Flavorful Oven-Slow-Cooked BBQ Ribs

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I love a rack of barbecue ribs, but it’s one of the few dishes I’m particular about if ordering it at a restaurant. Are they meaty enough? Will I like the rub or sauce? Are they expensive?

It’s been on my mind for months that I could take the guesswork out of enjoying ribs by just making my own at home. And while I could transform my simple charcoal grill into a smoker, I’ve really wanted to come up with a delicious, simple recipe to cook the ribs slowly in the oven. I’ll grill in any season or weather possible, but sometimes it’s actually much easier to use the oven.

After doing some research online and doing a bit of experimenting with our spice rack and fridge compartments, I’ve created a recipe that I’m very happy with. Now, I want to make it several times to perfect it.

I used St. Louis-style pork spare ribs. You can use baby back ribs, but the St. Louis spares have a bit more meat on them typically, and I’ve often found in eating them from different places that they hold more of the smoke and rub flavors.

Without further delay, here’s my recipe.

Homemade Barbecue Rub

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 cup paprika

1/2 T salt

1/2 T pepper

1/2 T chili powder

1/2 T garlic powder

1/2 T onion powder

1/2 t cayenne

Barbecue Sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1/3 cup honey

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1/4 t garlic salt

1/4 t pepper

Cooking Directions

  1. Prepare your ribs by removing the membrane on the bone side and the extra flap of meat hanging off. You can use a knife to get under the membrane and then a paper towel to help grip it and pull it off. Removing this piece will help your rub soak into both sides more thoroughly.
  2. Mix your barbecue dry rub together and then use your fingers to coat both sides of your rack of ribs in the rub. The general rule is that what sticks to the ribs is enough rub to use. Wrap your ribs in aluminum foil and let them sit for six hours or overnight.
  3. Cover an oven-safe pan (big enough for your ribs) with foil for easy cleanup. Unwrap your ribs and sit them on top of a cooking or cooling rack on top of the pan.
  4. Put your ribs uncovered in the oven on broil for a few minutes to help caramelize your dry rub coating.
  5. Reduce the temperature to 250 degrees and cook for two hours.
  6. Remove from oven and tent a piece of foil over the ribs, then put them back in the oven on the same temperature for two more hours.
  7. Mix your barbecue sauce, remove your ribs from the oven and use a basting brush to generously cover the ribs on the meat side.
  8. Reduce your oven temperature to 200 degrees and put your ribs back in the oven for 10 minutes.
  9. Repeat the saucing and cooking process as many times as desired to cook the sauce into the ribs.
  10. Use a sharp knife to cut your ribs into smaller racks or into individual ribs. Be sure to cut between the bones, not next to the bones. After the cooking time allotted, your ribs should be done, tender and pulling slightly away from the bones on the ends.

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Matthew’s take: I had never made ribs, so I was a bit intimidated. No more fear after this first-time process. These ribs turned out delicious! The rub and sauce were both adaptations of recipes I found online, and I won’t change either of them moving forward. The rub would work great for chicken or other barbecued meats as well, and the sauce would go well with chicken, burgers and more! The ribs turned out meaty and tender, spiced to perfection by the rub and then sweetly sauced by the barbecue coating added at the end. If you don’t own a grill, prefer not to grill in the cooler months or just would rather cook in your oven, this is the recipe for you if you want to try ribs at home. They’ll be cheaper that way. My rack only cost me $7, while the rub and sauce were from ingredients already in our pantry and fridge, and we got four servings from the ribs. I give this recipe an A+ for taste, cost and presentation.

Molly’s take: Having never had homemade ribs before, I was blown away by this creation Matthew put together. I’m pretty sure once I started in on them, I didn’t stop until every last bite was picked clean off the bones. The ribs alone – with the seasoned rub – were smoky and flavorful, but the sauce really made the flavors pop. The honey in the sauce gives it a great sweet flavor which fits well with the smoky ribs. If you’re looking to try something new, this recipe is worth your time. I’ve never had homemade ribs, but I’ve had ribs at restaurants, and trust me, these are some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Foodie Travels: Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham, Ala.

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White barbecue sauce.

At tables throughout the pillar cities of the mainstream barbecue world—Memphis, Kansas City, Austin, et al—using those three words together will lead to confusing looks or sneering comments. Folks will either turn their nose at the notion out of offense that their barbecue style is the only way, or they’ll claim they’ve never heard tell of it.

But in Alabama, particularly the northern barbecue communities, white barbecue sauce is a historic mainstay, highly regarded on its own foodie throne. The condiment, often some mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, pepper and other special ingredients, is the go-to traditional choice for many in the state.

I discovered white barbecue sauce while living in Alabama and working at Huntsville Hospital in 2011. A few of my colleagues at the time discovered my love for food and made it their mission to baptize me in appropriate local cuisine. (I never repented of my native North Carolinian ways, but I am thankful for their acceptance and food evangelism.) Coworkers shuttled me around to barbecue restaurants like Lawler’s and Little Paul’s (sadly now closed). I enjoyed each stop, but nothing wowed me as much as the food—and the white sauce—at Big Bob Gibson’s down in Decatur. (If you can say down, as Decatur is still in North Alabama.) My experiences at Gibson’s were among the best in my barbecue life, and I’m sure it helps, from a food history standpoint, that they draw credit for originally launching the white sauce movement.

