Why Hello There, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the only blog brave enough to also be a little toaster. I’m your author with a thing for mildly obscure late-80’s animated movies, Jon O’Guin. Today’s dish is a simple one, so simple in fact that I felt the need to double up on it. We’re cooking ribs today, and we’re doing it two ways. Let’s get to the bare bones of the matter, and stock up on some moist towelettes, this one’s gonna get sticky.
A Little Gentle Ribbing Never Hurt Anyone
I refuse to acknowledge that “ribbing” as a synonym for “teasing” or “mocking” has fallen out of the general parlance and been re-appropriated for more risqué matters. If I desire to express myself in a manner more befitting of the average Victorian gentlemen than a modern man of the world, then I shall do so. Harrumph.
Bring me another handle of Gin, Winthrop.
Sorry, I’ve been debating auditioning for a Victorian role, and going over some of my more classical performances, as well as reading a book about American history and simply being blown away basically every other page by the sheer fucking LITERACY of the founding fathers and other shapers of our nation, prior to the 1900’s. Frederick Douglass’s “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln”, for instance, is a fucking jam, to return to modern parlance.
I’m also trying to stall for time a little bit. See, I KNOW I’ve covered Ribs before. I made Five-Spice Ribs a while back, a post that is somewhat hard for me to read now, as it contains a great deal of discussion of my father and his illness, where I do not depict myself in the friendliest of lights. And another, about two months later, where I covered a lot of the basics of rib prep. So I’ve got to re-read both of those so I don’t repeat myself TOO much, as well as contending with the fact that I definitely made one of these recipes like, two months ago, and have no idea where the physical recipe is, so I have to find it before we get to the end of this bad boy.
Oh, here it is. Problem solved. Nice. Let’s just re-cap ribs really quick, then.
A Bit of Ribald Humor is Also Innocuous
Ribs, at the most fundamental level, are bones, specifically the bones encasing the torso of most vertebrate species. They serve as biological roll-bars around important organs, making sure it’s harder to step on, stab, or otherwise manipulate a beastie’s heart, lungs, and whatever fish keep next to their heart that isn’t lungs.
They’re quite a common dish, with beef and pork ribs, or lamb roasts with ribs, even fish ribs all being prominent dishes in various cultures around the world.
Fish ribs are always appealing. Especially when you can look the sucker right in the eye.
And they’re typically pretty inexpensive, because of a couple simple facets: firstly, meat is, almost always, priced by weight, and ribs are pretty OBVIOUSLY not solidly meat. So there’s a bit of compensation there: “Look, I’ll charge you less per pound, since we know that 1/3 of the weight isn’t food.” The second reason is, well, ribs aren’t that GOOD a meat source, nor are they easy to prepare. Ribs are full of connective tissues, linking the muscles to the bones, and sheathing the entire structure, and so on. Further, bone tends to shield nearby meat from direct heat, meaning that if you just tried to quickly sear and serve some ribs, they’d be a holy mess of a meal: full of gristle and cartilage, practically raw in some spots, with charred bones scattered around. So, basically what’s left over after a good party at my place.
Good HALLOWEEN party, of course. Hahaha. Ha.
Damn it, I'm going to have to talk to the police again, aren't I?
The last reason is a more purely economic one: they’re a sufficiently well-known and liked cut of meat that butchers and businesses can’t bring themselves to waste it. By which I mean this: the production of the more popular parts of various animals has always created the issue of what to do with the rest of them.
Take bacon, for example. Bacon is cured pork belly. And pigs, though being adorable waddling fat bombs, don’t ACTUALLY have that much belly. Roughly 10% of their body weight. So for every pound of bacon, you need 10 pounds of pig. Of that, roughly half of it is blood, organs, and other parts not commonly eaten by most American consumers, but the other half is standard grocery store cuts. Hams, shoulders, loins, etc. A business might not feel terrible about tossing out scrap meat, organs, or trotters, but they sure as hell are going to want SOME return on the big pieces.
