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Raichlen on Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribsby Steven Raichlen
Out of Print
The Popular Choice
The rib is surely the most perfect morsel of meat known to man. Most of the world's great food cultures back me on this. The Chinese have their lacquered sugar and soy spareribs. Argentineans prefer tira de asado, simply seasoned, crustily grilled, crosscut beef ribs. Koreans favor kalbi kui, slicing short ribs paper-thin, grilling them over charcoal, and serving them wrapped in lettuce leaves with a high-voltage array of panchan (pickled vegetables) and spicy condiments. Italians slow-cook pork spareribs with the age-old Mediterranean trinity of rosemary, garlic, and wine. Even lesser-known food cultures have their rib specialties, from Norway's pinnekjøtt —salted lamb ribs served with mashed rutabagas—to Brazil, where they marinate baby backs and expertly cook them on a rotisserie.
This doesn't begin to address the multiplicity of ribs enjoyed in the United States. If ribs are an article of faith in much of the world, in America they've evolved into a full-blown "religion." There are "sects" (adherents of spareribs, baby back ribs, or beef ribs, for example). There are "dogmas," including the best way to cook ribs, from smoking to indirect grilling to direct grilling. There are even "heresies," such as boiling, braising, or mirowaving ribs before putting them on the grill (for an overview of the great rib debates, see page 59). But there are two points on which just about every American barbecue buff can agree: No self-respecting cookout is complete without some sort of rib. And when it comes to flavor and the pure, unadulterated enjoyment of eating barbecue, ribs are hard to beat.
What accounts for the rib's near universal popularity? I think there are a number of factors. First, meat that's next to the bone tends to be the best marbled and the most flavorful, and no other cut offers a higher proportion of bone to meat. Second, the rib bones give the meat structure, presenting a broad surface to smoke and fire and keeping the meat from shriveling up on the grill. Third, there's the sheer versatility of ribs, from ubiquitous pork and beef to the more rarified lamb, veal, and bison. Fourth, ribs can be cooked using myriad methods, including smoking, indirect grilling, direct grilling, braising, stewing, and spit roasting. Many pit masters employ sizzling them on the grill to brown them. And portion sizes vary widely, ranging from the delicate single-or double-bone portions served by robatayaki (mixed grill) masters in Japan to the plate-burying slabs we'e come to expect from pit masters in the United States.
Finally, ribs are just unabashedly fun to eat, evoking the memory of our cave-dwelling ancestors roasting meats over open fires and devouring them with no more finery than their bare hands (Admit it: Part of the perennial pleasure of ribs is that you get to eat them with your fingers.) A rack of ribs—fragrant with spice, dark with smoke, glistening with fat and sauce—is the very embodiment of the spirit of barbecue.
Why I Wrote this Book
This book has been "simmering" on my metaphorical back burner almost since the day I started writing about barbecue. But it really came into focus a few years ago when we ran a Lip-Smackin' Rib Recipe Contest on the www.barbecuebible.com Web site. I expected dozens, maybe hundreds of responses. We received literally thousands. I anticipated the predictable pork and beef ribs. We got recipes for lamb ribs, veal ribs, even venison ribs. I thought I'd see the usual barbecue rub and/or red sauce ribs in the style of Memphis or Kansas City. There were recipes seasoned with everything from Dr. Pepper soda to coffee, black tea, green tea, chai tea, cherry juice, and ...gasp!...Hershey's chocolate sauce.
The sheer number of entries and the ingenuity of the recipes led me to realize two things: Americans in general (and the www.barbecuebible.com community in particular) are even more obsessed with ribs than I knew. And, when it comes to mixing up rubs and concoting basting and barbecue sauces for ribs, no ingredient is off-limits, no flavor combination is too outlandish.
But, despite the popularity of these meaty staves, a surprising number of people are intimidated by the prospect of cooking ribs. (Granted, there is a lot of confusion surrounding ribs —how to season them, cook them, and serve them.) Whenever I teach a session of Barbecue University, I conduct an informal poll to see what dishes my students would most like to learn to make. Topping the list are how to grill fish and steak, and above all, how to grill the perfect ribs.
So, what will you find in this book? A complete crash course on the art of grilling and smoking ribs, including how to recognize the different cuts (and what to look for when buying them). A review of the various cooking methods, plus how and when to use each. And, of course, how to make rubs, the various spice pastes, marinades, mop and finishing sauces, basting mixtures and glazes, and all manner of barbecue sauces—and what they're best for.
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