I have a friend who has an annual rib party, touting his famous ribs. The first time I went, I watched him remove the babybacks from the cellophane, put them straight onto the grill, and paint them with bottled barbecue sauce. And like Peggy Lee, I wondered, Is that all there is?
Contrast that with a restaurant in which I used to work, the late and lamented Maudes in Ann Arbor, famous for its barbecue ribs, and justly so. Chef had an all day operation going on. He spread the racks all over the kitchen, and ingeniously coated them with a secret marinade from a spray bottle faster, more even, and cleaner.
Then they sloooow baked for hours until they fell off the proverbial bone. They were excellent alone like that, but even better when the customer ordered them. Thats when they were finished under the broiler with a delicious red sauce, and presented proudly to the hungry customer.
After many successful years, Maudes incongruously changed its rib recipe, installing an outside smoker. They were not bad, but like New Coke, not the best idea for a loyal customer base. Maudes closed shortly afterwards.
A close second was the barbecue prepared by the equally late and lamented Jesse Campbell, a.k.a. Mr. Rib. His restaurant was housed in too many locations to count, as it seemed he was always trying to stay one step ahead of the IRS, which hounded him mercilessly. But what a sauce. Lord knows what was under it, but that sweet river of lava was something to die for.
My butcher, Bob Sparrow, is of the slow bake school. Its not glamorous, and it doesnt have the same manly cachet of standing over the smoker in a goofy outfit, tongs in one hand and beer in the other. But it works.
To wit: 200 for four hours. Put them on the top rack, meaty side up, preferably with a shallow pan of water and/or apple cider on the lower rack to provide moist heat.
Cover them with foil for the last hour. If you want to finish them on the grill, bump that oven up to a balmy 225 and cut the cooking time down an hour.
Prior to the slow bake, a dry rub, marinade, or combination of the two is recommended. I recently cooked a few racks by rubbing them with a combination of canola oil mixed with a touch of cider vinegar, then a sweet peppery rub (recipe below). I finished them under the broiler (as I was out of propane) with a traditional Kansas City-style sauce, just enough to give them a light crust. They were delicious and so were the leftovers. For days, and days, and days.
Blue Smoke Black Pepper Rub
by Ken Callaghan
2 Tbs coarsely ground pepper
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp Spanish paprika
(sweet or hot; I used sweet)
After coating the ribs with a mixture of canola oil, cider vinegar, and a touch of fresh ground garlic, mix and rub this spice mixture all over both sides of the ribs.
Cook in a low heat oven as above.
This red sauce is best made in advance to let the flavors get to know each other better.
Sweet and Sticky Barbecue Sauce
Recipe adapted from Adam Perry Lang.
1/2 cup canola oil
6 chopped garlic cloves
1 chopped onion
1 chopped green pepper
1/4 cup dark rum
(I used leftovers in the liquor cabinet,
some weird gift from the Islands)
3 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne, Aleppo pepper,
or mixture of both
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground clove
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups water
2 cups ketchup or chili sauce
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup tamarind paste
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Franks Red Hot Sauce
1.Heat oil in large saucepan. Add garlic, onion, green pepper, and a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until softened, 5-10 minutes. Add liquor and cook 2 minutes more. Add chili powder, peppers, allspice, and cloves, and cook 3 minutes. Add brown sugar, water, ketchup, molasses, tamarind paste, molasses, mustard, vinegar, and Franks and simmer, stirring often, for 30 minutes.
2.Transfer to a food processor, puree, season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for up to two weeks or until ready to use.
Vegetarians can put this sauce on a slab o tofu. Its really good that way, too. Honest.
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.