Friday, March 23, 2018

Baby Back Ribs on an Offset Pit

[FTC Disclaimer]  I have a contract with Oklahoma Joe's Smokers but that is unrelated to my blog and social media channels.  I am not paid to promote their products or publish content about them. Whenever I post them here, it's because I just felt like using Oklahoma Joe's for a particular cook.

I'm still breaking in my Oklahoma Joe's Smokers® and smoked these pork loin back ribs.  Here's a little insight about that cook.

Baby Back/Loin Back Ribs

Ever since Chile's came out with their infectious jingle, it seems that all loin back ribs got lumped in as "baby back ribs".  Technically, baby backs are loin backs that weigh less.  Here are some tidbits on these tasty ribs.

  • Loin back ribs come from the upper section of the rib cage near the spine compared to spare ribs that come from the rib section near the belly.
  • As such, loin back ribs taste more like pork chops and spares taste more like uncured bacon.
  • Loin back ribs come with 10-13 rib bones, depending on breed and processing (Field Guide to Meat 113).
  • In Southern Living's Ultimate Book of BBQ, Christopher Prieto says that baby backs are the most popular ribs (74).
  • Steven Raichlen says that baby backs are an excellent meat for beginners because they are more tender, have more marbling, and are easier to cook (Barbecue Bible 39).
  • Meathead Goldwyn agrees with them being more tender but counters that they are leaner (Meathead 204).  I tend to agree with Meathead on the fat content.
  • When shopping for loin back ribs, look for thick ones that are bright pink and have evenly distributed fat (Prieto 74).
  • Sizing matters in taste, tenderness, and cook times so keep that in mind when buying.
    • According to Raichlen, true baby backs weigh a pound, come from smaller hogs, and are imported from Denmark (197).
    • According to the Field Guide To Meat, baby backs are 1.75 pounds and down while loin backs are heavier (113).
  • Plan on buying 3/4 pound per person for loin backs (113).  For small baby backs, count on 1 rack per person.

Alexis bought 3 racks of Smithfield Prime Reserve "Extra Meaty" back ribs.  They are extra meaty, alright.  These weighed in at an average of just over 3 pounds each.
Unless expertly prepared by your butcher, the ribs will have a membrane (peritoneum) on the back of them (Field Guide to Meat 112).  The toughness of this membrane is determined by factors of age and size (Field Guide to Meat 112).  Christopher Prieto of Prime BBQ says you need to remove the membrane to allow seasoning to penetrate (77) but I also remove it for tenderness.  Some people don't bother removing them.  Different strokes for different folks, I like to rip mine off.

I remove the membranes for loin back ribs differently than spare ribs.  Here is how I do it for loin back ribs, it gets them peeled off with one pull most of the time.

I like to season my ribs about 1 hour to 90 minutes before smoking.  I keep them in the fridge because you want the ribs cold when they go into the smoker.  

For ribs, I like to combine a savory/spicy rub with a salty/sweet rub.
  • For the savory/spicy element, I went with Big Moe Cason's Pork Rub (Academy Sports). It is a coarse rub with big BBQ flavor and a strong peppery finish.
  • For the salty/sweet component, lately I have been digging Kosmos Q Killer Bee Honey Rub. It starts salty, then runs into a lot of sweet honey, and ends with hints of celery salt.
I used the Oklahoma Joe's Longhorn Reverse Flow.  The reverse flow means there are dividers that bring the heat and smoke in from the right side, under the meat.  Then it comes up at the left end, flows back around the meat and out of the smokestack shown on the right side.  This minimizes hot spots in the cooker.

When I start off, I bury a few pecan wood splits in the natural hardwood briquettes.  I fill the charcoal basket over this.  Later I will just add wood splits on top of the burning coals.  I also like apple wood for loin back ribs.

I light one corner and let the fire spread from there for a low, slow burning fire.

I use the sheet pans to keep my cooker clean.  The resting racks let the smoke circulate around the meat. The brisket on here is just over 16 pounds.  I seasoned it with my NMT Beef Rub recipe and injected it with a mix of beef stock, liquid aminos, and xantham gum.

My target temp is 275°f-290°f.  I have found the temp differential between the thermometer in the lid and the grate run about 50-60°f cooler at the grate.  It is much more than the kamados that I am used to, which have about a 20-25°f differential.  So I ended up having to shoot for a thermometer temp of about 325°f.

One of the strengths of offset pits is the color that they build on your meats.

When the original coals are almost died down, if I don't switch to burning just wood splits, I will push all of the coals to one side (left above), creating a void on the right side.

Then I add in lump charcoal in gap.  Lump charcoal will start burning cleaner than adding briquettes would.

Ribs getting close to being done.  The brisket was just getting going.  We were cooking that to give to a friend on that Monday so it didn't matter when that got done.

Cooking Times for Loin Backs/Baby Backs

The problem with giving a general rule of thumb for times and temps for back ribs is that they vary wildly and widely in weight.  As mentioned, true baby backs can be just a pound but "extra meaty" loin backs come in over 3 pounds.  Generally, I cook them at 275-290° and expect about 4 hours.   But I drop down significantly for true baby backs.  Otherwise, I just watch the ribs and at about 4 hours, start testing for tenderness.  I do this by checking flexibility by the bend test or toothpick test.

Nice color and good drawback on the bones.

Personally, I prefer my ribs with just a little sauce drizzled over the ribs.  For these I made a Honey and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce.  Good ribs don't need sauce but I understand that 1) sauce is necessary for competitions and 2) some people like saucy ribs.

Honey and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce

1 cup ketchup 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup local honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1.5 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2  teaspoon roasted garlic paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried onion flakes

Combine all ingredients in a small stock pan and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.

So I did the brisket 2 ways.  I smoked the one on the Oklahoma Joe's® whole for about 6 hours.  Then I switched the brisket over to one of my Big Green Egg's to finish.  That was just because I had the Egg set up with a Flame Boss electronic controller that handled the cooking while I got some sleep.

Smoked whole until it finished cooking. Then I slice off the point so I can slice the meat 2 different directions. 

Excuse the crappy pictures.  This was after a 2-hour rest, about 3 or 4 in the morning and I was just in a hurry to get it done and get back in bed.

I cooked the second brisket more of our competition style, except I didn't use a phosphate type injection. I split the point from the flat.  I cooked them on a second Big Green Egg that was also set up with a Flame Boss controller. I smoked those at 290°f and then made burnt ends with the point.

This brisket finished after dawn and I ended up eating 3 burn ends for breakfast. 

Nice smoke ring for a brisket smoked 100% on a kamado grill.  I used 3 wood splits in the fire box to get plenty of smoke, not just lump charcoal.