Easy Recipes for Stay-at-Home-Dads: Easy Friday Pork Ribs
If you asked me to choose my favorite day it would be Friday. Whether you asked while I was in kindergarten at Butler Elementary (cookies marked the end of the week rather than the daily graham crackers), in college (at my “suitcase” state university 98% of the students went home Friday so classes were usually cut short), in the Navy (when in port the crew knocked off right after a beer-sodden lunch), or through the grind of work (Fridays always meant a weekend free, at least until our force-reducing merger when one person did the work of five, including Saturday and Sunday) the answer would always be the same. Being a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) hasn’t changed a thing: Fridays mean ribs around here.
Now when you’re working, spending one or two hours sitting around tending the Weber with a brewski in the backyard is something limited to, perhaps, an occasional Saturday afternoon. With Chicago weather, a family, a week’s worth of shopping and home maintenance (to say nothing of soccer games and social obligations) shoehorned into a Saturday, rib days were few and far between.
Currently I have a Friday ritual I observe as a SAHD: a dog walk, a thorough house cleaning (with my son in tow if he is not in school), some reading, some writing and, promptly at four, the grill gets lit off. If the temps are below 25 we do pizza, but any other time, I’m out with the charcoal and the matches.
Anyway, we have tried take-out ribs, store-bought pre-made ribs and restaurant ribs that we re-warmed the next day. With some pride of authorship I can say that home-cooked ribs are much better.
I have a few different versions but if you have never tried cooking your own, this recipe is simple enough to allow you to get your wings. Some of you may complain the below exercise is pretty long and not totally in keeping with my easy recipe mission. The meal is simple but it does take about 3 hours. However, I have had a lot of requests for it and I figured I’d share it with you as well.
Before we adjourn to the kitchen, however, a few recommendations:
First, get a decent charcoal grill: I use a Weber standard-size grill that stands on three legs with an ash receptacle attachment. We spent about a hundred and a half for it but it has gotten me through three years so far and looks like it will hold up for another three.
Second, for ribs, charcoal always beats gas. Though always a point of contention between connoisseurs: I come out on the charcoal side. We have a gas grill but use solely for fish, chicken, a few pork dishes, rotisserie meals (and when I get really lazy).
Third, get yourself a $15 rib rack. Lowes, Home Depot, all the usual hardware superstores (and even the smaller ones) have them. Since ribs are meant to be cooked on their sides rather than flat, the rib rack is a sine qua non (being an attorney has it advantages, at least with using esoteric phrases).
Fourth, aluminum drip pans. Ribs have to cook slowly, using indirect heat (i.e. ribs are never cooked directly above the coals but in the grill’s middle with heat on either side). The pan collects the ribs fat drippings in addition to pushing the coals to either side of the kettle under the cooking surface.
Lastly, wood chips. Smoking ribs gives them their flavor. For that you need wood chunks (or the chips). I usually keep hickory, apple and maple chunks on hand as each gives ribs a different flavor (I recommend the hickory or apple for this meal).
OK, we’re ready to rock.
The ribs: Figure about half a rack of pork back ribs each. I, however, usually buy a full rack per-person so there is extra for Saturday lunch. Not to plug Costco again but they sell a three-rack package for a nominal amount and we use that up for each meal.
The rub: Before you can cook ribs you need to prepare a rub. You can buy rib rub at a butcher store, a barbeque store, a grocery store, just about anywhere. If you want to use the already prepped variety, go ahead. It will save you some time but, since you’re already this far in you might as well go whole hog (no pun intended). This particular rub is also extremely simple. It’s just:
2 cups of brown sugar
½ cup of kosher salt
¼ cup of ground black pepper
The sauce: Now some like their ribs wet (with sauce), some them dry (no sauce). In a subsequent post I will address making sauce. For now, if you want to go with sauce I recommend the KC Masterpiece variety. Keep up with my future posts for a few sauce recipes down the line.
Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl with your fingers. Rub the mixture into the ribs on all sides. Place the ribs on a plate, cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
Drop about four handfuls of wood chips or chunks in a large sealable plastic bag, fill it with water, seal it and put it aside for about an hour.
Pile the charcoal in the grill’s center and light it. When the coal had grayed over (about 20-30 minutes) use a hoe or other implement to divide the heated pile in half. Place the drip pan in the middle of the grill between the pile halves. Drop a handful of the water-logged wood chips on each pile and close the grill lid. Once the chips begin to smoke you are ready to cook. The fire should be hot but not so hot that you cannot keep your hand about 6 inches over the grill center (i.e. over the aluminum pan) for less than 5 seconds.
Place one rib in each of the rack’s holder sections then put the rack on the grill. Every half an hour open the grill to rotate the ribs so they cook evenly. Also place a few new coals and wood chunks on the fire.
After about 90 minutes the ribs should be turning dark brown with the underlying bones starting to peak through on the sides.
At this point take the ribs off the grill and onto a plate. I usually individualize the ribs on one large platter before bringing it to the table.
We usually serve this meal with fries (a later recipe) and barbequed asparagus (yet another future post).
Beer is a must but a good cabernet or malbec will also do nicely