Three Sisters, Granddaughter, and Trace in background waiting for some action
We had a party Monday night—just a good excuse to get together with family and friends. But the larger reason was to somehow, by sheer optimism, usher in the season of summer. Since we really haven’t had a decent spring, this seems a bit of overreach. The plants know its spring, even though they shiver and wrap their lovely young green leaves around themselves. It seems as if everything is at least a week late in germinating, or leafing, or blooming, or even coming out of the ground. I know I planted a lot of seeds too early and they are still hiding under the cool blanket of earth and may decide to never emerge.
But, undaunted, I wanted to have a party. Grocery stores are equally optimistic as their ads push the bounty of summer on the grill. To reinforce the effort, it’s nice to have a reason for marking the day; and Memorial Day, besides being a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country, also seems to be a reason to usher in summer. Summer? When we haven’t even had spring? Of course there’s the coming June gloom to contend with as well. And by June 21st, the gloriously long days will begin that inexorable descent into the dreary darkness of winter gloom.
Oh my! We must hurry up and have a barbecue! Ribs would be perfect. And everyone could bring something else that would be complementary and deliciously representative of their culinary personalities. My sisters would bring the appetizers and I would have my baked tortilla chips to scoop up the dips. My daughter was bringing rhubarb from her garden to scoop over ice cream. She surprised us with a corn and bean salad that was a perfect balance with the pasta salad. She made corn bread and I made a simple focaccia bread. A garden salad from my exploding lettuce bed would bring a light touch to a somewhat rich meal.
But the ribs…I felt insecure at the prospect of grilling baby back ribs or pork loin ribs—both of which I had gotten on sale, of course. I wasn’t sure I could pull this off. After all, this wasn’t the typical Tony Roma packaged and prepared for you kind of ribs. These things were big and gnarly looking. What to do?
I went on line and found Meathead. At amazingribs.com. Here was a guy—or course it had to be a guy—doing ribs and teaching about ribs. As I walked through his tutorial, I felt more and more confident. “I can do this!” I thought. I would end up doing it my way, but at least I had the ribs. That was the beginning.
Meathead said slow cooking is the key. He said 225˚ should be your constant grill temp. Okay, I thought I could do this; our grill has a thermostat. He said leave the cooking alone for at least three hours, maybe as long as four. He said; go do something else in the meantime: read a book, drink a beer, relax. That’s really hard for me when it comes to cooking. But I would do this!
My sisters wanted baguettes, so I made bread. They wanted a pizza dough ball. So I did that. I made the tortilla chips. I put together the pasta salad. I checked my hoop house to make sure my baby tomato plants weren’t too cold. I watched Joe weed. I didn’t want to get into that. And every five minutes I checked the temp on the grill to make sure it was holding steady at 225˚.
But before all that, I had to prepare the ribs to put on the grill. When I took them out of their plastic bag, that pink juice slid out all over the sink. I washed them in cold water. Then I tried to remove that membrane on the back. “Joe,” I cried helplessly. “I can’t do this. I need help!” Always eager to help if he can, Joe was at my side at the sink with four big racks of ribs and between the two of us and with the help of a pair of pliers (that membrane is slippery!) and a bloody towel, we finally ripped off the membrane. I patted the ribs dry with paper towels (or was it the bloody towel? I don’t remember) and then caressed both sides of each rib rack with a nice lathering of olive oil. That would help the rub sink in. I smeared the rub on with my hands (you have to get into this with a whole enthusiastic gusto). Be a caveman (woman). I wrapped the whole package in foil and let it sit in the fridge for an hour or so while Joe and I messed with the grill to get it just right.
In ancient cave man days it must have been easier. Skewer the meat on a stick and sit by the fire while you turn the stick and wait until the juices smell just right, then reach in with your fingers and grab the meat and gnaw it off the bone. But we’re civilized and have fancy grills that keep the temperature just right. Actually I like that better.
Rib Rub (Makes 3 Cups)
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cups white sugar
½ cup smoked paprika
¼ cup smoked salt
2 tablespoons smoked black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 tablespoons ground rosemary
Mix all together in a jar. About one tablespoon per rib rack, rubbed in. The sugar is really important for the long and slow caramelizing.
Rib Mop (Barbecue Sauce)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup stone ground mustard
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup white vinegar
1 cup honey
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
Put all together in a saucepan and heat through, then simmer. In last half hour of grill time, brush sauce over each side of rib rack. Serve extra as additional sauce for ribs.
More and more grocery stores have good supplies of herbs and spices, as well as grains and nuts in bulk. I have come to really enjoy the rich smokiness of spices that have been smoked and it’s always more economical to stock up this way.