Genie In A Bottle by Christina Aguilera
Although many people would say I'm a saucy lady, when it comes to ribs it's all about the rub. I don't like my ribs dripping in sauce - it's a mess I'd rather not deal with. And I've never found a barbecue sauce that I'm so madly in love with that I want to have it spread across my entire face, smeared around my arms, and dribbled down my shirt - which is what usually happens when I have saucy barbecue. It's probably not the sauce's fault. I'm just a messy eater. But I also find that many sauces overpower the flavor of the meat. The ribs end up becoming nothing more than a vehicle for the sauce and that's just wrong in my book. Ribs have wonderful flavor. I find that rubs tend to enhance that wonderful flavor, playing supporting actor instead of trying to steal the scene. I was happy to find that Christina Aguilera is also a dry rub BBQ fan as she sings so forcefully about it in her song, Genie In A Bottle. She sings about getting ready for a BBQ - you know, getting the rub right and all. Well, that's what I'm thinking, anyway!
For most of my life, when I heard "barbecue," it meant only one thing - sauce. There would be a fair amount of consideration put into which kind of sauce to use - sweet, spicy, tangy, mustard-based, etc. There are debates over which kind reigns supreme and competitions to crown the "best." I never got it.
Then one day I ordered the rib appetizer at P.F. Chang's.
That would be the Northern Style Spare Ribs to be precise. I'm certain I didn't know what we were ordering. We were just looking for a nice assortment to please everyone's taste. But when they came out I was wondering where all the drippy sauce was. Instead I saw a little condiment dish filled with a dry spice mix. I reread the menu and that's when I saw that it was just a dry rub with a base of Chinese Five Spice. Huh. Dry. And very delicious!
I started to do a little research and that's when I stepped into the world of dry rubs. Where had I been? I started looking for dry rub barbecue on all the menus, taking notes on the flavors I preferred. Suddenly I had a really strong desire to do my own ribs - but I had questions. How do I make them "fall-off-the-bone" tender? Do they have to marinate? Which cut of rib did I like best?
I discovered I liked the smokiness that cumin brings paired with a little sweetness from some sugar. I liked the color from some paprika and/or chili powder and the interest of five spice powder. The combinations are endless. Chinese Five Spice Powder can vary in it's content, but it is basically made up of ground star anise, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and fennel. I find the flavor of the rub is more mature or ripe if it is allowed to sit on the meat for awhile. The cut of meat I personally prefer are the pork baby backs.
As far as methodology goes, there are those who do a parboil of the ribs first then grill to finish. Others do a parbake then grill to finish. I've tried both and I'm in with the latter group. I bake them first at a high temp, let cool a bit, then give them a slight brush with a bottled sauce to please the saucy folks in my home. Then it's off to the grill to caramelize that sauce a bit. They are delicious and super tender! Perfect for a Father's Day picnic. I always pass a bowl of sauce for those who do like the "up to your elbow" experience.
I haven't written off the saucy barbecue yet. I would love it if you all would share your favorite BBQ sauce recipe. Maybe you have found just the recipe I've been looking for!
Janice's Dry Rub
enough for two full racks
2 T. cumin
1 T. kosher or sea salt
1 T. onion powder
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. paprika
1 1/2 t. chili powder
1 1/2 t. Chinese five spice
Pat your meat dry with paper towels. Combine all the spices in a small bowl and stir well to evenly distribute. Coat and rub the front and back of the meat. Wrap well and allow to sit in the refrigerator for 1 - 8 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees and place on a rimmed sheet tray.
Keep them fatty and meaty side up. Cover tightly with foil, being sure to seal around the edges.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Be careful as you remove the foil as steam escapes. Allow them to rest a bit. You can leave them in a whole rack or divide them as you like. If using a sauce, go ahead and brush it lightly with sauce now. Heat your grill and brush the surface with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. When the grill is hot, place the ribs on and grill until the meat has become charred in some spots. The meat is already cooked, you're just adding the smoky flavor of the grill at this point. Pile high on a serving platter and serve.