Beerbecue Election Day Picks Revealed

Every four years I manage to get myself way too worked-up over the Presidential election. In fact, my beerbecue posting has suffered partly as a result of my preoccupation with election coverage. I apologize. And clearly I owe it to you, dear readers, to reveal to you my election day choices.

Meet my Hope, Change, Believe in America, and Love of Country all wrapped into one.

I chose Spare ribs and Stone Smoked Porter. What better way to take my mind off the election than to get it all smokey, smokey up in here. Also, if my candidate of choice doesn’t emerge victorious, I still had ribs and beer today. That’s better than most people can say.

I’m always a little hesitant to have a smoked beer with my ribs, which are dry rubbed and done low ‘n slow with 1/2 Hickory and 1/2 Cherry. I don’t want to feel like I just gravity bonged a campfire. But Stone Smoked Porter’s smoke is subtle enough to work. And the slight sweetness and the chocolate and roasted malt character went well with the dry-rubbed ribs. (I used my usual dry rub, without the cayenne and with 1 TBS of garlic powder added.)

I’m beerbecue, and I approve this message.

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Self-Basting Ribs: Beware the moral pitfalls and soul-wracking guilt of self-basting

For some this lesson may go without saying. It probably should have for me. Self-basting ribs: Ribs that come injected with a briny concoction.

Now, some people brine their ribs. That’s fine. But I think spare ribs have plenty of fat to come out juicy and yummy without it. Therefore, I don’t brine ribs, and I don’t buy “self-basting” or “flavor enhanced” ribs.

For whatever reason, however, you may someday end up with self-basting ribs (maybe they’re the only ribs available or you’re in a hurry or you’re distracted by your 4-year-old throwing ribeyes into her shopper-in-training cart and loudly proclaiming that she only eats Harris Teeter steaks). If you do end up with them, then cut the salt from your dry rub! That shit will be salty enough already.

Ultimately, they ended up tasty. Although, I am pretty tolerant to salty food. Unfortunately, the combination of sodium and the humidity and ball-busting heat of the weekend made it a little hard to remove my jewelry for the next few days.

Next BBQ will likely be in August. I am going to try to come up with a new rub that is a little less zippy and that has some ginger in it. I am open to suggestions. Now excuse me while I go pry off my bling.

The Spare Rib Conspiracy: St. Louis Style Spare Rib Prep

I have witnessed first-hand the ridiculous pricing of St Louis style spare ribs and the trepidation of some at the prospect of trimming spare ribs. The conspiracy is that St. Louis cut spare ribs are often at least as expensive as whole damn spare rib! Funk that. That’s a lot of perfectly usable rib tip meat they cut off…and they charge the same price or more. Buy the whole damn spare rib and cut it yourself.

First of all, a little Piggy-Ribby 101.

Loin Back Ribs: This is the popular cut that is from the part of the ribs towards the piggy’s back (the top of the rib cage closest the loin of the pig).
Baby Back Ribs:  Baby Back Ribs are just loin back ribs that are from smaller market weight hogs, rather than sows. I have heard some suggest that only slabs less than 1 3/4 lbs are baby backs. Whatevs.
Spare Ribs: Spare ribs are closer to the belly (mmm, pork belly). A whole spare rib will include the sternum all the way up to where the spare ribs meets the loin back portion of the ribs. It is much bigger and meatier, with more yummy fat to render, than the loin back ribs.
St. Louis Style Ribs: This is a specific cut of the spare rib. It has trimmed away the skirt, the sternum, all of the cartilage filled meat between the sternum and the rib bones, the thinner piece of meat towards the last several ribs, and usually the last 1 or 2 ribs.

First, as always on beerbecue, don’t forget your BBQ musical selection. Today we are listening to some R.L. “Rule” Burnside. Although it appears he was only married once and his birthdate is known, his blues legitimacy is rebolstered by the fact that he had 13 kids, he didn’t achieve much recognition until his 60’s, and his droning and raw and dirty guitar style exemplifies northern Mississippi hill country blues.

Here is a whole spare rib:

Top (meat side)

Bottom (rib side)

Rinse the slab and wipe it off. Then, on the rib side, cut off the flap of meat called the skirt. I bracketed the skirt with yellow lines below:

Just lift the flap and cut it off.

Then trim away the sternum, the cartilage filled-area, and most of the other stuff that does not contain rib. This will leave a slab that will cook consistently (the whole slab will be of a similar type and thickness). This isn’t rocket science. As long as you get the sternum and most of the thinest and thickest ribless portions, then you will be fine.

Anything close to this is fine.

