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~ Jesse's Smokin' Rib Rub a la Jesse's Mom (Mel) + (My Tips & Techniques for Gas Grill Smoked Ribs) ~

PICT0022Once a year, for many years now, our son Jesse, who lives in Pittsburgh, smokes ribs for Joe, myself and whatever family and/or friends that happen to be here in our Happy Valley backyard!

09591-beverly-hillbillies-3He loads up his Jeep in Clampett-like style with his Weber smoker, wood, bags of wood chips, special charcoal, welding gloves, an ax, pots and pans, plus, a keg of his favorite beer, his personal lawn chair, lucky hat and a small tent!  

For as long as he has been doing this, each year I have tried to elicit his help in drafting a recipe for his spice rub and cooking guidelines to pass along to my readers, teach in my classes and cook for myself!  

IMG_6745Jesse tries hard to accommodate and means well, but he consistently mumbles absurd, incomprehensible directions like, "add salt until the rub looks right", and "you'll know when you've added too much paprika". Once, he e-mailed me a recipe that called for percentages of ingredients, but, when I added them up, they totaled 125%.  Most recently, he asked Joe to cut down our apple tree so he could use it as fuel (Joe refused).  At the end of the day:  You can ask Jimi Hendrix to write down instructions for playing the guitar, but you can't be surprised when his instructions don't make any sense... and so it is with Jesse and his recipes!

What follows is my interpretation of Jesse's recipe:  a competition quality barbecue rib rub recipe, as well as realistic instructions and an effective method for smoking them on your gas grill.  If you want true barbecue, you'll have to go visit Jesse, and... take a chainsaw!!!

PICT0024Part One:  Making the Dry Rib Rub/Spice Blend

PICT0003A dry rib rub is what makes pork spare ribs come out tender and juicy, and, once the rub is applied to the ribs, the longer they rest in the refrigerator, to soak up all of the wonderful flavors and tenderize the meat, 4-6 hours or overnight, the better your ribs are going to be.  Dry rubs can be as simple as 5-6 ingredients or quite lengthy, like the one I'm making today, but they all mix together quickly and easily, in less than 5 minutes.  That being said, when I make rib rub, I like to mix up a big batch and keep it in a tightly covered food storage container to have on hand all year long!

PICT0002What herbs and spices go into a rib rub is a matter of personal taste and recipes vary from grillmaster to grillmaster (or pitmaster to pitmaster as they say in the competitive world), but:  dry rib rubs are limited to dried herbs and dry spices, not fresh ones.  

All dry rubs contain salt, most contain some type of sugar, plus garlic powder, paprika and pepper. With the addition of chili powder*, various chile powders*, dry mustard and a few fragrant spices, dry rubs turn an ordinary rack of ribs into a party in your mouth!

*Note:  Chili powder, when spelled with an "i" at the end of it, means it is a mixture of ground dried spices (for example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder.  Chile powder, when spelled with an "e" at the end of it, means it is a powder made from dried chiles exclusively.  Chili, when spelled with an "i" at the end of it, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers.  Chile, when spelled with and "e" at the end of it, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod of fruit of any member of the pepper family! 




1/4  cup kosher salt

1/4  cup sugar

1/4  cup chili powder

1/4  cup garlic powder

1/4  cup ground cumin

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

2  tablespoons hot Hungarian paprika

2  tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika

1  tablespoon smoked paprika

1  tablespoon guajillo chile powder

1  tablespoon chipotle chile powder

1  tablespooon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  tablespoons Mexican oregano

3  tablespoons fennel seed, ground to a fine powder

PICT0007In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients together, except for the fennel seed.  In an electric spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle, process the fennel seed to a fine powder and stir it into the mixture.  You will have 2 1/4 cups of rub.  Cover and set aside for 1-2 hours, to allow the flavors to marry. This step is often overlooked.  You can thank me later.  Spice rub will keep, in a tightly-covered container for 6-12 months, if it lasts that long!

