This is a rather lengthy (when you consider the “marinade”) and involved process. It is NOT for those who can’t commit to doing something full out. The ends justify the means, time consuming as they may be. If you want easy, buy some ribs at the store that you can bake or microwave. If you want delicious, give this a try one saturday when you really don’t have anything else going on 🙂
I MUST qualify this post and say this is NOT Texas BBQ. Yes, we live in TX. But we’re not FROM here. And TX BBQ (though an artform in and of itself) seems to be our least favorite regional BBQ of all time. We never owned a grill as a couple. And we never really cooked out with friends. But when we moved to TX and tried the BBQ, it was obvious we needed to just learn to make it ourselves. It seems to be that if you didn’t grow up on it, you have a hard time acquiring the taste for it (and I am FAR from the only out-of-stater to express a difficulty appreciating TX BBQ…so please accept that while I appreciate the skills and methods involved (we HAVE done our research) we’re really just not keen on the resulting flavor).
So, after a few months of struggling to find a BBQ in the area that we like, we began trying to make our own. Our methods aren’t anything region specific. We’re from Ohio which isn’t known for BBQ. You’re more likely to spot a place in Ohio claiming “texas BBQ/Carolina BBQ/KC BBQ” than you are to see them claiming it’s an “Ohio BBQ”. Ohio just doesn’t have a “style” when it comes to that. And after years of trying the Ohio take on regional BBQ and various travels giving me the pleasure of trying Carolina, Memphis, and Kansas City, I began my own journey to MY “perfect BBQ”. And it’s just that, it’s how *I* like my BBQ. Others may detest it. And I’m perfectly OK with that.
I’ll do my best to give measurements but it’s really just come down to “a little bit of this, taste, a little bit more, taste, a little bit of that, taste…and so on”. While that may drive some people crazy, for others you’ll find that you begin to develop your own recipe that’s just loosely based on our methods. And ultimately, that’s what makes a Chef and not a Cook. Don’t follow recipes to the letter if you don’t want to. Adjust these as needed for your palette.
So, let us begin. Our BBQ is worked in 3 stages. The Brine, The Bake, the BBQ. We use pretty much the same method for doing chicken as our ribs and pork butt. The chicken just gets a little help before hitting the grill.
Before brining, we usually tend to the ribs (removing the “silver” and trimming off anything that isn’t necessarily necessary to the cooking process). I will post a step by step with pictures the next time we make a batch. This one was kinda tossed out there cause we had to take off and run some errands… which is another great thing about this process. If you’ve got stuff to do, you know at 200 it’ll be hard to overcook the ribs! Go ahead and get some other things done. They’ll take about 3 hours usually. So there’s no harm in getting other things accomplished while you wait!
Brining is an age old method. We don’t do it EXACTLY how it’s supposed to be done scientifically (adding enough salt until the water is properly salted (an egg floats instead of sinking). But we’ve found what I like to think is the perfect mix between a marinade and a brine.
- 1 large can pineapple juice (46 fl oz)
- 1 bottle apple juice (64 fl oz)
- 1/3 cup salt
- dry/fresh herbs to your liking (for us, usually about 2 tablespoons total seasonings)
- We’ve been known to toss in fresh basil, oragano, rosemary, etc. But the base we use is typically LOTS of ground garlic, some oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil (if you have a generic garlic and herb mix from any seasoning company, this would work fine. You can also substitute like an “Italian mix” along with some garlic. Or play around and come up with your own)
- You’ll also want to reserve about 2-4 tablespoons (if making ribs or pork butt) to add into your rub. So make extra if necessary. Or just buy it like we do
Mix all ingredients in a LARGE pot/bowl or in a mid size cooler you want the container to be JUST big enough for the meat to fit in (have some ice or ice packs on hand if using a cooler). The resulting mixture will be incredibly salty to the taste. But I strongly recommend tasting it so you have a starting point to adjust next time. The key to this whole recipe is getting the salt level just right so the meat absorbs just the right amount.
Add your meat to this mix. Try very hard to find a container that fits your meat well. You need this mixture to cover the meat completely. If absolutely necessary, add water (and perhaps some more salt) to cover the meat in liquid. Try VERY hard to avoid adding more water if you’re using a cooler and ice as the ice will melt and water down your brine anyhow.
Let the meat soak in the brine for at least 12 hours. Feel free to go as far as 24 hours so long as the meat is properly refrigerated (we usually aim for 18 hours). About halfway through the soak, you’re going to want to turn all pieces of meat. I find that whatever is touching the bottom of the container or resting against another piece of meat doesn’t get brined nearly as much. So do make an effort to spot pieces/areas that still look red or pink (most parts will be a faded shade and very bloated looking) and make sure those darker areas are repositioned so they aren’t touching anything. This will prevent any “tough” spots because they weren’t brined.
- Prep: Invest in either a disposable roasting pan or Reynolds SUPER DUTY aluminum foil (If using foil, make sure you have enough to build a “pouch”. You’re going to be making your container as air tight as possible. So be sure the foil you have is enough to fit around your ribs…be that folded or in two separate sheets).