For those who don’t get a slab with a yellow line drawn on it, you can also do this to see approximately where to cut. Remember: Bones don’t bend.

Then cut. I leave a little more meat on the small rib end than if I followed the rib-line exactly.

NOTE: I also cut off the last two ribs (they're pretty thin).

Then the last step is to trim the excess fat and remove the membrane.

Spare ribs already have plenty of marbled fat. So, just trim-up some of the large areas of exterior fat.

And the membrane is the white, membraney-looking layer on the rib side. To get ahold of it, use a piece of paper towel to grip it. You can try to get ahold of a flap of it down by the first rib. Or you can take a table knife and slide it under the membrane along the end of the second or third rib. Once you get the knife under the membrane, pry up the membrane enough so you can grip it, then carefully peel the membrane off. Note there will be a second, thinner membrane still on there. Leave that, as removing that will cause the ribs to fall apart. I think it might be impossible to pull off anyway.

Then you can use the leftover pieces to meat-slap a vegetarian, or cut them up and smoke them as rib tips.

Rubbed and ready (that's what she said).

Then (de)hydrate accordingly.

Don’t let the terrorists win. Buy the whole damn slab and trim it yourself! Happy beerbecuing!

The Haybag: I would watch the meat-slapping comments or grow a third arm, because this vegetarian helped take some of these pictures.

Modified Weber Smokey Joe (Mini Weber Bullet)

Lately, a couple friends have been posting pics of their new smoking equipment. So, I thought I would share my set-up, and its recent modifications. Of course, my set-up is not this from outbehindthewoodshed; nor is it like my friend’s automated, wood-pellet-fed Traeger.

Seriously?

But my set-up does store easily in a 900 sq.ft. condo. And it’s modular, so I can use it for regular high-heat grilling or low-and-slow smoking. So suck it, show-offs.

First I took a regular little Smokey Joe Silver:

Awwww. It’s cute.

Then I got a 32-quart IMUSA tamale steamer from Wally World (which I very romantically requested from the Haybag as an anniversary present). IMPORTANT: The one made in China fits, and the Colombia-made one does not. Presumably, the Colombian specs are modified to better accomodate bricks of cocaine.

Like a glove.

Then, I drilled four holes near the bottom of the pot to place the screws that suspend a 12″ terra cotta plate that acts as heat sink/heat shield. I used four #8-32 1 1/4 screws, with nuts and washers. Note location of screws in pics above and below.

Next, you can drill holes for a bottom cooking rack, or just rest the bottom rack on top of the heat sink/shield. I rest it on top of the lip for tamale pot’s false bottom. What you do will likely depend on your placement of the heat sink/heat shield screws.

Then I drilled holes for a second cooking level. Note placement in above pic. I am sure you could fit 3 levels total if you were so inclined.

Then I cut the bottom out of the tamale pot. Make sure to not cut so close to the outer edge that it compromises the strength of the pot.

The dremel took a long-ass time. I think tin snips with a drilled starter hole might be faster.

Then I installed the heat shield/sink: A 12-inch, unglazed, terra cotta saucer. Each time I smoke, I wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil. Actually, I found that because I placed my heat shield/sink so low, I have to wrap the bottom of the saucer with a big heavy-duty foil drip pan, and the top with foil.

Then, I installed the racks. I used the Smokey Joe’s old cooking grate and bought one replacement charcoal grate for an 18″ Weber kettle grill.

Overhead view of the deal (heat shield/sink unwrapped).

I typically use the Minion Method, which works well on this setup (as it is basically a mini Weber Smokey Mountain). The only problem I have run into is that the Smokey Joe bottom vent gets clogged easily.

Not cool, Weber engineers.

Even with lower ash producing lump charcoal, after a couple hours this mother requires regular clearing (by poking a skewer up through the bottom). So, I got out the dremel again and did this:

BSP-free can, so I don’t turn into an asexual fish.

Four little gun-turret looking cut-outs.

F U, ash!

Then you are ready to roll. I drilled a small hole in the side of the tamale pot for an instant read thermometer. I also use a remote dual readout thermometer that my Moms got me for my B-day.

It’s aliiiiiive! I shall call him SMOKE2D2.

I welcome any comments or suggestions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can link here to see my subsequent, simple charcoal ring modification.