To be fair, pig trotters can look like weird meaty mantis claws.
This is actually a way you can hunt down deals: go looking for the weirder stuff. My local butcher sells pig skin for $1 a pound, for example. A quick glance at the nationly monthly pork prices (there are so many weird little documents you find if you go looking) tells me that while ham might be one price, Ham HOCKS are typically half that. And pork liver is even cheaper. There’s a slight classist element here, as I discuss somewhat in my Offal post of a couple years ago, where a lot of American families, upon coming to America, learned that “hey, we don’t have to be as frugal as we were in the old country, because these guys have TONS of meat!” and, as such, many Americans look down on offal and similar products.
What was I talking about?
He’s Completely Lost the Ribbon
Alright, Title Jon, that was a stretch too far. And I made a pun based on dogs, karate, and bio-fuels earlier this evening, so you know I mean it. Seriously, it was pretty damn good. I was riffing on names for mini corn-dogs, and said “We could call them Corngis, but that’s going to seriously harm my line of ethanol-based karate uniforms.” It’s not as good now, since it’s no longer a spur-of-the-moment thing. My point is that almost no one uses “lost the thread” anymore, and “Ribbon” is thematically distinct enough from “thread” to render the joke terrible.
Now I'm really losing the thread.
But ribs, yes. For all that I alluded to ribs having problems earlier, ribs are actually quite easy to cook, if you do it the correct way. See, connective tissues break down and gelatinize at around 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Meaning if you get your ribs to that temp without destroying the outer layers, you’ll get super tender and juicy meat. This means that ribs are basically tailor-made to be cooked in any kind of low-and-slow environment. You can braise them in the oven, or the slow-cooker, and of course, you can barbecue them. A couple hours in a barbecue or hot smoker, and your ribs will be delightful.
Which is why it’s frustrating to me that I keep FUCKING THEM UP. Well, I overstate my case. Both of these batches of ribs were perfectly edible, they just weren’t as good as I intended them to be. For different reasons. Let’s address them in order.
The first batch were the Asian style ones, which were part of an ongoing relationship my family has had with a saucy little…sauce from Korea. Gochujang, as we’ve covered in a couple posts, most specifically the Bibimbap post from last May…and apparently nowhere else? That can’t be right. My Google-fu is weak today. Anyway, Gochujang is a spice paste from Korea. It’s very thick, and pretty spicy, but not like, super-hot. A glance at a Scoville chart tells me that it’s about as spicy as a Poblano pepper, or half as hot as a jalapeño or chipotle. Actually, thinking about it as like, the Korean version of Adobo sauce (which is the smoky, spicy sauce that chipotles are stored in) is a really useful idea. It’s used for a lot of things in Korea: brushed on meats before cooking, mixed into various sauces, stirred into soups and stews, etc.
It's like brownie batter, but made with chilis. It's great.
That example is going to be useful, because for today’s recipe, we’re actually mixing gochujang WITH adobo sauce. Specifically, this is a fairly standard rib recipe (cook for 3 hours wrapped to retain moisture at 350 degrees, sauce and grill for 8-10 minutes to caramelize and char.) My main complaint with this one is the sauce: I think the ratio is a little off for me. The recipe calls for 6 tbsp gochujang, ¼ cup adobo, ½ cup dark brown sugar, and 2/3rd cup of apple cider vinegar. And I think that’s too much vinegar. The ribs LOOKED fine,
Real good, in fact.
But flavor-wise they were sharper than I normally like, and my family agreed. I think reducing the vinegar to ½ a cup, maybe adding some water if it needs to be thinned more, would make a more enjoyable rib. Then again, we also used Bragg’s Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar, so maybe just a weaker vinegar would work.
The most recent set of ribs turned out much better, but were still a little short of what I wanted, and were MUCH more of an emotional pain. Let’s talk about it. Hilariously, the recipe itself spawned from the same pattern of rib cooking that I illustrated in the Five Spice Rib post: My mother bought ribs, and then said “we should use those ribs before they go bad”, and suddenly I was cooking ribs.