Part Two:  Prepping, Rubbing and Resting the Ribs

PICT0017In Melanie's Kitchen, "ribs" means pork ribs.  I've only tasted beef ribs once... in Houston.  While I enjoyed them, I didn't rush back to Pennsylvania with an urge to develop a recipe of my own for them.  There are three different types of pork ribs:  spareribs, baby back ribs and country-style ribs.  St. Louis-style spareribs and Kansas City-style spareribs refer to the style in which a traditional slab of spareribs is trimmed (brisket bone removed or hard bone removed respectively).  Occasionally, you'll hear folks refer to Memphis-style spareribs... don't let that confuse you.  These are St. Louis-style spareribs prepared in the style of Memphis, with a dry rub and a wet basting sauce (called a "mop"), and, served with very little sauce, if any.  Baby back ribs or loin ribs, are smaller and leaner, more flavorful, easier to handle, and, more expensive too.  Country-style ribs, which are more like akin to a fatty pork chop, are technically not ribs.  They are meatiest of all three types, but, don't fare as well with the same grilling/smoking techniques used for spareribs and baby backs.  Because of their high fat content, I prefer to use country-style ribs in place of pork chops on the grill because they stay really moist and juicy rather than drying out like expensive loin chops. Pictured here are beautifully trimmed St. Louis-style spareribs (top) and baby back ribs (bottom):

PICT0004~ Step 1.  Remove the ribs from their packaging, rinse them thoroughly under cold water and pat dry in paper towels.  A rack of St. Louis-style ribs, after trimming, weighs about 3 1/2 pounds, and, butchers refer to this as "three and a half down".  A rack of baby back ribs, which is equal in length to the St. Louis-style slab, typically weighs about 2-2 1/2 pounds.

PICT0001A bit about silverskin:  Silverskin is the thin (but tough), white, silvery looking connective tissue on the underside of every rack of ribs.  The reasons for removing it are quite simple:  it makes the ribs easier to cut/eat, and, once it is removed it allows any rub you are using to flavor/penetrate the meat.  It is quite easy to remove, expecially if your ribs are at room temperature.

~ Step 2.  Allow the ribs sit out on the counter for about an hour before removing the silverskin.  

Note:  Silverskin is also found on other cuts of meat, like tenderloin of beef, lamb and pork.  I remove it from those as well, but that is a different technique and will require another post at another time.  To remove the silverskin from ribs:

PICT0005~ Step 3.  Starting at the narrow end of each rack, use the tip of a boning knife (or a very sharp paring knife) to separate a small 1/2"-3/4" piece of the silverskin from the meat...  







... Using your fingertips and a firm grip, pull/tear the silverskin off of the entire surface.  If it does not come off in one piece, use the knife to separate a second piece and continue.  This entire process only takes about 1 minute per rack of ribs!

Note:  If you have a hard time keeping the silverskin from slipping out of your fingertips, which is often the case when it is short and you start to remove it,  just grip it with a paper towel. 


This simple technique is going to make for a beautiful presentation at the end and will actually allow your spice blend to penetrate the meat, rather than just sit on top of silverskin and do absolutely nothing.

Listen to me on this one folks:  be a pro and remove the silverskin! 

Note:  In the following photographs, I am using 3 racks of baby back ribs to demonstrate my method for rubbing and resting ribs.  St. Louis-style ribs may be subsituted:

PICT0006~ Step 4.  Place 3 racks of ribs, bottom/curved side up on work surface.  Using a pastry brush, paint a light coating of yellow, ballpark mustard over the bottoms and sides (about 3-4 tablespoons per rack for baby back ribs and 5-6 tablespoons for St. Louis-style ribs).  Sprinkle with an even coating of rib rub. Allow to rest, 30-45 minutes.  Flip ribs over and repeat process, including the 30-45 minute rest.

PICT0011Note:  I set the ribs aside to allow the spice rub to absorb moisture from the mustard. At the end of the resting time, you will notice that the spice rub and the mustard have married and become one solid coating over the ribs, meaning: very little rub will shake loose when transferred to the grill/smoker, and, will result in ribs with a nice crust!

PICT0019The ribs are now technically ready to be cooked, but, they will go from great ribs to awesome ribs if you cover and refrigerate them for 4-6 hours or overnight prior to cooking. I'm transferring mine to a plastic wrap lined baking pan, covering the pan with plastic wrap and putting them in the refrigerator overnight!

Part Three:  Girly Instructions for Gas Grill Smoking Ribs

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE:  proceed with your own method for grilling and/or smoking ribs, using your own equipment.  Light your fire, tap your keg, set up your lawn chair, put on your lucky hat and carry on.  The following is a brief synapsis of how this girl does it on a gas grill:

PICT0003~ Step 1.  Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and allow to return to room temperature, about 1 hour. Meanwhile:

~ Step 2.  Using a 2-1 ratio of all-natural apple wood to hickory wood chips, place:

5-6 cups of apple chips, and,

2 1/2-3 cups of hickory chips

in a large bowl.  Cover with warm water and set aside for 1 hour.

