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For Perfect Ribs, Go Low And Slow

Tired of waiting on line at your local rib joint? Having a get-together and looking for something that will wow your guests? Grilling ribs is simpler than you think, and making them on your backyard grill has the advantage of allowing you to customize them to your taste.

Elizabeth Karmel knows a lot about the best way to marry meat and fire. Known as America's foremost female grilling expert, she grew up in North Carolina, where barbecuing was a way of life. She's now the executive chef at Hill Country, New York's hottest barbecue spot; in addition, she teaches at the Institute for Culinary Education and has written several cookbooks (Her "Taming the Flame," published in 2005, is considered a barbecue bible).

Karmel dropped by The Early Show to give us a quick course - call it "Ribs 101" - on how to produce meat that is tender, smoky and full of flavor. Her side dishes are all classics with a twist.

THE MEAT
Pork back ribs are the easiest to find (though you can also buy beef ribs).

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"Cut from high up on the rib near the spinal column, back ribs are meaty, leaner than spareribs, and very flavorful ... Back ribs are usually sold in either full slabs (13 bones) or half slabs (7 bones) and are the most expensive cut. When they come from a pig that is less than a year old, they are referred to as baby back ribs; these generally offer more tender meat," Elizabeth writes in "Taming the Flame."

If you aren't entirely happy with the quality of the meat you're purchased, you can try Elizabeth's "rib refresher" trick. She combines 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 3 cups water and places the ribs in this mixture for about 20 minutes. Do not rinse this solution off the ribs before cooking. The trick is so good, she says, she sometimes does it even with really fresh, beautiful ribs. Essentially, the vinegar solution "cleanses" the meat and makes the flavors shine through without any "gamey" flavor.

THE FIRE
According to Elizabeth, you don't need a charcoal grill to achieve deliciously-barbequed ribs. "If you like playing with fire and stoking the coals, then charcoal is probably right for you," she writes. "If you like to put the food on the grill and forget about it until it's time to check for doneness, then gas makes sense ... The 'smoky' flavor that we all know and love comes from the fats and juices dripping down and hitting a heat source (charcoal or flavorizer bars, lava rock or ceramic briquettes) and immediately vaporizing into smoke." This happens on both charcoal and gas grills.

Cooking ribs takes time -- count on around two hours. You want to use indirect heat -- the low and slow method, as they say. Because ribs are mostly bone and muscle, it takes slow cooking at a low temperature to cook the meat until tender.

COMMON MISTAKES
In addition to trying to cook ribs over direct heat, Elizabeth finds that people commonly make two other mistakes:

  • Don't parboil!! When you boil ribs before placing on the grill (something people do to speed the process along) you lose precious fat and juices, which ultimately means you are losing flavor.
  • Don't sauce too early! If you brush barbeque sauce on the ribs too early in the process, you risk burning the ribs.

    SALT AND PEPPER TEXAS STYLE RIBS
    (Makes 4 to 8 servings)

    Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium-Low Heat

    Post Oak or other favorite wood such as Applewood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
    4 racks spare ribs or St. Louis Cut Ribs, about 3 pounds each
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Set up the grill for indirect heat; if using wood chips, place the soaked chips directly on the charcoal, or in the smoking box of a gas grill.

    Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs, if desired.

    In a small bowl, mix the salt, pepper and cayenne pepper together and sprinkle the ribs liberally with the mixture.

    Place the ribs, bone-side down, in the center of the cooking grate, or in a rib holder or rack, over indirect medium-low heat. Grill covered (at about 325 degrees F, if your gas grill has a thermometer) for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is tender and has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones.

    Leave the ribs unattended for the first 30 minutes -- this means no peeking; especially important if using wood chips. If the ribs start to burn on the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower the heat slightly. Twenty minutes before serving, un-stack if necessary and "if you gotta have it," brush the ribs with the barbecue sauce. Note: In Texas Hill Country, they don't use sauce -- they let the meat speak for itself!

    Remove the ribs from the grill; let them rest for 10 minutes before cutting into individual or 2 to 3 rib portions.

    Recipe adapted from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95).

    BEER-BRAISED COWBOY BEANS
    (Makes 10-12 servings)
    12 slices lean bacon, coarsely chopped
    5 cloves garlic, minced
    2 green bell peppers, chopped
    6 cups cooked pinto beans, rinsed
    1 12-ounce beer, such as Tecate
    2 cups (32-40 fl oz) water
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1 teaspoon ground ancho chile
    2 teaspoons McCormick chili powder
    1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
    10 scallions, trimmed and sliced

    In a heavy-bottomed 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, fry the bacon until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes. Add green peppers and garlic; mix well. Let cook for 1-2 minutes or until garlic is soft.

    Add the cooked beans, beer and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and add the coriander, ancho chile, chili powder and salt. Add more water if necessary.

    Simmer gently for 40-50 minutes to blend flavors.

    Ladle into bowls and serve topped with a generous spoonful of sliced scallions.

