Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ribs -- pre-smoke preparation

Well, I planned to post a recipe to help you deal with all that chervil and all those radishes you have piling up in the kitchen. Problem was, I was going to rely on one of those Facebook recipe photo albums that got this whole blog thing started. This is not normally a problem (in fact, much of what follows below is from just such a source) but this particular album was just not up to snuff. Oh, how my standards have changed! Not really, it's just that I do like my pictures to be in focus now, and almost none of those ones were. I dunno if there was some beer involved or what (who am I kidding, of course there was beer involved, I just don't know if it was responsible for the focus issue) but I decided that I'll just have to re-do the whole radish and chervil photo shoot. This is probably a good idea anyway, since neither of these will be ready for a few days, so I can time it to match when these lovely crops will be ready in your garden too. Right?!

What I have decided to do is get some of my rib smokin' knowledge down in "print." This is one of those redundancy things that prevent knowledge loss. You know -- a back up system. Although, I guess if the world descends into some kind of apocalypse, there won't be a bunch of people checking out my blog to see how to best smoke ribs, heck, charcoal supplies may even be disrupted! But, you never know, and since I have most of a glass of beer left and a few minutes to devote to this task, why not?!

From what I've learned, real barbecue is all about cooking slowly over low temperatures and basically with smoke rather than fire. What we call barbecue up here is actually grilling. The real deal is all about low and slow. Low and slow kind of appeals to my mentality since it's more of a zeny thing (new word?) and connects you with the process, and helps you appreciate the result because of the time you put into it. (Or makes you really bummed when you spend ages and blow it -- but that, dear reader, is the purpose of this blog -- to prevent, or at least mitigate, blowing it!) And, if you'll exuse this jump back into my earlier sentence, grilling can be a pretty connected process too, especially if charcoal and fire are involved, but this barbecue deal is all about laid-back connection rather than an edge-of-your-seat panic, no guts no glory, infreno, explosion type connection. If you know what I mean. (I'm not sure I still do.)

ANYWAY, it looks like this weekend will be one of those one-good-day weekends again which means I have to choose between squeaking out some time on dear Pearl (my motorbike), or sitting in the driveway for hours smoking a couple of racks of ribs. (You can probably guess where I'm leaning.)

The first thing you need is lots of beer. This is a 5 hour job (ok, "job"), so you need something to do with all your time in the driveway. (Also start dreaming up an excuse so you can have all that time: something like "I think I'll get that weeding done while the ribs are smoking".) You won't, but it works the first time. If you can, get some Duchy Originals organic ale. Then you can make lame "pass the Duchy" jokes all day. (Or make the same lame "pass the Duchy" joke over and over again.) Thanks to Prince Charles!

Next you need a smoker. Beer is first because a smoker without beer is no fun, but beer without a smoker is ok. This is similar to the famous quote: Beer has food value, but food has no beer value. When in doubt, go for beer first. There are several types of smoker. There are water smokers (which seem dubious to me, since water and cheap steel sounds like a recipe for disaster), electric smokers, hunter-style things, Weber makes one that looks like a giant Contac-C capsule, and of course those million dollar green eggs. My preference (until I do that road-trip down to Texas and buy my Pitts and Spitts smoker) is the classic barrel.

This is my little chargriller. The big barrel is where the meat goes, the little box on the side is where the fire goes. This machine is awesome, but it benefits from a few modifications.

Modification 1 is to stick an aluminum sleeve in the chimney hole. Just take some sheet aluminum and roll it in a tube and stick it in. The bottom should be at the level of the grill. This helps the smoke circulate.

Modification 2 is a steel plate to deflect heat from the firebox. It also helps the smoke circulate. All you have to do is get a non-galvanized chunk of sheet steel, cut it to size, drill a couple of holes, bend it a bit, and bolt it to the inside of the barrel when you're putting your smoker together. (Is that all? Ok, it's easier than it sounds, and if you give me 3 beers -- I mean 500 ml beers, and maybe a drive home -- I'll come over to your place and do it.) That's it for modifications -- they're not totally necessary, but you will be a better Pit Boss if you do. (And you want to be a better pit boss.)

It is also good to have a rib rack. This keeps the ribs vertical for better smoke circulation. This puppy holds 4 racks of ribs comfortably, 6 in a pinch.

There is also a great little add on you can get for the firebox that gives it a flat surface. This is a great spot to keep your rib mop sauce. (You can also keep your mop sauce on the stove, but who wants to leave the driveway?)

Finally, a temperature guage. To do proper barbecue, you need to keep the temp steady(ish) at about 220F, and given the gazillion variables involved (wind, air temp, charcoal type, air flow, how many beers you've had, etc.. ok, around 5 variables, not a gazillion) it's good to have some back-up. The guage on the grill is not good enough (frankly, it sucks). This baby measures ambient temperature with the probe, and even comes with a remote so you can check the temp from a distance -- like if some neighbour comes by to ask what all the smoke is about and makes you move to the end of the driveway for awhile.

This may seem like a fairly capital intensive project, but think of the years of enjoyment! It's tax refund season, after all. I'm pretty sure you owe it to yourself.

Later in the week (if the weather forecast holds out, as if), I'll post the next part: prepping the ribs, smoking them, and, OH YEAH, eating! (Well, I'll spare you [hahaha spare! as in spare ribs!! I kill me!!!] photos of the eating, but I may sneak a big huge smile in there somewhere.)

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