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Barbecue Saint Louis-style Ribs in the Method of Johnny Trigg

Weekends are made for barbecue.

Getting up early, starting a fire, seeing the steam from the dew evaporate off the smoker, and finally smelling the light blue oak smoke as it comes out of the pipes. Barbecue is an etherial experience in the south.

And, it is not without controversy.

Probably because there is no perfect cure for the barbecue disease, and there are so many variables – from the meat, wood, rub, temperature, time, mop, wrap, rest – well, you get it – everyone has their own way of doing it. So it is incredibly risky to put your method of doing things out for the world to comment on. But here it goes.

I borrow a lot of wisdom in the way that I do Saint Louis-style ribs from Johnny Trigg. Originally from Cisco, Texas – a dusty town in the heart of the Big Country on the way to west Texas and best known as the location of the first Hilton hotel – he became an insurance executive and a world champion barbecue winner. Much has been published about Trigg and his method of cooking ribs and I use a variation that works for me.

I’ve tried to pay back the barbecue God’s by teaching this to many people over the years in email and even on the back of a napkin. This is the first time I’ve really written it down. It does seem like a lot of steps – though it’s really not when it comes to barbecue – but the pay off is well worth the effort.

A word about Saint Louis-style ribs: these are my go-to selection for this recipe but you can adapt this technique for spare ribs or even baby backs although you may need to adjust your smoking time. Saint Louis-style ribs are just spare ribs with the breast bone trimmed off. I like them in these kind of recipes because they are meatier, lie flat on the smoker, and have more fat which renders well and adds significant flavor.

This is more of a method than a recipe:

Prepare your barbecue smoker so that it has an even, steady heat at 230 degrees F. I start hardwood charcoal in a chimney starter over a propane “banjo” burner to make it fast and chemical free. I put this in the bottom of the smoke box and use oak logs.

At a minimum, purchase and prepare three slabs of Saint Louis-style ribs. Remove the silver skin by using a butter knife to gain purchase in the middle of the membrane and then grasp it with paper towels and pull it off in one sheet if possible. Trim any remaining small flaps of meat adhering to the ribs as they will just burn. Allow the ribs to rest at room temperature for about an hour before putting them on the smoker.

Season the ribs by starting with the back first. Paint the ribs with yellow mustard. Then apply your favorite barbecue rub (I use Adkin’s BBQ Seasoning plus Demerara sugar and 16-mesh black pepper). Flip the ribs over and follow the same process on the front – which is the presentation side.

Place the ribs on the smoker presentation side up and leave them alone for 1 hour then spritz them with apple cider vinegar. I know there is a lot of debate on what spritz to use, but I use apple cider vinegar for all of my barbecue. The flavor is not as important as the moisture on the surface which keeps areas of the ribs with edges from burning. Let them smoke for another hour between 235 degrees F and 240 degrees F.

Prepare the wrap for the ribs using a large wide piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Lay the sheet on the table and in the same approximate size as the rack of ribs sprinkle brown sugar in a light even layer. Then drizzle local honey in a criss-cross pattern on top of the sugar. Then put a line of liquid margarine (I use Parkay in the squirt bottle) down the middle of the sugar followed by a line of Tiger Sauce.

Spritz the ribs now generously with a spray of apple cider vinegar.

Remove the ribs from the smoker and place them presentation side down on top of the prepared aluminum foil. Repeat the same steps as above on the back side of the ribs. Then starting on the sides, wrap the foil up and fold it gently in the middle. Then fold the ends up to form a loose wrap – do not make it too tight.

Place the ribs back on the smoker now presentation side down. It can be slightly hotter between 250 degrees F up to 275 degrees F. Do not let it fall below 230 degrees F. Smoke them wrapped for 1 to 1 1/2 hours then gently remove them to a tray. There will be a lot of liquid in the foil so be careful not to spill or burn your self. Gently flip the ribs back over where the presentation side is up.

The ribs can be eaten now, or they can be placed back on the smoker presentation side up to lightly dry the surface or to apply a glaze. If you do this, spritz them with apple cider vinegar and don’t leave them for more than 30 minutes. I never apply a glaze.

I don’t use barbecue sauce on ribs, but there is nothing wrong with serving it on the side if you prefer.

Note: I also don’t prefer “fall off the bone” ribs rather I like them to have a little “bite”. For me, if they fall off the bone it makes them harder to slice, serve, and eat. It is just not my favorite. If you do, then increase the cooking time in the wrap stage.

#barbecue #saintlouis #ribs #trigg #smoker

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Dan McCoy