- Get your rub (recipe below) prepped and in a bowl small enough for your ribs to lay on the same counter
- move your container/cooler as close to the sink as possible and be prepared for a bit of a mess. If working alone, have some handsoap ready and waiting cause you’re going to get sick of the rub being all over your fingers between working pieces of meat.
When you’re ready to start cooking the meat, remove it from the brine a piece at a time and rinse it off. You don’t need to soak it in water or anything. You’re just trying to rinse off any of the herbs that have stuck on and get that outer layer of oils, fats, and salt from the brine. When rinsed, pat dry with a paper towel and immediately begin rubbing with your rub.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2-3 tbsp garlic herb mix
- 2 tsp salt (more to taste)
- The thing I look for in my rub when I taste it is first I’m hit with the saltiness. Not too much. It shouldn’t be off-putting. Then the sweetness of the sugar. And finally you should get a punch of garlic. It’s a very layered flavor. But no one flavor should be unpleasant. If it is, balance it out by increasing the other two ingredients.
- This batch would be enough for one rack of ribs. increase as necessary, double for a pork butt if you want a thick coating.
Rub each piece on all sides with the rub. I find doing this one piece at a time makes things go much easier. Usually we have an assembly line kind of thing going where one of us washes the brine off, the other rubs it down and gets it placed on the foil.
Seal up your ribs in your foil pouch or cover your roasting pan with a tight layer of foil and place in the oven on 200 until they reach 160. How long this takes usually depends on how many ribs we’re doing and how thick the meat is. Ultimately you’re going to rely on the thermometer on this one. Undercooked pork is DANGEROUS! If you don’t have a thermometer, GET ONE! We have a “leave in” thermometer that can be set with a desired temp. We leave it off (to save the battery) and just check it every hour or so, finally leaving it on when we’re approaching our final temp. It alerts us when we hit 160 and we’re ready for the next step! If using the pouch method, you might want to put a little foil on the rack under the edges to catch any drippings)
A note on pork butt: Boston Butts/Pork Butts/Pork Shoulder Butts are all the same cut. So don’t worry about accidentally grabbing the wrong thing. You’re looking for a piece of pork that’s approximately cube shaped with a bone on one side and a lot of fatty bits on the other. We do NOT bake our Butts. They cook on indirect heat on the grill. I’ll get more into that later. As far as brining, the steps are the same. Once it comes out of the brine, we wash it off, I then take a flavor injector and pump some leftover brine back into the meat. You can’t add too much and half of it will seep out before you get to the grill, anyhow. So skipping this step won’t kill you. If your grill has a smoke box, you can smoke your butt. I prefer very little smoke so we usually just use indirect heat inside the grill.
Ribs: Remove ribs from oven. If using the pouch method, try to keep the corners up so your juices don’t leak out. Cut a small hole in one corner (or peel it open) and drain the juices into a bowl. This will be your “marinade” that you baste them with on the grill to keep them moist. Open the ribs and carry them outside to get them onto the grill. The ribs are going to cook on indirect heat for as long as you like. Pick a corner and keep tasting. We like to get a subtle sear on it. It crispens up something along the lines of a bacon (just around the edges) but the meat itself is still moist and tender.
Once you’ve reached the desired doneness on the ribs, begin coating with your favorite BBQ sauce (or use a homemade one like we do) and moving them closer to the heat. THIS is the part where you’re going to babysit them and keep a VERY close eye. You want to caramelize the BBQ sauce without burning it too much (unless you’re into that). I would say we do approximately 3-4 layers of sauce on each side (turning about every 15 minutes). You can speed up this process or even eat them without sauce. Some people we know will just drench them with sauce at the very end and yank them off the fire. It’s up to you.
Pork Butt: Since it doesn’t go into the oven, you’ve just finished rubbing it and are now taking it outside to a HOT grill. A cool grill is just going to make the meat “sweat” and all your rub will melt right off. Instead of using drippings on the Butt, we’re going to use AppleJuice in a spray bottle (I get them from Sally Beauty Supply for about a dollar. It looks like any old household cleaner spray bottle but we fill it with apple juice). DO NOT spray your butt until it’s formed a bit of a crust from the heat and the rub. Again, we don’t want to make the rub drip off. The Butt will cook for at least 3-4 hours on the grill. Our grill doesn’t have a very reliable thermometer. All I can say is it usually takes a rather small fire (well tended) to keep a low, constant heat. We cook the pork butt to 195 internal temp.
- Why so high?! The “safe cooking temp” for pork is 160! Why would we DARE to take it up to 195?! Since we’re taking it up slowly, we’re giving all the tougher meat time to cook slowly and thus break down. Cooking to 195 gives the tougher sections (that make pork butt so cheap to begin with) time to break down and become tender.
- Second, because this allows the meat to stay in the cooler at a “safe temp” vs. being in the “danger zone” while cooling.
