Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Smoked Pork Butt and Spare Ribs: Notes from Memorial Day Weekend Cook on the Big Green Egg

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We had a porkilicous BBQ dinner yesterday that was tender, smoky, and all kinds of delicious.

Spicy Smoked Pork Butt

Bourbon Barrel Smoked Spare Ribs

Southern-style Potato Salad

Bush's Smokehouse Grillin' Beans

BBQ plate of smoked pork, spare ribs, beans and potato salad
Smoked pork butt and spare ribs for the win!

This isn't a recipe post, just a summary of the cook. Here are my notes, thoughts, and some pictures of how everything went.

Meat Prep

My Food City had Smithfield pork butts and Smithfield spare ribs on sale for the weekend so I picked up one of each.

Pork Butt Prep

The pork butt weighed in just over 9 pounds. When picking pork butts, I look for a rectangular shape, not a lot of excess fat, a prominent money muscle, and a vibrant color (not pale pink). 

  • Timing - I like to do this so that my pork butt has 12 hours to rest in the fridge before smoking.
  • Trimming - None, this Smithfield pork butt was nicely trimmed of any excess fat. The one downside is that a deep gash almost cut off the money muscle. The gash was sort of like we do for competition pork butts to expose the money muscle to smoke, but the cut was much deeper, almost all the way through.
  • Injection - I inject mainly for flavor rather than moisture. I used Chris Lilly's recipe for his World Championship Pork Shoulder from his first book. The apple juice gives it sweetness, the salt seasons it, the cayenne gives it a hint of heat, and the Worcestershire sauce adds that umami "fifth taste". 
  • Rub - We opted for a spicy pork butt this time. Instead of a sweet rub like my Southern Sweet recipe or Meat Church Honey Hog, I pulled out the Albukirky Seasonings Anchonero rub. As the name implies, Anchonero has ancho (smoky, dark) and habanero (heat, bright) chiles. 

Smithfield pork butt prepared for smoking
Fat cap down on a wire rack in a half-sized steam pan. You can see I had the money muscle leaning against the steam pan in the front. If you look about 2 inches back, you can see a fine line that was the cut that I mentioned. If I did this without a steam pan, I would have tied the money muscle to the roast so it didn't flop open and cook faster than the rest of the roast.

I covered this whole setup with a large food bag and put it in the fridge to dry brine for 12 hours. I took it out immediately before putting it on the smoker because cold meat attracts smoke more readily than meat left out at room temp.

Spare Rib Prep

The rack of Smithfield spare ribs was HUGE, I'm talking 4.4 pounds. 

  • Timing - I do this about 2 hours before starting the cook. IMHO, ribs only need to sit for an hour with the rub on them compared to larger meats like brisket and butts.
  • Trimming - The rack was already trimmed St. Louis-style so its edges were straight. I trimmed off the "skirt" on the back of the ribs, removed the membrane from the back, and converted St Louis-style to Kansas City-style by squaring off the ends of the ribs.
  • Rub - I used a mix of Flavor Anonymous Notorious RED (one of my top 2 favorite pork rubs) and Fire and Smoke's Second City Sweet.

Smithfield St Louis Spare Ribs purchased from Food City
The ribs were thick, even and nicely trimmed.

Seasoned and trimmed ribs waiting to go into the smoker.
Trimmed, seasoned and waiting to go into the smoke.

Grill Set Up

I could have easily done both the pork butt and ribs in one kamado grill like the Big Green Egg. Competition BBQ has gotten me into the practice of setting up all equipment hours in advance so that when it's crunch time, there are no delays.

Big Green Egg for the Pork Butt

Using the Kick Ash Basket to shake that ash off of the leftover coals.
A good smoke session starts with cleaning out your smoker to ensure the best airflow. I use a Kick Ash Basket to shake off the ash from the leftover coal from a previous cook. I transfer this to a holding pan. I put fresh lump charcoal and 4-5 chunks of wood in the basket and then top that off with the leftover charcoal. 

My set up was a cast iron plate setter, drip pan, and cast iron grate.
I used a cast iron plate setter, drip pan, and cast iron grate for my grill setup. I like the cast iron plate setter (aka ConvEGGtor) because I broke every ceramic plate setter that I have owned but I've had this for almost 10 years with no issues.
Cast Iron Plate Setter [Amazon Affiliate]

I used Jealous Devil XL Lump Charcoal for my main fuel source. I used their whiskey barrel smoke wood blocks for my smoke.

Egg Ribs

My setup for the Big Green Egg for the ribs was different, mainly because of the shape of ribs. With a traditional ConvEGGtor or plate setter, the ends of the ribs can stick out over gaps. That puts the rib ends over direct heat instead of indirect heat, which can make them burn.

I used one of my Adjustable Rigs (Ceramic Grill Store) with an oval heat stone. This is the setup I use for briskets and ribs.

From this picture, you can see how the oval heat stone protects the full length of the ribs and the heat and smoke come up around the sides. The metal frame pictured is for the drip pan. You lay a sheet of foil over it and tuck it underneath the frame. 

set ups showing the Thermoworks Signals and BBQ Guru UltraQ in action.
I decided to use electric controllers, just for the convenience. I used Thermoworks Signals to run a Billows fan on the Egg with the pork butt. I used a BBQ Guru UltraQ and Pit Viper on the Egg with the pork spareribs. 
Thermoworks Signals [Affiliate Link]


Saturday Noon 

Prepped pork butt as noted earlier in this post. 

