the sauce.
Return the ribs to the grill over indirect low heat.
Continue to cook with the lid closed, until tender and succulent, about 15 to 30 minutes more. The ribs are done when you can lift one end with tongs, bone side up, and the rack bends so much in the middle that the meat tears easily. Just before serving, lightly brush the racks with sauce again. Cut the racks into individual ribs and serve warm.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis based on 6 ounces of meat with sauce and seasoning: 732 calories, 69 percent of calories from fat, 56 grams fat (21 grams saturted), 14 grams carbohydrates, 43 grams protein, 1,865 milligrams sodium, 205 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

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