War Pigs Smoked Babyback Ribs/Alaskan Brewing Amber Alt/Snowy Dunes “Atlantis”
Smoking ribs in sub-zero weather is a difficult proposition to be sure, but not impossible. This evening we cheat a wee bit by smoking, then braising them, before finishing them off on the grill to achieve smoky, tender (not fall off the bone, mind you) BBQ perfection. Our War Pigs Chicago-Style Pork and Rib Rub takes center stage on the racks of baby backs as well as the homemade BBQ sauce that is spicy and tomato & vinegar based. BBQ calls for something a little more basic in the beer category, usually a golden or amber ale for us and tonight we went with the latter from Alaskan Brewing out of Juneau. For the tunes we went with the trippy, psychedelic doomy vibes from the land of Stoner Rock, Sweden’s Snowy Dunes and their killer release “Atlantis”.
War Pigs Smoked Babyback Ribs – For such a simple recipe, we actually need to set aside a good amount of time to make this feast. The ribs will need anywhere between 3-4 hours, so we will start there with a step that most people don’t bother to take, removing the membrane from the bottom of the rack of ribs. With a sharp pairing knife we slide the tip of the blade between the membrane and the bone on one end of the rack and lift up, so that you can pinch the membrane between your thumb and forefinger in a paper towel. Then we slowly pull toward the other end of the rack. Done right, it should come off all at once and produces a disturbing satisfaction akin to peeling suburned skin off your own body. With the racks cleaned up, we can now season liberally with our War Pigs rub.
We were a little lazy to roll the smoker out through 16″ of snow so we attempted to max out our Weber kettle by banking charcoal and hickory wood chunks all the way over to one side and making the cool side bigger than normal. To accommodate, we needed to load up more charcoal and wood than normal to keep the heat between 275-300 degrees. Place the racks of ribs along the cool side anyway they can fit (conversely, one could invest in a rib rack, but gadgets shmadgets we say) being careful not to place any ribs over the flame.
Cover the grill with the vent holes over the ribs so that the smoke drags over the meat before it exits. Over the next 2 hours, we’ll need to check temp (and add more wood/charcoal accordingly) and check the racks, if part of the grill is browning the ribs faster, shift them around so that they all cook evenly.
Once the outside of the ribs has a dark brown bark on them, and the meat just starts to pull away from the bone, we can remove the ribs into a large pan and cover with 1/2 cup of apple cider. Cover the pan with foil and place in a 275 degree oven for another hour or so.
At this phase, we can turn our attention to the sauce. Full disclosure here, since we created the War Pigs rub, we’ve been converted to dry rub people (<—- shameless advertising plug, but true) so for those who are purists and share our view, you may skip this part or stick around for our humorous banter as we discuss this homemade sauce. Until now we’ve “made” two different types of BBQ sauce; 1.) our signature red and yellow sauces which are about as far from traditional as you can imagine and 2.) the semi-homemade variety that actually uses a store bought BBQ sauce as a base that we add to, usually yellow mustard and Frank’s Red Hot for our go-to quick, tangy and spicy sauce. Today though we aim to make a from scratch, all natural sauce that starts with a bottle of the amber beer we’re drinking. We simmer the beer in a medium sauce pan then add two 6 oz. cans of tomato paste and a couple of tablespoons of War Pigs.
Next up we add a little rice wine vinegar to each can of tomato paste to get the remnants out of the can, and add that to the pan followed by a tablespoon and a half of honey.
The last ingredient is the liquid smoke, which up until now we’ve avoided like the plague, but mostly due to our ignorance. It’s actually a fairly natural product and a key component for a smoky BBQ sauce. We started with a little then found ourselves gradually adding more.
Ok, so here’s the thing. We know we’re way on the lax side in terms of recipes compared to most of the food blogs out there, we don’t give you a nice recipe card with exact ingredients. It’s not how we cook, so we don’t write it that way. But we do give you ballpark ideas on measurements and the pictures to go along with them most of the time. This sauce, however, is not one of those times. Like a witch presiding over her cauldron we sprinkled in more of this, stirred and tasted. Then added more of that, stirred and tasted. This went on and on until our amount of sauce almost doubled (kidding) but we did cycle through the honey, liquid smoke and War Pigs quite a bit to get a balanced flavor profile we liked. It’s going to be trial and error and whatever works for you, go for it. Once you’ve got it, let it simmer for about 20 minutes then remove from heat to cool.
Now it’s time to check on the ribs, we’re looking for the meat to be a little more pulled apart from the bone and for the racks to just start to fold over when you lift from one side. Once we’ve reached that point, back on the grill these go for a final char over direct heat. For those that want sauce, you can apply a light glazing of the sauce.
Turn the racks over sauce side down for only a minute or so that the sauce glazes onto the ribs.
That’s all she wrote folks; platter up the racks of ribs with some extra sauce on the side and have plenty of cold beer and napkins on hand as people dig into these moist, succulent morsels of smoky pork goodness.
Alaskan Brewing Amber Alt – We were a little surprised to see a beer from Juneau Alaska on the shelves of our local Jewel store, our immediate thought was here’s yet another microbrew turned macrobrew purchased by one of the big 3. We were blown away that in fact Alaskan Brewing is still independent and growing their distribution to reach the likes of us midwesterners. The only option we had to choose from was their Amber Alt which is perfect for BBQ so we weren’t too disappointed. Amber ales are like vanilla wafers, put 14 varieties in front of us and we’ll say each one tasted pretty much like a good, solid…vanilla wafer. This amber ale is everything it should be; sweet, malty and creamy with a chewy mouthfeel that provided the perfect compliment to the rich and smoky ribs.
Snowy Dunes “Atlantis” – We’ve had this album queued up for awhile waiting for the right meal to pair it up with. Well at the time of this writing, we were smoking in almost two feet of snow, so of course Snowy Dunes would be the perfect choice. The smoke session went later into the evening as well, so being outside in the dark winter wonderland as snow continued the fall, “Atlantis” was the perfect soundtrack to the evening in all its tripped out glory. From the spacey atmospheric epics “Atlantis pt. II” and “Atlantis pt. III” to The Doors meets Janes Addiction “The Trident and the Moon” to the acid/garage rock of the album’s best track “Testify” that pretty much just oozes raw bluesy soul. “Atlantis” is a really killer album that needs to be listened to in its entirety and be given the time and space it deserves to fully enjoy it. Background music this is not, in addition to being perfect outside on a cold snowy night, its also the kind of album you toss on your turntable, light some incense and sit back and take in as you let the music guide your mind to wherever it wants to take it.