PICT0005A bit about wood chips:  I'm smoking on a gas grill so I'm limited to using wood chips.  There are many kinds of wood chips.  You should always use what you like, and, pitmasters usually use a combination of a "strong scented" wood with a "fragrant scented" one. In terms of strong, the choices are hickory, oak and mesquite (with mesquite being too strong for my taste).  In terms of fragrant, the choices are apple, cherry, maple and pecan (with apple being my favorite).  NEVER use pine, cedar or treated wood chips or any bark.

PICT0006~ Step 3.  This will vary from grill to grill, but on my Viking gas grill, I've preheated one burner to low, because, smoking is all about low and slow heat.  I'm filling the smoker drawer with some of the soaked wood chips.  Throughout the smoking process, I'll be adding additional wood chips, as necessary, about every 30-45 minutes, whenever the drawer looks like it needs more!

PICT0019~ Step 4.  While my son Jess smokes full racks in a charcoal smoker using hardwood lump charcoal,  I'm going to be smoking my ribs over indirect heat, on the upper rack of my grill. To make them easier for me to handle, I've sliced each rack in half, to form 6, half racks.  It a girl thing!  

Note:  Both Jesse and I slow smoke our ribs over a low temperature, 210-230 degrees, for several hours.  Jesse's ribs are usually done in about 5 1/2-6 hours, while mine are usually done in about 4-4 1/2 hours.  This, however, is a matter of preference.  Doneness is determined by what degree of doneness you want your ribs to be.  I like my ribs when I have work just a bit to pull the meat off the bone with my teeth, meaning:  fall-off-the-bone tender is not my preference!

PICT0004~ Step 5.  I like to position a drip pan (a large disposable aluminum roasting pan), underneath the ribs, to which 2 bottles of beer have been added, to catch some of the flavorful fat and juices in.  As the ribs smoke, the liquid will evaporate from the pan, so it is necessary to keep adding extra beer, as often as necessary, to keep about 1/4" of liquid in the bottom of the pan and prevent the fat and juices from burning in the bottom of it.  Why?  I use this liquid to lightly baste (not brush) the ribs occasionally, about 1-2 times every hour after the ribs have been smoking for 2 hours.

PICT0001~ Step 6.  After one hour, open the grill.  Using a pair of tongs, flip the ribs over, close the grill and continue to smoke for 1 more hour.  

Remember to check the smoker drawer and add more wood chips, if you need to.

PICT0009~ Step 7.  After the second hour, open the grill, flip the ribs over again and baste/drizzle the ribs with the beer/drip pan mixture.  Slide the pan around underneath the ribs as you work, to let excess liquid return to pan.  Continue to baste the ribs every 30 minutes, and, flip the ribs over every 60 minutes, until the ribs are done to your liking:

PICT0012Part Four:  Saucing the Ribs

PICT0001After going to all of this work, I'd like to think you'd be making homemade sauce for your ribs, and, I developed this recipe especially for these smoked ribs.  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel's Spicy Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce for Pork ~ in Categories 8, 10, 17 and 22.  That being said, even if you are using store-bought bottled sauce, the secret is to paint a light coating of sauce over the ribs just before removing them from the grill and NOT sauce them at all during the smoking process. Additional sauce should served warm, at tableside, for dipping or drizzling!

PICT0018Jesse's Smokin' Rib Rub a la Jesse's Mom (Mel) + (My Tips & Techniques for Gas Grill Smoked Ribs:  Recipe yields 2 1/4 cups of dry rib rub, or enough to coat 9 full racks of 16"-18" baby back pork spareribs, or, 6 full racks of St. Louis-style spareribs.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons: electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle; spoon; food storage container w/tight fitting lid; paper towels; boning knife or paring knife; pastry brush; 1-2-3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; plastic wrap; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; long-handled grilling tongs; meat baster

PICT0024Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite BBQ sauce recipes, you can find my recipe for ~ Sweet Heat:  Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Sauce, or:  Summer Strawberries Never Tasted Sooooo Good! ~ in Categories 6, 8, 13, 20 or 22!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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Jesse.! As mentioned above, in some regions, you will see Memphis Ribs on the label of the package. Memphis Ribs are spareribs that have be trimmed St. Louis-Style!

I always use St. Louis ribs Memphis style. I simply don't understand what is so damned confusing about that. And he cut down that tree eventually anyway.

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