At CPW 2011, I had, hands down, the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life.
Saturday. I’m helping Mikey prepare for the closing show. We’re watching the Logarhythms sing. But wait, is that the bass belting, or my stomach rumbling? Both. Song over. Pull out the phone. Check the online scheduling app. OK, BBQ at Burton Connor.
Walk out of Kresge. Have to pass through the Kresge BBQ pits on my way to Burton Connor. Grab a hamburger to eat on the way. Classic. Arrive at Burton Connor. Lots of people. Grab an Arnold Palmer and some chips on a plate. Muscle to the front of the line for the ribs.
Where, like a beacon in the darkness, stands Snively.
Earlier that day I’d seen Snively while on a tour of Burton Connor. We were visiting a random suite with our guides when a door opened and out walked Snively wearing a BC tshirt and pajama bottoms. Right into a bunch of prefrosh and their parents.
As always, Snively handled the situation with aplomb. We began discussing different things he’s made, and then I pointed over at the several empty bottles of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce (my favorite brand) on the kitchen counter. “Oh yeah” said Snively. “We’re making ribs.”
UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY.
Several hours later, and here stands Snively, grilling the ribs. Big aluminum containers of them. Someone – I still don’t know who – cut me about a pound off the side. I took a small bite.
Mistake. Too small a bite. Too glorious a taste. The best ribs I’d ever had in my life. My hunger tore through me. The world went into tunnel vision. Something primal, from the New Hampshire woods, awakened.
With my last remaining wits about me I took off my CPW Staff badge, shoving it in my pocket, so I couldn’t be identified while I was FoodHulking. Then I grabbed the remaining ribs, tore them in two, and held the bones in my bare hands, tearing the meat off with my teeth as I marched, devouring, legs wide apart, like a ravening Neanderthal, across campus back to Kresge.
I finished the ribs just as I returned to the oval. My foodlust receding, I looked at my reflection in the glassy windows. My face was covered in BBQ sauce and seared rib, like Hannibal Lecter at a pig roast.
Inside stood Hamsika. She looked at me and looked away, disgusted – then looked back again, realizing it was me. “Chris!!” she cried. “What happened?” In response, I only let out a mighty belch. Then I went, washed my hands and face, regained my composure, reattached my nametag, and went back in to help manage the closing show.
I tell you this terrible, shameful tale only to communicate how good these ribs are. They will make even the most sane, responsible professionals (and also me) delirious with deliciousness.
I asked Snively for the recipe; instead, his friend, Lila F ’13, the master chef, submitted it in the form of a guest blog, with one request: “There was one prefrosh family that took some pictures of me cooking the ribs, but I can’t track it down. If you took a picture of me making ribs, can you send it? Thanks!”
Writing this has made me hungry again. I need to go to Anna’s. While I do that, check out Lila’s recipe below!
World’s Best Ribs
By Lila F. ’13
This morning as I walked home from Kendall at 9:30AM, enjoying the sunshine and a hot cup of coffee, I made a mental plan for my busy CPW Saturday. I needed to shower, clean my room, draft an essay, work on a p-set, and finally begin event hopping around 4pm. With my head still wrapped around my long day ahead, I walked into Burton Conner and gave a dazed nod to the desk where Affie was working. But before I had made it to the stairwell she stopped me – “Lila, do you know how to make ribs?” Now pause and try to help me understand why I said yes. What was I thinking? Coming from rainy Seattle, I rarely ever touch the barbecue and no, I have never made ribs before. But in my morning daze I smiled and assured her that I am a capable cook and therefore can make anything. Unfortunately, I forgot that Affie was planning all Burton Conner CPW events and that Burton Conner was hosting a Real Southern BBQ event this afternoon, and that at that very moment Affie was pulling me away from my beautifully productive day of work into the never ending mess of CPW preparations.
When I got out of the shower, Affie was in my kitchen unloading a not-so-little red wagon full of ribs, roasting pans, and barbecue sauce. Taking a deep breath, I bade farewell to my weekend checklist and began searching my mind for the best way to cook ribs. My first thought was the Best of Washington cookbook, which usually spins recipes with the addition of apples and cider to traditional foods. After an impatient 30-second search, I reached for my laptop and opened my Food Bookmarks of more than 10 trusty food blogs. Scanning the list, I skipped over the many baking sites and vegetarian sites, and decided on a trustworthy and well established source: Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer. Since I had about 6 hours before the barbecue, I wanted to slow cook the ribs in the oven, and then transfer them to the barbecue grill for the last 15-20 minutes to add flavor and color to the meat. Simply Recipes has a beautiful Slow and Low Country Ribs recipe, which I decided to use as a guideline and slightly modify for my mass quantity of spare ribs.