Each time you open the grill to check the temp or stoke the fire, you’re going to spray it with the apple juice (assuming we are at a point where it has formed a crust or skin and we aren’t just squirting off the rub). Spraying with apple juice will keep it from drying out with the constant hot/cold it’s going to experience with the grill being messed with. It also helps form a “bark” AND can even help along a smoke ring (check out BBQ websites or competition shows for info on those). The apple juice will also get into some of those hole from the flavor injector and add another bit of flavor to the meat. YAY!
Once your pork butt has reached 195, you are going to remove it from the grill, wrap it as airtight as you can get it with foil (I usually do two or three layers), wrap it in a thick towel, or even better, put it in a small travel cooler (the smaller the better). We use a little styrofoam cooler. What we’re doing now is “ramping” the meat down. it’s also going to steam the meat. Let it sit in the towel or cooler for 1-3 hours if you have the patience. The longer the better.
- Why can’t I eat it when it comes off the grill?! You can. You absolutely can eat it straight off the grill and it’ll be yummy! Wrapping it up will just improve the texture and taste of the meat beyond good to GREAT. Your friends will hail you as the best BBQer they know!
- This “ramping” replaces the “low and slow” method of cooking a pork butt that usually takes 8-10 hours. Depending on size, a small pork butt done this way could be completely cooked on the grill AND ramped for 3 hours and still take only 6 hours total. Low and slow would dictate spending AT LEAST 8 hours on the grill.
Once the meat comes off the grill (not ramping) or out of the cooler (you ramped it), you can start pulling it apart. We find the ramped meats “pull” much better. If we eat it straight off the grill, we usually have to resort to chopping it. Either way, it tastes GREAT!. Once you’ve pulled or chopped your meat, top with BBQ sauce or eat as is. There should only be one bone in your butt. It’s called the “blade” and once that’s out, you shouldn’t have anything to work around except some fatty bits and some gristle here and there.
Ok, now that you’ve read all my ramblings, jibberish, tips, and explanations; let me break this down into a few easy steps that you can copy and paste to leave on the fridge or something.
- Soak the meat in brine for at least 12 hours
- Remove, rinse, blot, rub
- Bake (if ribs) or move straight to the oven
- Baste with juices from baking or spray with apple juice (pork butt)
- Coat ribs with BBQ sauce and cook until desired or remove and eat as is
- (pork butt) remove and “ramp down” in a cooler for 1-3 hours to super tenderize the meat
Typically I just cook thighs. Oddly enough, thighs are not my favorite cut. I don’t typically order them when I’m out to eat and don’t prefer it to breasts or even legs. But when BBQing, I’ve found that (through experience and research) thighs to best on the grill. Don’t worry if you prefer breasts. Cook some thighs and breasts in the same batch. You may find you prefer the thighs as well. I’ve found that when properly cooked they come out tasting like well cooked chicken breasts. They aren’t greasy and “wet” like I find thighs from, say, KFC. The meat just comes across as light and tender and moist. So here’s how I do it:
- brine as we did above (you could probably get away with a half batch
- remove and rinse, blot dry
- coat with italian dressing
- sprinkle with any seasoning you like (I tend to just do a bit of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
- (extra step you can skip if you find it too tedious) peel back skin and fill “pouch” with a bit of BBQ sauce
- Move to grill, grill skin side down until seared, turn (indirect heat works best for this)
- Turn often as necessary to prevent burning.
- Once seared, coat in BBQ sauce of your choice, turn to keep from burning and cook until 165 (safe cooking temp)
- You can try substituting different juices if that appeal to you. I read somewhere that pear juice makes for a good marinade. But (although it was easy to find in Ohio) I have not been able to find it where we’re located in Texas. Personally, the apple juice is mild enough that I would first try other options in place of the pineapple if you don’t care for the flavor. If this is your first batch, I would give it a try. The flavor ends up very subtle and people often ask what that “fruityness” is because they can’t put a finger on it.
- We typically use Motts apple juice (I like the balance of sweet and tart) but any brand you like would work well. A good rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it”. Pineapple juice, we tend to buy whatever’s at a good price.
- I’ll post photos of the garlic and herb mix we buy. One was from Costco, the other from Sam’s Club (no costco near us in texas…it sucks here). Before we started BBQing on a regular basis, one of those containers lasted us a little over five years. Now we’re almost halfway through the container we bought less than a year ago! Then again, we use it in nearly every meal we cook. It always adds the right balance of seasoning. I strongly recommend having it around the house.
- SAVE THAT BRINE! We always use our Brine twice. Just pour it into the empty Motts jug and/or any other containers you have lying around. And reuse it. We only reuse the brine once, being sure to toss it out on the second use (our thinking being that after two times, it’s been loaded up with meat fats and juices and is now a diluted mess of its former glory.
- Please stay tuned for step by step photos (to come at a later date when its not so gloomy and we can get some good pictures of the process. Feel free to ask for any explanations or descriptions that might better explain our process. I do realize I can be hard to follow from time to time.