Saturday Afternoon

Competition BBQ has gotten me in the practice of setting up all equipment hours in advance so when it's crunch time, there are no delays.

Saturday 10:45pm

Lit the BGE for the pork butt. I set my Signals for a 225°f cook temp and lit the coals in one spot towards the front of the Kick Ash Basket. My intent is for the fire to burn down and back because I have my wood chunks stacked that way in the coal.

Sunday 12:00AM 

The Egg was rocking steady at 225°f with wisps of smoke dancing through the top vent so I put the pork butt on in the center of the grate. I spritzed it liberally with quality apple juice, closed the dome and let it ride.

Sunday 1:00am

I spritzed the pork butt heavily one more time and then turned in for the night. Normally I'd spritz every hour or so. But, 1) kamado grills like the BGE have a moist cooking environment and 2) I wanted to sleep. 

Sunday 6:00am

  • Pork butt - I spritzed it. It was only an internal temp of about 150°f and didn't have the color that I wanted yet.
  • Ribs - I lit the BGE and turned on the BBQ Guru UltraQ set at 275°f. Meanwhile, I prepped the ribs as noted above.

Sunday 8:00am
  • Pork butt - gave my butt a spritz (that never gets old...). Getting closer to wrapping based on color and temp
  • Ribs - I put the ribs on the center of the rack, slightly compressing the rack lengthwise (stretch when seasoning, compact when cooking).

Sunday 9:00am
  • Pork butt - Put on double foil sheets and drizzled with butter, more rub, and apple juice. Wrapped in the foil and put back on the BGE. Now that my butt was protected, I turned the cooking temp up to 275°f to speed up the cooking process.
  • Ribs - Drizzled about 3 lines of butter on top of the rack.
Sunday 10:00am
  • Pork butt - Nothing to do, cooking along just fine.
  • Ribs - The color was starting to look great, Spritzed with apple juice.
Sunday 10:30am
  • Ribs - Removed ribs from the grill. I use cotton gloves covered with food gloves for handling the ribs with dexterity. Here's a trick to get even drawback on the rib bones. Press the handle of a table knife between the rib bone tips, pressing back on the meat. It won't seem like it does much now but it will.
  • Wrapped the ribs - place the ribs on foil, meat side up, and drizzle with butter, brown sugar, more rub, honey and spritz with apple juice. Flip the ribs over and repeat. Fold all 4 edges of the foils over to form a tight envelope and put the ribs back on. I worked quickly so the whole thing takes maybe 5 minutes.
  • Reduced temp - My ribs were cooking faster than my butt and I wanted them to finish at the same time. So I adjusted the BBQ Guru UltraQ to 250°f to slow the cook down.
Sunday 12:00pm 
  • Pork butt - Getting there but still had about 15 degrees to go.
  • Ribs - I could tell they were perfect just by picking up the foil pack, they were wiggly-jiggly. That's a technical term we BBQrs use. They were tender and the meat was slightly drawn back, exposing the rib bone tips.  I put the ribs in a pre-heated Cambro hotbox to hold.

Sunday 1:00pm
  • Pork butt - My target is somewhere between 203-208°f and this one was at 208°f. It was wiggly-jiggly when I moved it and a thermometer probe slid in like warm butter.  I put it in the Cambro with the ribs.
  • I dropped the temp of my smokers to 225f. This way when I'm ready to do the final kiss of smoke, I can drop in wood, up the temp, and get it to smoke steadily. 
Sunday 2:00pm 
  • Time to glaze and a final kiss of smoke. This is something I learned from competition - The last things you do to BBQ is the first thing judges (aka people) taste.
  • Glaze - I cut Blues Hog Original with a ratio of 4:1 with apple juice so it pours just right over the ribs and butt.
  • I put them back in the smoke for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is set.
Final Treatment
  • Pork Butt - We pulled the pork, tasted it and it was spot on. We didn't add anything. Sometimes we will give a nudge of salt, cayenne, or toss in a splash of my Virden's vinegar sauce recipe.
  • Ribs - Sprinkled lightly with popcorn salt (very fine) and dusted it with finely ground BBQ rub. Glazed the edges with some of the leftover sauce.

The Results

Everything turned out tender, smoky, and delicious. 

Here's the graph of the internal temperature of the pork butt as recorded by my Thermoworks Signals. You can see the quick dip when I took the pork butt out to wrap it. This shows how the wrapping speeds up the cooking.

Smoked spare ribs with a large Cimeter style knife on a wood cutting board
Gorgeous color on the ribs, right?  The knife I used is my 12" Victorinox Cimeter. I'll also use the straight slicer that I use for briskets but for ribs I'll normally grab this one because I like how the curve makes for an even slice motion on the ribs.
Victorinox 12" cimeter [Amazon Affiliate Link]

The two rubs worked well together to deliver a balanced sweet and savory flavor profile.

The meat drew back nicely, pretty much evenly exposing the tips of the rib bones.

Slicing smoked spare ribs with a Victorinox cimeter
It's rib slicin' time, baby!

Sliced rack of spare ribs that were smoked on the Big Green Egg
I gave them one last brush with the thinned BBQ sauce after slicing.

BBQ plate with pork, spare ribs, potato salad and BBQ beans
Now THAT'S a proper BBQ plate.