Pig Naming, Continued…

I received a number of name suggestions for the pig. Let me just say that I am disturbed by the number of people who were clearly thinking about eating him. In no particular order, the names are as follows:

  • Snouty McStouty
  • Brewski McBacon
  • Beer Belly Pig
  • Tickle (Apparently some character on a reality show about moonshining)
  • I. Pig A. McHoppington (The most pretentious suggestion)
  • Amethyrst (Apparently my Mother’s love of purple colors her vision, or she just needs to adjust the color settings on her computer screen)
  • Bacon Bits
  • Chet

I also received a couple requests for background information to assist in naming. I guess this is important to some. Perhaps we should have held off on naming our daughter until we got a better sense of her personality. Although, I have a feeling she might not have liked Madam Whinesalot or Pookie McDawdlesfrequently.

He was born to a petting-zoo pig in a medium-sized Midwestern city. Due to a mix-up in the zoo nursery, he ended up being raised by the zoo’s sarcastic, heavy-drinking ring-tail lemur population. This explains his propensity to over-indulge on the sauce.

It also explains his lack of a tail. After one particularly Keith Moon-worthy night of binge-drinking, he bet some of the other primates at the zoo that he could hang by his tail from a tree limb. Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that neither pigs nor ringtail lemurs have prehensile tails. So, needless to say, he lost the bet and his tail. Also, he landed on his head, and ever since has had a crooked snout and an unexplained Scottish accent.

He continues to deny his swine ancestry. As such, he loves BBQ, with a particular affinity for pork BBQ. Although he prefers beer, he will drink just about anything. He has even been known to throw back martinis while scoffing at the other filthy pigs wallowing in the mud. He is 8 years old, which in pig years is like 36. And he is married and has a daughter in preschool.

I hope this helps.

Confessions of a Carnipescavegetarian BBQoholic: Forgive me Pitmaster, for I have sinned.

Ladies and gentleman, I, the chief blogger for beerbecue, have a confession to make: I went to a vegan/vegetarian restaurant.

Those who know me personally already know that the Haybag is a vegetarian. Well, she eats fish sometimes…so whatever that is, she is. In my defense, when I first met her, she was vegan. I take this to mean I am winning.

It’s not a morality thing for the Haybag, so she doesn’t care if I eat meat. In fact, just to make sure, for our first couple dates I ordered items such as “extra tender young lamb” and beef carpaccio. She also throws-down some wicked-good lamb chops for Easter. The practical implications of the Haybag’s diet, however, mean that on an average day for breakfast and dinner, I eat a pescatarian diet as well.*

Interestingly, I think this drives my love of BBQ. I loved BBQ well before I met the Haybag; but perhaps the scarcity of meat on a day-to-day basis is what drove me to build my own BBQ smoker and obsess over BBQ (Coping? Compensating?). So, paradoxically, we have a vegetarian to blame for stuff like this and this and this.

Sooooooo, last weekend we went to Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant in Seven Corners (please, God, someone click the link to a vege restaurant from a BBQ blog). The Haybag has wanted to go to this place for awhile now. It’s about 20 minutes away, though, and you have to pass by Dogfish Head Alehouse to get to it.

Now, just for funsies, let’s use the standard beer review format:

Appearance: From the outside, it looks respectable enough. The sign has an obnoxiously large sunflower on it. The interior’s newish combination of Buddhas, bamboo, bright colors, smiling sunflowers, and shoji screens could be best described as modern Asian-American-Prozac fusion. And the clientele included the appropriate mix of hipsters, aging hippies, way-too-skinny dudes, and granola-ey gals.

Smell: It smelled like a bean sprout had farted about 2 minutes ago, and it was lingering. Luckily this faded, or my nose acclimated.

Don't look at me, bro. He who blamed it, flamed it.

Taste: I had the Thai Tom Yum Goong Soup (yes, I giggled when I ordered) and the Haybag and I shared the Japanese Style BBQ Kabobs and the Mizuni Sansai Udon Noodles. To be quite honest, it all tasted good…especially the soup, which was spicy and lemon-grassy. My least favorite was the fake meat on the so-called BBQ kabobs (they were grilled kabobs). With a couple exceptions, meat replacers either weird me out or piss me off.

Suckers! You're not fooling any of the discerning meat eaters in this vegetarian restaurant!

Mouthfeel: Everything was done really nicely. But if you eat meat, the meat replacers will have a weird mouthfeel no matter how many times your vegetarian Aunt tells you that they are JUST like meat.

Drinkability…ummm, Eatability: I would eat here again, at the Haybag’s request, without complaint. And it would be my first recommendation to anyone interested in a vegetarian restaurant.

So, now that I undertook an honest and thorough examination of my BBQ soul and made a contrite and repentant confession, I ask for your forgiveness and will engage in such BBQ acts of contrition as are necessary to earn my readers’ absolution.

*It’s OK to eat fish, cause they haven’t any feelings.