    Note: Karmel recommends Carmelina Brands (Italy) Borlotti Beans in salted water

    Recipe adapted from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95).

    BUBBA'S BUNCH BARBECUED BABY BACK RIBS
    (Makes 4 to 8 servings)

    Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium-Low Heat

    4 racks baby back ribs, about 2 pounds each
    2 lemons cut in half
    1/4-cup Classic Barbeque Rub (recipe below) or Willingham's WHAM barbeque rub
    Wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes (optional)
    1 cup favorite barbeque sauce

    Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Set up the grill for indirect heat and if using wood chips, place the soaked chips directly on the charcoal, or in the smoking box.

    Remove the silver skin from the backs of the ribs, if desired. Rub the cut lemons over the front and back of the ribs, squeezing to release as much juice as possible. Set aside for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with spice rub and let them sit, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

    Place the ribs, bone-side down, in the center of the cooking grate, or in a rib holder or rack, over indirect medium-low heat. Grill covered (at about 325 degrees F, if your grill has a thermometer) for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones.

    Leave the ribs unattended for the first 30 minutes -- this means no peeking; especially important if using wood chips. If the ribs start to burn on the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower the heat slightly. Twenty minutes before serving, unstuck the ribs if necessary, and brush them with barbeque sauce.

    Remove the ribs from the grill and place them on a clean platter. Let them rest for 10 minutes before cutting into individual or 2 to 3 rib portions.

    While the ribs rest, warm any remaining sauce in a saucepan. Serve the ribs hot, with sauce on the side, if desired.

    Recipe adapted from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95).

    CLASSIC BARBEQUE RUB
    (Makes about 1 cup)

    2 tablespoons smoked paprika
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    3 tablespoons sugar
    2 tablespoons brown sugar
    1 tablespoon ground cumin
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
    1/2 tablespoon cayenne
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1 tablespoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon celery salt
    1 tablespoon oregano, crushed

    Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. For a smoother rub, process the ingredients in a spice grinder until well combined and all pieces uniform (the rub will be very fine and tan in color). Use it to rub on meat before grilling. Extra rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

    Recipe adapted from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95).

    FOR THE RECIPES FOR GRANDMA ODOM'S SITTING POTATO SALAD, KANSAS CITY-STYLE RIBS, SWEET K.C. STYLE DR. PEPPER BARBEQUE SAUCE, LONGHORN CHEDDAR MAC AND CHEESE, ICE BOX COLE SLAW and HOT PEACH SHORTCAKE WITH SWEET CREAM BISCUITS, go to PAGE 2

  • GRANDMA ODOM'S SITTING POTATO SALAD

    (Makes 6 first-course servings)

    3 ½ pounds red bliss potatoes (about 9 large potatoes), washed
    Kosher salt

    Dressing:
    1-1/2 cups mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann's
    2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard (Coleman's) or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
    1 cup celery, chopped (about 2 large stalks)
    1 bunch green onions, chopped, with only about 2 inches of the green tops
    1/2 cup bread and butter (sweet) pickles (about 10 large slices)
    1/2 cup sour gherkins or about 10 French-style gherkins (cornichons)
    2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped, optional
    Sea salt
    Freshly ground pepper

    Put the potatoes in a large stockpot filled with cold water and a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the potatoes are tender. To test for doneness, slip a thin paring knife into the center of the potato; if the potato resists, it's not done. If it is done, drain the potatoes and let them cool just enough to handle them.

    Meanwhile, make the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl, adding more vinegar if the mixture is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Set aside.

    Peel the potatoes: the skin should literally slip right off. Dice them by cutting with a sharp knife in a side-to-side sawing motion. If you chop with an up-and-down motion, the potatoes will split and you won't have nice square pieces. As you dice the potatoes, put them in a large, nonreactive bowl and dress them each time with a little of the dressing

    Add the celery, green onions, pickles, gherkins, and eggs, if using, and mix to blend. If the salad is too dry, quickly blend a little more dressing together and add it to the salad. If it is too wet, drain the salad or add more potatoes. Mix well.

    Put the salad in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, adjust the seasonings to taste. Serve chilled.

    Recipe adapted from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95).

    KANSAS CITY-STYLE RIBS
    (Makes 4 to 8 servings)

    Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium-Low Heat

    Sweet K.C Barbeque Rub

    1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup freshly ground pepper
    1/4 cup sweet paprika
    1/4 cup kosher salt
    1 tablespoon white pepper
    1 tablespoon celery salt
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1 tablespoon dry mustard
    2 teaspoons good-quality chili powder or powdered ancho chilies
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    1-1/2 teaspoons ground thyme
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

    Hickory or oak wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
    4 slabs pork back ribs, about 2 pounds each
    1 cup favorite barbeque sauce or Sweet K.C Style Dr. Pepper Barbeque Sauce (recipe below)

    Make the rub: Mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl until well combined

    Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Set up the grill for indirect heat; if using wood chips, place the soaked chips directly on the charcoal or smoking box of a gas grill.

    Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs, if desired. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the spice rub and let them sit, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

    Place the ribs, bone-side down, in the center of the cooking grate, or in a rib holder or rack, over indirect medium-low heat. Grill covered (at about 325 degrees F, if your grill has a thermometer) for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones.

    Leave the ribs unattended for the first 30 minutes -- this means no peeking; especially important if using wood chips. If the ribs start to burn on the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower the heat slightly. Twenty minutes before serving, unstuck the ribs if necessary, and brush them with barbeque sauce.

    Remove the ribs from the grill and place them on a clean platter. Let them rest for 10 minutes before cutting into individual or 2 to 3 rib portions. Warm any remaining sauce in a saucepan and serve on the side.


    SWEET K.C. STYLE DR. PEPPER BARBEQUE SAUCE
    (Makes 2 cups)

    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    1 large onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 12-ounce can Dr. Pepper soft drink (about 1-3/4 cups)
    1 cup ketchup
    1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
    1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
    3 tablespoons tomato paste
    2 teaspoons ground ancho chili powder
    1 teaspoon white pepper
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    Freshly ground pepper

    Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic in the butter until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the flavors have blended. Continue cooking until the sauce begins to thicken, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Remember, the ribs will have plenty of spice rub on them, so don't over-season the sauce.

    Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes or until it is warm but no longer "boiling" hot. Puree with an immersion or traditional blender. Let the mop cool and pour it into a clean glass jar for storing. The sauce can be made in advance and kept for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. To use: Brush it on meat 30 minutes before the cooking time is finished. If desired, serve extra on then side.

    LONGHORN CHEDDAR MAC & CHEESE
    (Makes 10 servings)

    1 pound DeCecco brand Penne Rigate
    4 cups half and half
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus more for garnishing
    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    4 ounces best-quality gruyere cheese, grated
    16 ounces best-quality extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
    6 ounces best-quality Fontina cheese
    2 ounces grated real Parmesan-Reggiano cheese

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again and set aside in a large bowl.

    Bring the half and half just to a boil in a heavy saucepan and set aside. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another heavy saucepan. Add the flour, and whisk over low heat for 5 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from the heat. Add the hot liquid to the flour mixture, and whisk well. Add the paprika, season with the salt and pepper, and return the pan to a low heat. Add half of all of the cheeses and stir until combined . Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens; about 5 minutes. Add sauce to the pasta. Toss well to coat completely.

    Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch flameproof baking dish/casserole (half hotel-pan liner) with olive oil, and fill it with half of the sauced-pasta. Distribute half of the remaining cheese evenly over the pasta. Repeat layering. Place the dish on a baking sheet, and bake until hot, lightly browned and bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

    If a darker crust is desired, place casserole under the broiler, 4 inches from the heat, until the top is golden and bubbling, 3 to 4 minutes, serve immediately.

    Recipe from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95)

    ICE-BOX COLESLAW
    (Makes 6 servings)

    1 fresh small green cabbage, about 1 pound
    3/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann's
    2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
    1/4 teaspoon white pepper, or more to taste

    Fill a large bowl or 1 side of a clean double sink with ice water. Peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut the remaining core in half. Soak the leaves in ice water for 15 minutes to crisp. Remove them from the water and drain on paper towels.

    Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. The dressing should be fairly thick. Set aside.

    Grate the cabbage on the coarsest side of a box grater into a large bowl or with a food processor. Pour the dressing into the bowl, mix well, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight before serving.

    Note: Depending on the size of your cabbage, you may need to double the recipe for the dressing.

    Recipe from "Taming the Flame" by Elizabeth Karmel (John Wiley & Sons, 2005, $24.95)

    HOT PEACH SHORTCAKE WITH SWEET CREAM BISCUITS
    (Makes 6 to 8 servings)

    4 pints of fresh peaches, peeled and sliced or 6 cups frozen sliced peaches
    1 to 2 pints fresh blackberries, optional
    1 lemon, juiced
    1/4 lemon, zested
    1/2 cup sugar
    5 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 lemon, zest removed and juiced
    1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

    Biscuits
    2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
    3 tablespoons white sugar, plus more for topping
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, plus more for brushing tops

    Preheat the oven to 375°F

    In a large bowl, combine the peaches and blackberries, if using. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, ¼ of the zest, and the cinnamon; mix lightly. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. Place the fruit mixture into a 4-quart soufflé dish or 9x13-inch rectangular baking dish.

    Meanwhile, make the biscuits: Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until completely incorporated. Stir with a fork until well mixed. Add about 1 cup of cream, and stir with the fork until the dough comes together. If the dough is still very dry, add the rest of the cream. If it is forming into a ball, add half the remaining cream (1/4 cup) and stir with fork. You don't want the dough to be too wet. When the dough forms a ball, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.

    Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is ¾ inch thick. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter and place on top of the fruit mixture

    Brush the tops with the reserved cream and sprinkle with a generous coating of sugar. Place the pan in the oven and bake.

    Cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly.

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