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The high holidays of barbecue are upon us and food correspondent Aaron Retka has brought us this recipe for a burnt offering of the first order. Pasture fed St. Louis ribs fromLarga Vista Ranch can be purchased this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Colorado Springs Farm and Art Market at the Margarita at Pine Creek or at Ranch Foods Direct. Now here’s Aaron Retka to explain just what in the what is Vermont Pig Candy:
This is a variation on a recipe for ribs by barbecue guru Craig Goldwyn, called Vermont Pig Candy because you’re using a maple and apple-juice glaze. When done right, this should produce ribs that are smoky, tender, sweet and little spicy without being sloppily oversauced.
1 rack ribs, St. Louis cut
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup real maple syrup
Pinch (or more) or more cayenne pepper
Tbs coarse ground black pepper
Tbs kosher salt
First off, you’ll need the ribs. Plan on setting aside about one pound of raw ribs per person. I (and Goldwyn) prefer a St. Louis cut to baby backs, since it’s flatter and you can more easily cook more than one rack at a time. Ranch Foods Direct carries both St. Louis and baby back cuts from Heritage Farms, an excellent Midwestern natural pork producer, but if you’d rather stay more local, you can’t do much better than pork from Larga Vista.
Next, you’ll want to dry-rub the ribs. You can go any which way here spice-wise—or if you’re lazy, you could use a prepackaged rub—but remember that the important elements here are sugar and salt. I quite like brown and white sugar with smoked paprika, garam masala, mustard, yellow curry and cayenne, and plenty of kosher salt. Rub the ribs and refrigerate them overnight in a glass or ceramic (in other words, non-reactive) container. What you’re looking for is the development of a telltale rainbow sheen on the meat, indicating that the salt and sugar have done the interesting little alchemical trick they do to make the meat more tender.
In order to cook these ideally, you’ll want to smoke or smoke-roast them. If you’ve got a fancy-pants smoker, that’s all well and good, but I’ve always used a simple Weber grill with soaked wood chips and a few pans of water to keep the temperature low and maintain humidity. In order to do this, start a small (SMALL!) coal fire at one end of the grill and add your wood chips to it. The meat will be placed at the opposite end, and you’ll want to keep an eye on wind direction; an open vent on the bottom of the grill on the fire’s side should face into the wind. This will draw air in, while cracking the grill’s lid on the meat side will draw the smoke over the meat. An ideal air temperature within the grill is around 200 to 225 degrees, at which you can count on at least four to five hours of smoke-roasting here. The important part is to keep the heat low and indirect. If you’re smoke-roasting multiple racks, switch their positions from time to time to ensure even cooking.
This recipe calls for a process called the Texas Crutch toward the end of cooking, which is essentially a form of steaming over the grill that introduces additional moisture to the meat and which Goldwyn assures his readers that most competition barbecuers use. Seat your ribs in multiple layers of aluminum foil or in a metal pan and add 1 cup of apple juice (you can pad this with another 1/2 cup for additional racks). Seal the ribs in more foil to ensure that none of the juice steam can escape and place back on the grill, cooking this way for another 30 minutes.
For the glaze, remove the ribs from the pan and return them to the grill over indirect heat. Pour the remaining juice, which will now be wonderfully ripe with pork juices and rub spice, into a saucepan, placing over medium-high heat, and reduce by half. Add 1/4 cup of real maple syrup (no corn syrup base, please) and heat until boiling. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper, and then another one if you like the spice, but be careful—you’re dealing with hot, volatile sugars here and the mixture can easily flare up and boil over, burning you and ruining your stove. Add the salt and coarse-ground black pepper to taste.
Give the ribs a coat of the glaze and set them directly over the heat for just a few minutes per side, letting the glaze crackle a bit. Then remove, allow to sit for a few minutes, and serve with additional glaze, if desired.