Do you know the five essential elements of barbecue?
During a recent visit to Tribune's test kitchen, Weber's master griller and best-selling author Jamie Purviance shared some of his tips for maximizing those five essential elements: rub, mop, meat, smoke and sauce. While demonstrating the recipes within the recipe for his best-on-the-block baby back ribs from his new cookbook "Weber's Greatest Hits: 125 Classic Recipes for Every Grill," Purviance outlined these points:
Rubs: "Making a barbecue spice rub is really a matter of balancing the primary flavors of salt, sweet, heat and whatever else you happen to like." Purviance called one of the rub ingredients he happens to like "an oddball" but one that may be familiar to most Chicagoans: celery seed. "A little bit of a wild card, but I just tried it and loved it," he said.
Mops: "The mop is kind of an unusual thing," said Purviance. "The mop is used to baste the meat, to keep it moist and create a little bit more flavor. It actually also helps make the meat a little smokier because smoke is water-soluble. It dissolves into something moist, so when you have a mop sauce on there, it makes for a nice smoky meat."
Meat: The stars of the show, in this case, were pork baby back ribs. "More tender and a little pricier than the spare ribs," he said, "so you pay for the tenderness, but they're really wonderful." But first, some prep: "If there's a membrane on there like there often is, you want to peel that off. Sometimes, stores now will peel it off for you, but if it's still on there, you've got to get it off because you want those spices and everything else to get into the meat. The membrane prevents that from happening. Also the membrane is really tough, and it never gets more tender."
Smoke: When you're prepped and ready to cook, "the first thing you really want to do is get the smoke going," said Purviance. "You do want to watch the quality of the smoke. I want to stress that. Because some people have this idea that if smoke is just pouring out of the grill or the smoker like a freight train, that that's a good thing. It's not a good thing. You actually shouldn't see a whole lot of smoke coming out of there. You want what's referred to in the barbecue world as blue smoke. It's essentially clear, like a reflection of the sky is in the smoke. That's really clean, and it tastes really good."
Sauce: When the ribs are tender to your taste, "that's the point when you want to be adding your sauce, not before," said Purviance. "There's a fair amount of sweetness in the sauce; there's the ketchup, the molasses. These things tend to burn over time. So if you added them early on, you'd get blackened ribs." Add the sauce in the last half hour, advised the master griller. "That will help it cook into the meat, so it's harmonizing. Again we're trying to create that harmony of all five different effects."
Best-on-the-block baby back ribs
Prep: 30 minutes
Standing: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Grilling: about 3 hours
Makes: 8 to 10 servings
From "Weber's Greatest Hits" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99) by Jamie Purviance, who writes: "To qualify as 'best on the block,' the seasoned 'bark' (crust) and natural flavors of the pork ribs must complement the hickory smoke and the sweet-tart sauce." For milder ribs, he suggests using half the amount of chile powder in the rub and skipping the hot-pepper sauce in the sauce recipe.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon pure chile powder
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 racks baby back ribs, each 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
4 slices bacon
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Hot-pepper sauce, optional
1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 Have ready a rib rack. In a small bowl combine all the rub ingredients, and mix well. Using a dull dinner knife, slide the tip under the membrane covering the back of each rack of ribs. Lift and loosen the membrane until it breaks, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Season the ribs evenly with the rub, pressing it into the meat. Arrange the racks in the rib rack, standing each rack up and facing them all in the same direction. Let the racks stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before grilling.
2 Soak 4 large handfuls hickory wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes.
3 Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat (300 to 350 degrees).
4 Brush the cooking grates clean. Drain 2 handfuls wood chips, add them to the charcoal or to the smoker box of a gas grill and close the lid. When smoke appears, place the rib rack with the ribs over indirect low heat, and cook with the lid closed for 1 hour. Maintain the temperature of the grill between 300 and 350 degrees.
5 While the ribs are cooking, make the sauce. In a medium skillet on the stove, fry the bacon over low heat until browned and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Let the bacon drippings in the skillet cool to room temperature. Eat the bacon or save for another use. In a medium saucepan, combine all the remaining ingredients except the hot sauce, if using. Add 3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat, and whisk until smooth. Place over low heat, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you prefer a spicy sauce, season with the hot sauce. Remove the pan from the heat.
6 Combine the mop ingredients in a small spray bottle. After the first hour of cooking, drain the remaining handful of wood chips and add them to the charcoal or smoker box. Lightly spray the racks with the mop, particularly the areas that are looking a little dry. Close the lid, and cook for 1 hour longer. Maintain the temperature of the grill between 300 and 350 degrees.
7 When the second hour of cooking has finished, lightly spray the racks with the mop, particularly the areas that are looking a little dry. If any racks are cooking faster than others or look much darker, swap their positions for even cooking. Close the lid, and cook for another 30 minutes.
8 After 2 1/2 hours of cooking, the meat will have shrunk back from most of the bones by 1/4 inch or more. If it has not, continue to cook the racks until it does. When the racks are done, remove the rib rack from the grill. Close the lid of the grill to maintain the heat. Remove the racks from the rib rack, and lightly brush each rack on both sides with some of the sauce.
9 Return the racks to the grill over indirect low heat. At this point you can pile all the racks on top of one another or stack the racks two to a pile. Continue to cook over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, until tender and succulent, 15 to 30 minutes. To test if the racks are done, one at a time, lift them, bone side up, at one end with tongs; if a rack bends so much in the middle that the meat tears easily, it is ready. If the meat does not tear easily, continue to cook until it does. When the racks are ready, transfer them to a platter, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
10 Just before serving, lightly brush the racks with sauce again. Cut the racks into individual ribs, and serve warm.