Pork Rib 101 with Andy Groneman
Andy Groneman has been part of the Competition BBQ world for over 20 years. A second generation pitmaster, Andy started his BBQ journey with the HoDeDo’s BBQ team. Since then, Smoke on Wheels has earned hundreds of BBQ awards: over a 25 Grand Championships, 2 Chest to Chest National Brisket invitational titles, American Royal Invitational and Open awards, including Reserve Grand Champion, and Jack Daniels World championships in Pork, and Chef’s Choice. Under the Smoke on Wheels brand, Andy has BBQ products available in the US and Canada. He also teaches classes in BBQ and outdoor cooking all over North America, and will be sharing his teachings in Melbourne and Adelaide as well.
It was funny, as Jess [ABA head judge] and I were talking about me writing an article; I happened to ask about the state of ribs over in Oz these days. Aussie ribs vs. “Costco” ribs. And it got me thinking – I’ll put together something on ribs! Right after that discussion I saw a couple pics of some pretty poor excuses for slabs of ribs…
Last time I was over in Australia, ribs were in a pretty sad state; cut thin and with “shiners” everywhere! But there is hope! More butchers are cutting meatier ribs, and there is still Costco for sure. For the pretty penny you spend on ribs, let’s knock out a little Rib 101, and literally some “crutches” to help them turn out for you, every time!
Not all ribs are created equal – by that I mean the meat that makes them up. Let’s look at the options:
Loin back aka baby back ribs: These are the ribs are from the back of the spine. Below the loin. When you think about that luscious thick bone-in in chop – that is kind of meat you find in this section of rib. denser, leaner. Typically they cook faster, because of lower amount of fat and collagen in them.
Spare ribs or St. Louis style spares: These ribs come from further down the ribcage. If you think about the belly and brisket – that is akin to meat you will find in these spare ribs. They are meatier, and have more fat/collagen in them, which takes longer to break down, and increases your cook time slightly over the back ribs.
Either is great – so the size/texture/flavor will be what drives you to choose one or the other.
So, cooking them: Let me preface this by saying there is no “one right way” to cook ribs. They can be grilled, smoked “low and slow”, or managed somewhere in between. How you choose to cook them will change the outcome. Do you want a lot of smoke, do you like them charred? Dry or Wet? The biggest thing for ease of cooking is looking at your timelines. The hotter you cook them, the less margin of error you will have to work with for that perfect doneness. So the method I am going to share below is great way to ensure they hit the perfect doneness…. and you can shorten cook times with more heat, add more char or less based on when you wrap or if you wrap at all…. But the method below will be a great jumping off point!
Andy’s basic rib method:
- After choosing your style of rib, trim any excess fat from surface, the false loin, and remove the rib tips if starting with full spare ribs.
- Peel facia or “silver skin” from the backside of the ribs – (you want to get rub, and smoke through this area. The silver skin does not break down during cooking; so if you leave it on, you will not get any seasoning or smoke)
- Once clean, choose something to use as a binder to allow the rub to begin it’s process with protein. This can be anything to let the rub “stick” to the cold meat. mustard, olive oil, a vinegar like balsamic or cider, etc.
- Season ribs with approx. ¼ cup of the rub of your choice. Allow the rub to interact with the protein. The key is to not put the ribs into your cooker until the rub has become “wet” (IF you put the meat in immediately the dry rub will form a protective crust, keeping it from creating flavor, and letting smoke in) 2-4 hours of rest time in the rub is a safe bet.
- Preheat cooker to 230 degrees.
- Put ribs into pit, meat side up, and cook until they reach a color you like. I like a nice dark red, just past mahogany. This is usually about 2.5 hrs.
- At the point they reach this color, I wrap them to stop them from getting any darker.
- Since we are wrapping, feel free to reseason, or add any additional flavors you might like at this point. Hot sauce, honey, apple cider, you name it. About 3 TBS of liquid is good.
- Take a long sheet of foil and wrap the ribs meat side down, very tightly. (Loose foil creates steam, which will steam all the bark off the ribs you spent the last 2.5 hrs creating!)
- Starting at 1.5 hrs later, begin to check the ribs for doneness. Open foil, and attempt to lift the ribs from the middle of the slab. If they break over nicely this is a good sign of doneness. Another test would be validating the bones twist freely in the meat, by taking two bones and moving them, to see if the meat stays attached or twists free.
- Once they reach peak doneness, open the foil and allow to finish an additional 10 minutes on the grill to tack up the juices onto the surface. IF you like to sauce your ribs, you could also do that at this point. Be careful not to scorch any of the sugars in the sauce.
- Tent ribs under another sheet of foil to rest out of cooker for 15-20 minutes.
- Slice and serve!
This method should give you a great starting place for wonderful ribs. then you can adjust heat and wrap times (or wrapping at all) to get to the color, texture and flavors you like.
Here is a great base rib rub to start with as well!
- 8 tablespoons dark brown sugar, tightly packed
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (make your own Old Bay equivalent here)
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder