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When you find something really good human instinct often tells us to keep it secret.  Families have long carried on secret family recipes.  Restaurants hold tight to their secret ingredients.  It’s a form of pride, but also a way to keep your treasure from being exploited.  Always experimenting with grilling or smoking, I created a barbecue ribs recipe that I can not get enough of.  I envision myself going to competitions with these ribs and everyone asking, “how did you make these!” or “what ingredients did you use?”.  And I would smugly smile and reply, “secret!”  However, I am the type of person that likes to always do good for others and this recipe is too freaking good to not share.  The flavor pops, explodes and excites your mouth.  And I don’t even use BBQ sauce.

The ribs are actually smoked and only take 2.5 to 3.0 hours for the entire process.  That’s a relatively short amount of time compared to an overnight brining process and a lengthy slow smoking.  There are three main steps to creating these ribs:

  • How to make the meat fall off the bone – Steaming
  • Recipe for creating the perfect dry rub
  • Real wood smoking

Hint:  When shopping for ribs, your crappy ass chain store butcher will try to short change you on the ribs by cutting too close to the bone.  Look at the cut and make sure you see a very healthy meaty side.  If you are not careful, you may end up with non-meaty ribs.  Try to find a real butcher that can make custom selects.  I also suggest finding local or grass fed meets, such as Revival Meats, so you are not contributing to animal exploitation.  You don’t want that meat in your body, trust me.

For this recipe I used pork spare ribs.  You can use baby back or beef ribs, just look up variations of cooking times.  You will also need a smoker or grill that you can smoke with.  If you don’t have one, go invest in a cheap Old Smokey.  They are awesome.  And you can use this same technique for many other foods.

Step 1 -How to make the meat fall of the bone:

  • There is a film on the bone side of the ribs that has to be removed.  Use a paper towel to grab a corner and peel the film completely off.  Hopefully you can get it in one sheet.

  • Set the ribs on aluminum foil and roll into a ball.  This helps bring it to a manageable size for steaming.

  • Once rolled in to the foil, use a knife to poke holes for venting.
  • Now you are ready to steam.  I used a large boiling pot with a standing grate on the bottom.  Add water to the pot, about a half inch below the grate and heat until boiling.  (I found this handy standing grate at Hong Kong Market in Houston and is also great for steamed crab legs.)

  • When the water is boiling, place the pork into the pot (careful!) and steam on medium-high heat for about 45 minutes.  This will help separate the pork and the bone.  There are other methods to, such as placing in a crock pot for 5 hours, but this is a “quick” recipe.
  • When 45 minutes is up, remove from the pot, unfurl (is this a word?!) the pork and and place on a drip pan.  I cut the rack into two pieces for easier handling.  This helps it fit your grill better too.
  • Pat dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. This helps the rub stick!

Step 2 – Making the best dry rub and applying it to the pork

Here is what you will need:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper (preferably freshly cracked)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (this will give a slight spice – feel free to adjust to your taste)
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest (1 large orange) – this is THE SECRET ingredient

This is a good rule of thumb on proportions for each ingredient.  I always encourage people to play around catering to their own tastes.  On my next batch, I will zest 2 oranges and maybe even kick up the heat a little bit.

  • In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients
  • Whisk with a fork until all ingredients are uniformly mixed

  • liberally apply and pat the rub to both sides of the pork ribs

Step 3 – Smoking the pork

  • Place and light charcoal on one side of the grill – this will be the hot side
  • Once the coals are hot, add your favorite wood on top of the coals (I know some folks like to wrap in foil, blah blah, I don’t do this)
  • Adjust grill vents to keep heat low.  We don’t want flaming coals, just hot.  The grill will be covered throughout the smoking process
  • Place your pork ribs on the cool side of the grill, bone side down.  You don’t want it over direct heat.

  • Close the lid and smoke about 90 minutes, flipping once after 45 minutes.

  • After 90 minutes, bring those suckers in and let them rest for 10 minutes.
  • Now its just time to cut them up and and enjoy.

Give these a try and please let me know what you think!

Stay hungry, Houston – Enjoy!