Sweet and Smoky Baby Backs from Deen Bros. Good Cooking, Premier Issue 2010

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This afternoon marked the last recipe that I’m making from the Deen brothers magazine for this challenge (though I know I’ll be making many more dishes, new and repeats, for months to come). I saved the baby backs for last for several reasons. The first and foremost is that pork ribs are my favorite meat. Even as I type that, in the back of my mind I picture a perfectly cooked, medium-rare headed towards rare rib-eye saying, “Are you sure?” But for today, yes, I’m sure.

The second reason is that this recipe will herald the official start of my summer grilling. Even though I use the grill all winter (it’s so great to live in the south), the smoker box sits idle and so there’s a little cleaning to be done the first time it’s opened in the spring, as it was today.

When I lived up north, barbecue was something you did and covered everything from chicken to steak. When I moved to North Carolina I learned that down here barbecue is a specific grilled dish; pork shoulder that is slow cooked on a charcoal grill, then pulled apart and served with either a ketchup or vinegar based sauce (depending upon which side of the state you live). So, please understand that this afternoon I GRILLED baby back ribs.

Also be advised that gas grills don’t live at our house. Never have and hopefully never will. I can’t figure out why someone would bother grilling with gas. Doesn’t the broiler in the oven do the same thing without the hassle of going outside? I like the almost musical sound that the charcoal makes when it clinks together; the smell of the various wood chips used as aromatics; keeping track of the temperature by opening and shutting the door (instead of turning a knob); the whole experience. I’m pretty bummed that the recipe actually talks about using a gas grill.

I did make a pretty silly (and almost injury-causing) mistake, to be honest. While adding charcoal to the smoker box, I leaned over and my hair (thank goodness just my hair) touched the hot box. I knew this because of the immediate sizzling sound and disgusting burnt hair smell that suddenly wafted around me. This isn’t good news at any time, but a burned spot in the front of my head three days before Easter could be downright embarrassing. Thank goodness I have bangs and will be able to rectify the situation pretty easily. How dumb though.

Since I am such a rib fan, I was curious to see how this recipe stacked up against the others I’ve used. When it comes down to it, there are many combinations of spices and herbs that can be used, but the main batch never change. The same goes with the mopping sauce, which some use and some don’t. The Deen brothers do and I was moping my ribs every 15 minutes as instructed.

It was a big “huh” moment when I saw that the last ingredient on the list was “Prepared brown sugar or honey barbecue sauce.” I suppose Jamie and Bobby Deen feel that the most important taste comes from the rub and mopping sauce, which is why they allow us to use our own favorite.

For me, the barbecue sauce is the final exclamation point to ribs and so have as much importance as the rest of the ingredients. In addition, I believe that sauce shouldn’t be served WITH the ribs, but should be cooked on them, caramelizing the sugars to a sticky, crispy wonderfulness. So, for this last recipe, I departed from the instructions and did a final grilling over the coals with the barbecue sauce slathered all over my tender smoked ribs.

Everyone in the family loved this recipe, including our little one, though I had to cut off the outer edge because it was too spicy for her. The ribs were tender and moist with great flavor and the perfect amount of smokiness. It’s hard not to love ribs and these didn’t disappoint.

So, for the final time, here is the recipe for another outstanding dish by the Deen brothers. Thank you to them and to Hoffman Media for allowing me to post these recipes.

Sweet and Smoky Baby Backs
Makes 10 to 12 servings

6 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons celery seed
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons chili powder
4 racks pork baby back ribs (about 8 pounds)
Moppin’ Sauce (recipe follows)
Prepared brown sugar or honey barbecue sauce

1. In a small bowl, combine salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, celery seed, cumin, oregano, paprika, and chili powder. Reserve 1/4 cup salt mixture for Moppin’ Sauce.

2. Rinse baby back ribs and pat dry. Remove thin membrane from back of ribs by piercing it with a sharp knife and pulling it off. Rub remaining salt mixture on both sides of each rib rack. Wrap ribs in heavy-duty plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.

3. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling. Remove plastic wrap.

4. Spray grill rack with nonstick nonflammable cooking spray. Place a sturdy drip pan under grill rack of one side of gas grill. Preheat opposit side to medium-high heat (350 to 400).

5. Place rib slabs, meaty sides down, over drip pan. Cover with grill lid and cook for 1 hour, basting ribs with Moppin’ Sauce every 15 minutes. While basting, rearrange rib slabs as necessary to avoid burning. Grill rib slabs, covered, for 1 1/2 longer, or until meat is tender, basting them with Moppin’ Sauce every 15 minutes.

6. Remove ribs from grill and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Moppin’ Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup reserved salt mixture

1. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, and salt mixture. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is combined. Keep warm over low heat.

Note: To maximize grill space, stand ribs up in a stainless-steel rib rack.

Reprinted with permission from the Deen Bros. Good Cooking and Hoffman Media (www.hoffmanmedia.com).

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