Since I was cooking for more than 75 people, I had 12 full racks of pork spare ribs. I didn’t want to poison any prefrosh, so I knew that I had to fully cook all of the meat before it went on the barbecue, which meant placing each rack of ribs in its own oven. That was 12 ovens and about a million flights of stairs run between Conner 2 and Conner 3 to keep an eye on all of the racks.
Preheat the oven to 250˚F, and place the oven racks in the lower middle half of the oven. Take your bag of spare ribs and cut them open over your roasting pan, allowing the juices to drip out with the meat. Be sure you separate the two racks of ribs that come in each bag – they may be slightly stuck together, especially if they were previously frozen.
Drizzle with oil (I used Canola) and rub both sides with salt, steak seasoning, and Sweet Mesquite Spices. Do not be shy with the salt and spices! These ribs have a lot of meat and will absorb much of the flavor that you use in the initial rub.
Place the roasting pans in separate ovens for 90 minutes without interruption. Resist the temptation to peak on them or turn them! You want to let the ribs cook through before adding sauce so they have a smooth and even texture.
While the ribs are cooking, combine ¾ cup BBQ sauce with 1/3 cup Canola oil. Add a few shakes of Sweet Mesquite Seasoning (up to 1 ½ tsp if you were generous in your initial rub. If you think you were stingy earlier, add more now).
When the 90 minutes are up, pour ½ the prepared sauce on top of the ribs and evenly coat with a rubber spatula or brush. Using a fork or tongs, flip the rack so it is bottom facing up, and spread the remaining sauce across the second side.
After 30 minutes, peak inside the oven. You want your rack to be sitting in a shallow pool of oil and barbeque sauce. If they look dry, prepare more oil-sauce mix and spread evenly over both sides of your ribs. If there appears to be enough liquid, spread another ¾ cup of barbeque sauce over both sides of the ribs. In either case, flip the rack and let them cook for another 30 minutes.
Repeat this process until the meat is tender and pulling off from the bone. I used a fork to pull at the edges and test its texture: if they are done, the meat pulls apart and is slightly stringy. Since I was working with 12 racks, the cook time varied. Most of the meat looked done after 4 hours, but I let many of them cook for 5 hours at a constant 250˚F.
Once the oven baking is complete, remove the ribs from the oven and flip them meaty-side up. The final step is to add a thick layer of tangy barbecue sauce, and then place them on a hot grill for about 10 minutes. I modified the Dr. Pepper sauce from Simply recipes for this step, and judging by the number of Texans who complimented the food, I think it worked well.
Giving the recipe for a single rack of ribs will be difficult, since this I made easily for 12 racks. So I’ll just scale it down to 1/12th of what I made:
First, heat your barbecue so it will be ready when you are (or ask your lovely neighbor, Michael Snively, to heat the coals for you). Then, in a large bowl, combine
1 oz Dr. Pepper soda
3 oz Sweet Baby Rays (or your favorite sauce)
1 tsp maple syrup
½ tsp sweet mesquite seasoning
A dash of steak seasoning
If I had time, I would have minced garlic and maybe an onion, and put that in as well. But it was 4:05pm and I could hear the hungry prefrosh stomachs grumbling, so I left off the frills in favor of time. The sauce will be slightly liquidy, but shouldn’t run off the meat when you spoon it onto the rack. If you’re having trouble getting it to coat evenly, add a little more barbecue sauce to thicken (but not too much —you don’t want to drown out other flavors). Your ribs should be glistening beautifully and your mouth watering, but resist the urge to carve them right away! Take the full rack out to the hot barbecue (above 370˚F – you want the sugar in the sauce to caramelize for that rich taste and color change) and grill for 10 minutes. We didn’t cover them, and it worked fine, but you could shut the lid to your grill as well and let them sit for a while. Since they are already fully cooked, you don’t need to worry about taking them off too early. Remove them when the edges are browning, or when you just can’t resist the urge to shove your face onto the grill and eat them up.
Serve with potato salad, chips, and a tall glass of sweet Arnold Palmer. Enjoy!