Even more entertainingly, this recipe ALSO connects to the other rib post: that recipe used a rub from Steven Raichlen, a big name in barbecue, who I’ve talked about at least twice. Well, this recipe comes from one of his cookbooks, using not just a rub, but a sauce, and the overall recipe itself. Though I do modify the sauce due to…complications.
The rub is pretty direct: smoked paprika, coarse salt, dark brown sugar, black pepper, dry mustard, onion powder, and a bit of celery seed, which is a little weird, but I think is a nice way of introducing an element of bitterness to balance out everything going on.
I'm really digging this shot. The pepper looks a little weird, but overall it's a nice shot.
Once the meat is rubbed, it goes on a smoker or indirect grill for…some time. Basically, if you want to cook it ‘quickly’, you can cook it at 325 for about 90 minutes, or you can go at 225 for 4-5 hours, which should keep the ribs softer. Assuming it works.
Which is where my difficulties came in. See, my family’s grill/smoker has 2 different thermometers, and…I don’t know which one is right. There’s one right above the dial that you use to SET the temperature, and one in the lid of the smoking barrel. And throughout this cooking process, the two were HUGELY different from each other. One would tell me 180 while the other read 275, level of discrepancy. After a couple hours of trying to equalize, I found that the one next to the dial was probably the closer to the two of accurate, as the ribs were only 140 degrees after 4 hours.
This wasn’t a massive problem, of course: an hour at 140 degreees is going to kill any harmful microbes, and know we’d at least gotten close, I could just turn the heat up for the last hour to bring the meat to temp. The downside is simply that this meant the meat was AT temp for less time, meaning less dissolution of connective tissues.
Is this a pot of gelatinized connective tissue?
No. It's the cider and lemon zest for the sauce I'm ABOUT to explain.
The last element was the sauce, and this one is, in my opinion, pretty damn good. It’s a Cider-Rum sauce, because of an element of the dish I haven’t brought up yet: Apples. See, Pork and Apples are a pretty classic and enduring flavor combination, and this recipe, as written, leans into that combo. The pork is misted with cider while cooking, the sauce uses cider, the smoking chips used are applewood, etc. The thing is: the bags of pellets my grill uses are heavy, and stored pretty far away from the grill. So I wasn’t going to go get the apple smoke pellets. So while I did use cider in the misting, and in this sauce, the smoke was mesquite.
The sauce starts out simple enough: a cup of cider, some lemon juice, and lemon zest. You reduce that down to around half, and then unload with a bunch of flavors. Brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, liquid smoke, black pepper, cinnamon, dark rum, and ketchup. Ketchup is pretty much a given in almost all ‘normal’ barbecue sauces, because of the wide prevalence of the Kansas City Style Sauce…holy shit, I’ve never really dug into the regional styles of barbecue? I’m honestly shocked. Alright, fuck my original plan, that’s Thursday’s post. Anyhow, the point of this paragraph was SUPPOSED to be that I didn’t have enough ketchup, so I had to use the Curry Ketchup for like, ¼ of it.
The curry ketchup is on the left, and the normal is on the right.
If you can't tell the difference...honestly I struggled for a while.
Simmer all of that together, and it’s pretty phenomenal. A little sweet, a little smoky, with some interesting notes in the background, this is one of my favorite sauces I’ve ever made.
Slather it on the ribs for the last 8 minutes or so, and make a big ol stack of ribs.
Migos told me to stack it up, and I can only assume they meant ribs.
I didn't listen to the song, so I could easily be offbase.
We ate ours with baked beans made with bacon, and my mother’s famous macaroni salad, a dish I will eventually cover for the site, but have not yet, because I’ve never been allowed to make it. Something about me always screwing up the barbecue or some such.
