Lately, living in Seattle is a lot like living in CS Lewis’ mythic Narnia: it’s always winter and never spring. It is hard to believe that this close to spring, snowflakes would be drifting in front of my window. Rather than focus on the here and now, I think back and look forward to warmer days.
I got an invitation last summer to visit my friend Scott up in Edmonds who is a master of outdoor cooking and as it happens had devoted much of his grill time last year to perfecting baby back ribs. The day I went up was one of our text book perfect Washington summer days with bright clear skies; before I got on the highway I stopped off at the store and picked up Dry White Port and Tonic to make a refreshing easy to drink cocktail.
When I got to Edmonds, the ribs were already underway and Scott told me that he had never really bothered with them, but one day he got curious after finding baby backs at a sale price too good to be ignored. He did a little reading, gave them a whirl and got obsessed. He lifted the lid on the grill and I took a look: the baby backs lay on the center of the grill, flecked with a dry spice rub; below them was a pan of water with coals banked around it. It seemed too simple and indeed it is.
Use a dry spice rub to season the ribs, keep the heat at medium low (or about 250 – 275) to cook the ribs slowly, about 2 – 2 1/2 hours (bone side down); the pan of water keeps the ribs from drying out. This should also work well in the oven.
We threw a couple of potatoes onto the grill to cook and sat outside enjoying Dry White Port & Tonics (1/3 Dry White Port to 2/3 Tonic Water with a healthy squeeze of lime, served on the rocks. Oh and don’t be shy — you can make these as big as you’d like). Spring greens from his neighbor’s yard topped with a few crumbles of blue cheese, some tomato and diced Vidalia Onion served as the starter.
After a while Scott checked the ribs, announced they were done, put them onto a large platter and took them over to the picnic table. During the entire time on the grill, Scott never turned the ribs and they stayed bone side down. And there was no messing around with any kind of sauce. If you like sauce wait until the final 10 or 15 minutes before saucing the ribs or serve the sauce table side.
Cutting the ribs apart, he placed 4 on each plate along with a baked potato. Butter, sour cream and more diced Vidalia Onion were on hand to top the potatoes. The ribs were delicious, moist and tender. If the hallmark of good, well prepared food is silence, we only conversed between ribs.
After we ate, I got a walking tour around Edmonds which included helping to round up a enthusiastic puppy who’d slipped his collar and watching the sunset on the sound. When we got up to the house some time later, the rest of the ribs waited. They made a delicious snack, as good as they were fresh off the grill. It was a fitting conclusion to the day.
The dry spice rub Scott used added flavor and a little spicy heat, but when I asked for the recipe he fessed up to not working from one. Each time he used the same group of spices but his approach was informal and each time the result was a little different.
A few months ago I found ribs on sale at a too good to be ignored price and bought several racks. I gave the matter of a dry spice rub some thought and came up with the following blend that works well with all types of meat. Here’s to the warm days of summer!
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Salt
4 teaspoons Black Pepper
4 teaspoons Paprika (note: you can use Hungarian Sweet or Hot to suite your taste)
3 teaspoons Granulated Garlic
2 teaspoons Cayenne
2 teaspoons Ground Allspice
1 teaspoon Dry Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon (use Vietnamese Cinnamon if you can find it)
Blend all ingredients together in a large bowl mixing well. I like to take the blend and rub it through a mesh sifter, to eliminate any lumps. Keep sealed in a jar and use liberally on your favorite cuts for the grill.