When I moved back to North Carolina, I carried the Alabama barbecue experiences with me and shared them with others. I can’t remember a time when my talk of white barbecue sauce was met with anything but disregard here in my home state, until I told my wife, Molly, who has family connections to Alabama, about the stuff that’s odd to most and second nature to those living in “Sweet Home.” Molly seemed game to try Alabama white sauce, and she got her opportunity on a recent road trip that took us through the central portions of the state.

We had several solid choices for barbecue as we passed through Birmingham, and we decided on Saw’s BBQ in the Homewood community on the southeast side of the city. We’d never been to Homewood before, but it quickly gave us a small-town Main Street feel as we parked and walked up the street to Saw’s.

Inside the restaurant, it was clear most folks were regulars, meeting their friends and family for dinner, sitting in their usual spots inside and outside (where there are quite a few patio-style tables), ordering their favorites. The joint had the feel of a place that would be an ideal spot to chow down before or after an Alabama or Auburn (or both) football game on a fall Saturday. The familiar and comfortable qualities had me into the place before even seeing any food.

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For my dinner, I ordered a plate of the barbecue ribs, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad. The sides were both creamy and robust, wonderful deals for the price, The ribs were incredibly meaty (always a value question when trying ribs in a place you haven’t before), generously sauced (with a more universal-style barbecue sauce, though white sauce is available by request, which I heard several times) and wonderfully flavorful. I also love that they came in what I call “Alabama fashion,” with two pieces of plain, white sandwich bread, perfect for “sopping” the plate clean afterward. (If you haven’t tried soaking bread with barbecue sauce on your plate, you’re missing out.)

And of course, as this tale about white barbecue sauce leads you to believe, Molly and I sampled Saw’s Roasted Chicken Sandwich with White Barbecue Sauce. Molly often prefers chicken to pork at barbecue restaurants, and that desire was perfectly matched by Saw’s serving its chicken with the legendary white sauce.

The sauce was as flavorful and as unique as I remembered it at barbecue restaurants in North Alabama. You can tell the influence of mayonnaise, and I picked up a slight peppery quality, yet different from what you’d expect of a white pepper gravy. Quite honestly, Alabama white barbecue sauce is something you have to try for yourself to understand and appreciate. It’s unlike most anything else you’ll ever eat, so it’s hard to compare it to much. Molly enjoyed the sauce at Saw’s as much as I did, saying it was a great accompaniment to the chicken.

Saw’s impressed us with its homey, small-town feel, its delicious barbecue and sides, and its well-matched quality and cost. And I can say that all of my efforts in sharing the legend of Alabama white barbecue sauce finally netted a positive response from someone even game enough to seek it out and try it. I’m lucky that the willing participant is my wife, and I’m lucky that I got to further expand my barbecue horizons by enjoying Saw’s, a great spot in suburban Birmingham.

Saw’s Barbecue, 1008 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, Alabama

Foodie Travels: Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, Memphis, Tenn.

North Carolina has always been my home, but my heart for barbecue has always been in Memphis, Tenn. Unfortunately, until recently that penchant for Memphis-style barbecue only lived through the enabling of national brands that emulate the tradition.

No longer.

img_1183We recently spent a couple days in Memphis, “the pork barbecue mecca of the world,” as the history reads on the website for Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, the location of my first authentic Memphis BBQ experience. And what a baptism in barbecue paradise our dinner at “The Rendezvous” was.

Just a few blocks from iconic Beale Street, The Rendezvous is tucked away, the entrance off an alley in the city’s downtown. You know you’re close to the place when you catch the whiff of the pork aroma in the breeze between the tall buildings surrounding you.

Seeing the crowd, we expected a solid wait to savor the taste that accompanies the fragrance, but that was not the case. Almost as soon as our names went on the wait list, we were called to our table for two and our rendezvous with a barbecue masterpiece.

For me, the type of barbecued meat I order stems from the location where it’s prepared. In Texas, I had to sample the brisket. In North Carolina, it’s the chopped pork. In Memphis, and at Charlie Vergos’ establishment, I had to try the ribs, known for their dry-seasoning rub and signature vinegar wash to seal in the moisture.

Our waiter (more on the wait staff in a moment) smartly urged me to purchase a full order instead of the half size. And it turns out he wasn’t just trying to make a sale. For $3 more, he wanted to make sure I fully immersed myself in the foodie experience that is The Rendezvous’ ribs.

img_1196Pull-apart tender. Cooked to perfect doneness all the way to the bone. A seasoning that delights ALL of the senses. Ten meaty pieces, each more pleasurable than the last, until the final rib that makes you wish you lived in Memphis to visit for dinner at least once a week. That’s how I would describe the ribs at this “mecca” of barbecue.

In addition to sampling one of my ribs, Molly enjoyed an incredibly flavorful barbecue chicken sandwich, with a delicious smoky taste enveloped by a hearty, soft bun. And both of our main courses were accompanied by a side of wonderful baked beans and slaw, which offered a unique mustard base in lieu of the mayonnaise base that we’re accustomed to in our home state of North Carolina.

As heavenly as the food at The Rendezvous is, the price you pay also provides a front-row seat to a unique dining experience. The place has been a Memphis mainstay, just a short distance from the Mississippi River, since the 1940s, and you get the feel of an old-time eatery in the décor of the building and the presentation of the wait staff. Many of the waiters have served at the restaurant for decades, and you can tell from the smiles on their faces that they enjoy their jobs every night.

There are so many places in Memphis, Tenn., to experience “Memphis-style” barbecue, and specifically ribs. From our experience, I don’t see how any of them could top Charlie Vergos Rendezvous.

 

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous

52 S. Second St., Memphis, Tenn.

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