The ribs were a little firmer than I’d like, but due to the betrayals of the smoker, who knows if that’s because it was over or under-cooked. (It’s under. You can tell by the low temp at the 4 hour mark.) But even then, they weren’t terrible.
Would it be inappropriate to make a "bone" joke? Like, boning? I don't know.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to hammer this out so I can watch the last hour of the Music Man with my brother. We started it as a joke last night, and then realized it was WAY too late to watch the whole thing, and now we gotta finish what we started, or we’re no better than beasts. Seventy Six Trombones led the big parade…
If you’d like to help Jon afford better thermostats for his smoker, support the site on Patreon to prevent him from getting trichinosis. HOLY SHIT I GOT THAT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY! Damn I’m good. So good, I deserve moneeeeeeeeyyyyyyy. Or don’t. That’s fine too. You can always just like our Facebook posts, or share them, or invite your friends to like our Facebook page. That helps too. I misspelled Facebook as “Gacebook” for a second, and now am thinking about Social Media sites for Clown-Based Murderers. This is fine.
THURSDAY: JON DISCUSSES REGIONAL BARBECUE, UNLESS HE LEARNS THAT HE DID TALK ABOUT IT, HE JUST COULDN’T SEE IT BECAUSE HE’S DUMB.
MONDAY: I WAS DEBATING WHETHER OR NOT TO USE MY OTHER ASIAN-FUSION RECIPE, OR THE LATEST THING I COOKED…UNTIL I REALIZED IT’S ALSO ASIAN-FUSION. I HAVE BEEN ON A WEIRD CULINARY KICK, IT SEEMS. VIETNAMESE CHICKEN SALAD IS WHAT’S HAPPENING, I GUESS.
Pork Spareribs with Gochujang Barbecue Sauce
2 racks spareribs (about 4 lbs)
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar (recommend ½)
½ cup dark brown sugar (packed)
6 tbsp Gochujang
¼ cup adobo sauce (just crack open a can of chipotles)
1. Preheat your oven to 350, and whisk together ingredients for sauce.
2. Rub ribs with salt and pepper, and wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 2.5-3 hours.
3. Remove the ribs from the oven, let cool, and preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Grill the ribs, and begin coating with sauce once they start to brown, repeating for 8-10 minutes, until coated and caramelized.
Babyback Ribs with Raichlen Rub and Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce
2 racks of babyback ribs (roughly 4-5 lbs total), membrane removed
1 cup apple cider, in spray bottle
2 Tbsps coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 Tbsps dark brown sugar
2 Tbsps paprika (I used Smoked, because it’s all I had)
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsps dry mustard
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp celery seed
(Curry) Cider Rum Barbecue Sauce
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp lemon zest
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1.5 cups Ketchup and ½ cup curry ketchup, or 2 cups Ketchup
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup dark rum
2 tbsps molasses
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1. Prepare the rub by mixing all the components together. Preheat your grill to 225 degrees, or 325, depending on how you want to cook them.
2. Rub the ribs with the rub (though, irritatingly, not ALL of the rub. You’ve made ½ cup of rub, and you should use 3/8 of a cup…I used all of it, and the ribs got a little too salty for my mother), and place into the preheated grill.
3. While the ribs cook, prepare the Cider Rum Barbecue sauce. In a medium saucepan, boil the apple cider, lemon zest, and lemon juice for 5-6 minutes, or until reduced by roughly half. Once reduced, add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. Cook the ribs for 45 minutes if using the 325 degree heat, and 2 hours if using 225. At that point, you’ll want to mist the ribs with some of the apple cider, and you’ll mist it another time or two over the rest of the cooking time, which is another 45 minutes at 325, and 2-3 hours if at 225.
5. Turn the heat to high, and brush the ribs with the sauce on both top and bottom, and grill another 3-5 minutes, until the sauce is browned and bubbling.
6. Remove the ribs to a cutting board, let rest for 5-10 minutes, cut, and serve.