Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Out of the Frying Pan, and Into the Flame

I know my way around a kitchen relatively well I'd say, but my experience at the grill is limited at best. And I've never cooked ribs before. Ever. Or made my own BBQ sauce. Or made my own dry rub. So this weekend contained a lot of firsts for me.

The relative success of my first attempt is mostly a credit to Meathead Goldwyn over at amazingribs.com. I had spent some time poking around the internet and checking out the BBQ subreddit but most of the tricks of the trade I was reading about, like the "Texas Crutch," steaming ribs, apple cider, etc., were considered unnecessary or even harmful by Meathead. Thinking it best to go as simple as I could for my first rodeo, I decided to rely on his recipes this time and see what could be tweaked going forward. If you are like me and only have a propane grill I strongly recommend reading his articles on setting up your gas grill and 2-zone cooking

Anyway, I decided that this time I'd to try for sugar free on my sauces and control for the rub because I wanted to know for sure what the cause was if it ended up being terrible. I figured if I followed directions to the letter and it still sucked then I'd know the sauce needed more work. 

I made two sauces, based upon Meathead's Lexington Dip and KC Classic, with the idea that I'd do one everyone at the table was used to (the KC) and one a little more unusual up here in Boston. If you are unfamiliar with the different types of sauces, check out Meathead's explanation, which I found copy-pasted all over the internet. Neither one had any white sugar, brown sugar, or molasses, except for what was in the ketchup I used, and both were pretty darn good. I used a raisin puree for molasses and coconut sugar instead of brown sugar. As I get more experimental I plan on trying to replace the coconut sugar and the corn syrup in the ketchup but I didn't want to get ahead of myself just yet. I got feedback that they were too mild (Meathead admits to being a bit of a wimp about spice) and that the Lexington Dip was too vinegar-y, though like I said, no one had experience with this type of sauce so I sort of expected that. 

Homemade Raisin Paste

KC and Sugar-Free #1

Yield: 6 cups.
Prep: 15
Cook time: 20


2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon whiskey
1 cup coconut sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, crushed or minced


1) In a food processor, puree raisins, anchovy paste, whiskey, and honey.

2) In a small bowl, mix the American chili powder, black pepper, and salt. In a large bowl, mix the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, lemon juice, raisin puree, hot sauce, and coconut sugar.

3) Over medium heat, warm the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and saute until limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Crush the garlic, add it, and cook for another minute. Add the dry spices and stir for about 2 minutes to extract their oil-soluble flavors. Add the wet ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes with the lid off to thicken.

NC Sugar free #1

Yield: Makes about 3 cups.
Prep: 30 minutes.


2 cup distilled vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup apple juice
2 teaspoon Sriracha
6 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper


1) Whisk together all the ingredients and let them sit for at least three hours to allow the flavors to meld.

This part wasn't all exciting. But I got the flavor and consistency I was after, so I was pretty excited to get to the ribs.

I rubbed the ribs about 24 hours in advance and I had a couple of issues. One is, I have a feeling I used too much rub. Secondly, by the time I was ready to smoke the ribs, the rubs was drenched, having pulled out moisture from the ribs. Next time I'm going to rub shortly before they go on.

My set up involved my small two burner grill with one burner on, a rib rack, and a tin pan with some water in it over the active burner. My plan was to rotate every hour so that each rib would get the same treatment. Despite multiple, serious warnings that this was not to be attempted without a high quality digital thermometer, I decided that I could manage without this time. I believe this was a huge mistake. I had not intended to use the Crutch but I really couldn't tell if the ribs were cooked and the time for eating was quickly approaching. I ended up doing the worst thing, using the crutch right at the end so that the park was softened but, the ribs were done (or just shy of done, for the larger ones). I did a few min at high eat after basting with sauce, half with the KC and half with the Lexington Dip. I realized after the fact that I should have basted the NC ribs every hour when I rotated, because the last ten minutes didn't mean much. Despite these hiccups the process was a relative success, everyone enjoyed them and the sauces.

After a few hours


Pretty good smoke ring
So for next time:

  • Work on a sugarless rub
  • Use sugar free ketchup in sauces
  • Get a digital thermometer
  • Rub about an hour before going on the grill
  • Baste once an hour with any NC sauce
  • Spice up the sauces

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