Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BBQ Is Not A Settled Science

Aldi had these big, meaty back ribs for $2.79lb. This was not a bad price and I have never seen back ribs so thick with meat. I bought four slabs.


Smokey low and slow BBQ is the way I have been enjoying ribs for decades. She is not a fan of smoke flavored foods and I am. It has been my personal experience that women are not fans of smoke flavor and men are. This past weekend we hosted a dozen family members for a Father's Day backyard BBQ, gender was evenly split.

As always she asked me not to use too much wood in the Weber so I went one better. How about if I use both grills and add wood chunks to only one? Sounds fair enough. I wanted to taste plain ribs slow cooked using no wood for a change so here we go.


My deck served as the laboratory for my controlled unscientific experiment. In order to be as fair as possible the goal was to cook them for the same amount of time using the same amount of coals in identical Weber kettle grills. One would have wood chunks added and the other was strictly charcoal briquettes. What I did not do was equally divide the meat but what the heck, I wasn't wearing a white lab coat nor publishing my result is some journal. Officially the final evaluation is based strictly on my personal taste, not based on what others thought. When Gallup or some news media company pays for the ribs then they can take a poll.

In the beginning a full chimney of coals were prepared to a totally white appearance and were then applied to each grill in the traditional indirect cooking method. A makeshift aluminum pan fashioned out of foil would be placed underneath the half of the grill opposite from the coals. Each pan held a small amount of 7UP. After adding the ribs about twelve fresh coals were placed on top of each smoldering ashen pile. Following the ignition of the fresh coals I added hickory wood chunks to the black Weber and none to the red Weber. Both kettles were closed at 8:30 am with the finish time being 1:30 pm. for five hours of slow low temperature BBQ cooking. During that time twelve fresh briquettes were added at the 2 hour and 4 hour marks to each kettle.

As they cooked the red kettle was only opened for adding fresh briquettes while the black kettle was opened each hour to add additional hickory chunks as always.


It is not unusual for the smoke spewing from my Weber to show up on Doppler Weather Radar. Tom Skilling has mentioned this phenomenon on his broadcast a few times describing it as an atmospheric anomaly appearing somewhere east of Valparaiso Indiana.

Noticeable was the darker color the black kettle ribs had taken on vs. the dark red color the red kettle ribs. No sauce would be added until the last half hour of cooking. Meat on the ribs in each kettle had began to shrink away from the bone so the cooking process was about the same.

Non smoke flavored ribs with no sauce

Smoke flavored ribs with no sauce

She whipped up some home made BBQ sauce from a recipe published in Cooks Illustrated instead of my usual favorites Sweet Baby Ray's or Bullseye. A nice touch.

Non smoke flavored ribs with sauce

Smoke flavored ribs with sauce

The flavor difference was very noticeable. The smoke flavor ribs were as good as ever. What I did notice in the non smoke flavored ribs was a distinct pork flavor that had fully come through and it was very, very good. Both styles had the same moist, tender texture. I was satisfied the experiment had been accomplished fairly.

Honestly, in my personal evaluation the non smoke flavor ribs tasted slightly better to me. While the smoke flavor is delightful the non smoke flavored ribs were remarkably good. So what did I learn? BBQ is not a settled science.

Next time I will add wood chunks only once at the beginning and see if is is a good compromise that will satisfy both sides of the immediate family picnic table.

1 comment:

Dan from Madison said...

This is good information. Those are the meatiest back ribs I have ever seen.