Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Oven Baked BBQ Spare Ribs Recipe

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, BBQ capitol of the world (at least that's what we say) and having great BBQ joints around every corner meant that we didn't have to spend hours perfecting our own BBQ. Now that I've moved out the Bay Area, I'm struggling to find something even remotely as good as the stuff you get at the fast food BBQ joints back in Memphis.

The folks out here still don't know the difference between grilling and BBQ'ing. Grilling is when you expose the food to direct flames with the intent on searing the meat. BBQ is all about cooking "low and slow" and smoke. That is, using indirect heat to gently tenderize the meat while imbuing it with a pink ring of smoky flavor. In scientific terms, the low heat breaks down the connective tissue in the meat, turning it into collagen and other molecules that are much easier to bite through.

When I looked for oven baked BBQ recipes on the net, I mostly found recipes that asked you to cook the ribs at up to 350 degrees for around 1-2 hours. This is not "low and slow" and when I tried these recipes, my ribs came out much tougher than I expected. On top of that, the smaller pieces were overcooked, the bigger pieces still raw, and everything was pretty dry.

After more extensive research, I pulled together several techniques I got from various places and have created the best oven baked ribs I've ever had. The recipe is interesting because, it is one of the few that relies very little on the quality of the ingredients and is almost entirely the result of using the right techniques. Therefore, my ingredient list will be fairly generic, and I'll focus on the techniques that matter.

2 racks of spare ribs
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar*
1/4 cup your favorite BBQ dry rub*
1 cup your favorite BBQ sauce*
1 can beer or water

* No need to measure, just use enough to coat the ribs.

First remove the silver membrane on the back of the ribs. Starting from the smallest rib, use a knife to separate the membrane from the flesh. Once you separate it from the first bone, you should be able to pull it all off the whole rack like a piece of tape. Use a paper towel if you're having trouble getting a grip on it. Why? The tough membrane will stick in your teeth and also prevent the dry rub seasoning from penetrating the meat.

Next, place the ribs on a large cooling rack inside a large sheet pan. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and coat the ribs with the apple cider vinegar. Why? The vinegar will open up the pores of the meat allowing the dry rub seasoning to penetrate.

Coat and rub the ribs with a generous amount of your favorite BBQ dry rub. Knock off the excess. I use a mix of brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, celery salt, mustard, and garlic powder. You can make your own or use a store bought brand.

Then loosely tent a sheet of aluminum foil over the ribs and place the baking sheet full of ribs into a 250 degree oven. Pour the beer onto the baking sheet, under the cooling rack keeping the level just below contact with the ribs. Why? The foil, keeps the moisture around the meat while the beer steam bath ensures that our ribs never dry out.

Bake for around 4 hours or until the ribs are easy to bend but before they can easily break in two. If you are able to put a whole can of beer in the pan, you probably won't need to add any more during the process. If your cooling racks are shallow, you may have to add more beer as it dries out.

Once you're close to the desired tenderness, remove and uncover the ribs and turn on the broiler. Brush on a thin, uniform layer of BBQ sauce (I use Bulls-Eye) and stick it back into the oven. After a few minutes the sauce should bubble and eventually darken and burn just a little around the edges. This is caramelization and its a good thing. Take the ribs out again, brush on another layer, and stick it back in until the sauce caramelizes again (you can repeat this as much as you like, but I find once or twice to be enough). Why? Heating sauce to a high temp causes the sugars to develop a "caramelly" flavor and become sticky. The heat also dries up all the moisture in the sauce giving you a layer with a nice "bite" next to the tender meat.

When you've achieved your desired BBQ sauce coat, take the ribs out, replace the foil tent, and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting. Why? As with all meats, rest after cooking reduces the juices we worked so hard to keep from oozing out of the cuts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Prop 8: The Ban on Gay Marriage

We are at the dawn of a new age of civil rights for our country. A time when we elect a president who only 200 years ago would have been a slave. Who only 100 years ago would have endured Jim Crow laws and the "Separate but Equal" doctrine. Who only 50 years ago, would have been able to get a job based on his qualifications rather than the color of his skin. Yet, today I am sad to hear that California may take a big step backwards for civil rights. It looks like California may actually pass Prop 8: The Ban on Gay Marriage. As the mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom said, for the first time in the history of our country the people have used the constitution to take away rights from a group of people. This is the same state that overturned the ban on inter-racial marriage 19 years before the rest of the country did.

I'd like to know why the people who voted yes did what they did.

I'd like to know if those who said they were "protecting marriage" or afraid that their children would be taught about gay marriage were genuine in their motives. Are they truly concerned or are they simply using these as excuses to hide a real intent to condemn the gay and lesbian lifestyle?

If someone was afraid that their children would learn about gay marriage, I wonder, what harm would come of it? Does one believe that the knowledge of the possibility that two people of the same sex who want to spend the rest of their lives together can form a legal union would somehow make their children gay?

I would ask these people to imagine the worst possible scenario. Suppose allowing gay marriage meant that it must be taught in elementary schools and that their children had to learn about and on top of it you would be forced to explain it to them at gun point. Now imagine what you would say. Would you start talking about homosexuality? No, you wouldn't even talk about heterosexuality when explaining "traditional" marriage so why would you introduce any form of "sexuality" to elementary school students... you perv. If you really thought about it, you would say something like "marriage is an agreement between two people who love each other to care for each other for the rest of their lives no matter what happens.".... See, that wasn't so bad. Do you think this would scar your children?

If you're worried about confusing your children, then let me ask you this. Is your job as parents to avoid educating your children about everything that might confuse them? Is it your job to keep them naive and afraid of everything that is different from them? Do we condition them to be intolerant of other peoples beliefs because they are not your own?

I am a proud parent of baby girl and I hope that one day, she will be a peace loving human being who is tolerant and respectful of her fellow man despite his/her skin, race, religion, or sexual orientation while still retaining her own belief system. And I hope that she will be treated with the same respect regardless of her beliefs or sexual orientation and that she be judged solely on her character and her ideas. Is this the world you want for your children? A world free from bigotry and discrimination.