With the end of summer upon us, I'm cramming as much barbecue into my diet as possible. It's not that I'll stop eating barbecue in the winter, I just extra love it this time of year. So for our Labor Day Weekend Projects
, I'm going to walk you through a modernist baby back rib preparation.
I'll acknowledge this right off the bat — the majority of this preparation is not actually barbecue. The ribs spend most of their time cooking at an extra low — and extra consistent — temperature in a water bath, not on the grill. This cooking method forfeits the mouth-watering aromas you get from the traditional barbecue methods. However, I'd argue the results are worth the day long aromatic sacrifice.
To get started, make sure your work area is spotlessly clean and set your immersion circulator to 65ºC.
You will most likely need to split your ribs into two pieces (unless your water bath is quite large) for the sealed bags to allow adequate water circulation. Once fabricated to the correct size, season with salt and rub of your choice. Today I'm using our own Joe Brefere's Resque Red Rub
(which just so happens to be among the best I've ever had).
Next step is vacuum packing the ribs. It's critical to make sure they are very cold when sealing — when under vacuum, water boils at a much lower temperature than it does at regular sea-level pressure. This can affect both the vacuum inside the bag as well as affect the integrity of the protein. So work cold, and work quickly. If you need to re-chill the ribs after seasoning, then make sure to do it. While the ribs are chilling, gather all of your bags and fold the opening back as you would a pastry bag. This will keep moisture off of the section of the bag that will be fused together, producing a much better seal.
Carefully and cleanly insert each rib portion into a bag, unfold the top, and seal under high vacuum. Make sure that each bag is tightly packed. If a bag is loose, you likely have a leak and need to reseal it. Check for any sharp rib bones that might be puncturing your bag — you can round them off, or alternatively turn the vacuum down slightly so it doesn't break through.
Once you have everything packaged, organize them in your water bath. It's critical that they are arranged to allow for even water circulation. If some packages are stuffed into a low-flow zone, they may not heat up enough for long enough to kill dangerous bacteria. Additionally, you can rearrange the bags every few hours or so for extra safeguarding. The ribs will cook for 48 hours at 65ºC (149ºF for any non-metric centric cooks), a time/temperature combination that will effectively kill dangerous bacteria and make the meat safe to consume.
After the 48 hour water bath, get your charcoal grill going. Then pull the ribs form the water bath and carefully remove them from the bags. Be sure to save the juice — we'll use some of it when finishing the ribs. Carefully arrange them on a sheet tray -remember they're super tender now — and lightly brush with you favorite BQ sauce. Ours of course is Joe's BQ Sauce
. Once your hardwood coals are white hot, transfer the ribs to the grill for some protein browning and sauce caramelization. Lightly baste the ribs with the juice from the sous vide bags — as it runs off the ribs and vaporizes on the charcoals, it will add additional flavor to the ribs above.
Once nicely browned, pull the ribs and serve with additional BQ sauce. Partner them with some vinegary slaw, grilled corn on the cob, and a nice mustardy potato salad for the perfect Labor Day meal.
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