By Steph Farrar
I try to never make the same mistake twice; a mistake like not preparing enough baby-back ribs during a summertime BBQ. A week ago, I went overboard, making six racks for ten people. Needless to say, we had leftovers, and no one was disappointed.
My recent rib obsession started back on Adina, where we used to live and cook, plan and party, eat and entertain; it was at Adina that I tried to perfect these ribs. In a relatively small kitchen with an oven sans vent, dwindling counter space and a crappy old grill... I managed to get it right. However, in this Malibu kitchen, food just tastes better. It's either the sunset, the crisp open air, or the endless space... I'm still undecided.
A while back, Sierra and I craved summertime dinner with our best friend Ari and my hubs Sam. What better napkin-tied-to-your-neck meal than Whisky Ribs with potato salad and butter leaf, radish, snap pea greens? Prefaced by either (or both) a Lemon Shandy or a Mint Julep?
There's nothing quite as satisfying for me as breaking bread with friends and family. Although, there was no bread on the table, we made do. A close second would be listening to the new Haimrecord, but that's beside the point. Except, you should totally go and buy it now. And third would be drinking an entire bottle of '89 Far Niente Cabernet, meaning I would no longer be pregnant, growing steadily larger by the minute.
Back to the ribs.
I'm from Tennessee, as you probably know by now. A rack of ribs is not far from my taste-buds' cravings... usually plated next to a rich, mayonnaise-heavy potato salad and cole slaw, slow-cooked bacon baked beans and buttery cornbread. But I now live in California. And after finding guilty pleasures in Almond Milk and Green Juice, I succumbed to the healthier potato salad option Sierra suggested, as well as a gorgeous butter lettuce salad with radishes, snap peas and ricotta salata... a perfect summer meal. Thank god I gave in, because I think I ate a whole rack that night... but who's counting?
I truly wish I had written this recipe. If I were a liar, even a good liar, I would attempt to pass this off as my own. But, of course, it's not true. This recipe is one part of many attempts to find my way around a kitchen, to perfect a quiet evening with dearest friends, to learn from other great cooks like Sierra. Scott Hibb, who is fortunate enough to claim this recipe, has won several awards for them and rightly so. So give him a high-five if you ever meet him.
The trick to these ribs is slow-baking them at 300 degrees in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours before grilling them, all while making a spicy-sweet BBQ sauce from scratch. You're cooking the ribs anyway; you might as well make the sauce while you're waiting. Get a grill nice and hot once you take them out of the oven and let them rest for at least ten minutes before grilling.
Place them directly on the grill, basting them on each side for only about 3-4 minutes, without burning them too much. A little char adds insanely good flavor.
Don't forget to raise your glass and toast to a job well done, a meal well made, and a night well shared.
*all photos courtesy of the lovely Christopher Wray-Mccann
Summertime Whiskey Ribs
*adapted directly from Scott Hibb's Whiskey Ribs
Recipe makes 4 servings (1/2 rack per person)
2 (2 pound) slabs baby back pork ribs
1 tbsp ground red chili pepper (cayenne)
2 1/4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp Worcestershire
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp whiskey (I use Jack Daniels)
2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp dark molasses
1/2 tbsp dark red chili powder (I use way more, cause I like these spicy)
Preheat oven to 300 degree F (150 degrees C).
Cut each full rack of ribs in half, so that you have 4 half racks (or have butcher cut for you). Sprinkle salt and pepper (more pepper than salt), and 1 tablespoon chile pepper over meat (or more for added spice). Wrap each half rack in aluminum foil. I place the ribs on a baking sheet, since the drippings will burn through the foil, causing excess smoke in oven. Bake for 2 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir the onions in oil for 5 minutes. Stir in water, tomato paste, vinegar, brown sugar, honey, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, liquid smoke, whiskey, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, dark molasses, and 1/2 tablespoon ground chile pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 1 1/4 hours, uncovered, or until sauce thickens. I tend to leave the sauce going until about 15 minutes before the ribs are done. Remove from heat, and set sauce aside.
Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.
Remove the ribs from the oven, and let stand 10 minutes. Remove the racks from the foil, and place on the grill. Grill the ribs for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Brush sauce on the ribs while they're grilling, just before you serve them (adding it too early will burn it).