Summer's first big grilling holiday waits just around the corner, and you want to welcome the season in style. You're thinking ribs.
First, you weigh your options: St. Louis style (cut from the inner portion of the ribs), spare ribs (flatter but with more bone than meat), country ribs (spare ribs that have already been cut apart) or the ever-popular baby backs (taken from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs of smaller hogs). Then, follow a few simple rules from the experts to ensure success.
Where's the beef?Pork's the top pick when it comes to ribs. Yes, cows have ribs too, but let's face it, a whole rack would look rather Flinstonian on your grill.
"It's a lot of bone for not as much meat," says "Weber's New Real Grilling" author Jamie Purviance.
Yet if you're determined, you don't have to discount beef for your summer cookouts, but it will probably require a trip to a butcher. Ask for beef back ribs (these are what's connected to the premium prime) and if they're not already, have them cut in half so they'll fit on the grill.
Trimming excess fat, removing the membrane and low and slow cooking still apply here.
Then there's Korean-style or crosscut short ribs found in Korean barbecue joints. In "The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetite," editor Adam Rapoport says "Ask your butcher for crosscut beef short ribs (aka flanken style) cut about 1⁄3 inch thick, or look for them at Korean markets."
Our experts weighing in today are Ron Nunes and Jamie Purviance.
Ron Nunes lives in Elk Grove Village, was a contestant in the Daily Herald's 2012 Cook of the Week Challenge and is a member of the award-winning Deuces Wild barbecue team. The team has racked up 20-plus first-place wins on the competition barbecue circuit in recent years. What was Nunes doing when I contacted him earlier this month? Grilling ribs, of course.
Purviance is the grilling guru for Palatine-based Weber-Stephen products and author of "Weber's New Real Grilling." He's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has written more than 10 books with Weber.
Purviance says ribs make great party food.
"Once they're cooked and tender they can sit for 30 to 60 minutes (and not overcook)," he says. Wrapped in foil and set in an empty cooler (without ice, of course) and they'll stay warm for hours.
Do: Spend a little time inspecting the meat when you buy. "You want meaty ribs," Purviance says. Avoid "shiners," which are ribs cut too close to the bone.
Do: Remove the whitish membrane on the bone side of the rack. This is crucial for tender ribs. Starting at one end, work a dull knife (you don't want to pierce the meat) under the membrane and slowly scootch the knife along the rack, Purviance suggests. When you get enough to grab, grab it with a paper towel in your hand (for traction) and rip it off. It may or may not pull off in one strip, so repeat.
Don't: Cook ribs over direct heat. "Too much fat will drip off and it will just get fibrous and tough (from cooking too fast)," Nunes says.
Do: Cook over indirect heat. Put charcoal to each side of the grill and a foil pan under the center. Place the ribs on the center of the grate above the drip pan, Nunes says. Or pile all the coals to one side and place the ribs on the opposite side. When you close the grill lid, the top vents should be above the ribs, pulling the heat across the ribs and out the lid. You want the temperature of the grill between 250 degrees and 300 degrees.
Don't: Boil ribs. It only toughens the fibers so you'll have to cook them longer on the grill to tenderize them, Nunes says.
Do: Use foil if you want. Known on the competition circuit as the "Texas crutch" there's no shame among backyard grillers who use foil. "If you start ribs in foil there's little chance of them getting burned," Purviance says. He says steam forms in the foil and helps tenderize the meat. He suggests removing the ribs from the foil and giving them some direct heat before serving "to give the meat that nice little bit of char."
Don't: Put sauced ribs on the grill or baste ribs with sauce. The sticky-sweet sauce will burn and ruin the taste. Sauce ribs on the platter after they're done, or, give them a quick hit of sauce after they're done and leave them on the grill a minute or so to caramelize the sauce.
Don't: Undercook. Ribs are done when the meat has pulled back from the bone revealing about ½ inch of bone on each end. Purviance says you should be able to bend the ribs, bone-side up, and the meat should tear just a bit. Adds Nunes "if you can't pull it apart with a bit of effort, they're not done. The meat shouldn't fall off the bone; when you take a bite, there should be a little tug."