Grilling Up the Perfect Smoked Ribs
BBQ Tips from Paul Dahlstrom, Grand Champion at the 8th Annual Brookline Tailgate & Grilling/BBQ Cookoff in July 2015
It is a personal preference whether to buy back ribs (loin ribs) or St. Louis ribs. Just make sure all your racks are close in size to ensure even cooking times. Spare ribs and country-style ribs are not the best choices for this recipe. Dahlstrom enjoys DennyMike’s sauces (from Maine) when not using his own and offers that Lowe’s has a nice selection of sauces and rubs.
Start your smoker at least one hour before you plan to start cooking. For first-timers, Dahlstrom recommends practicing with a smoker to learn how to control the air vents and temperature. Some smokers use a water bath, and all smokers are different but each need at least an hour or two to come up to temperature. Hold off on adding any smoke wood until ready to add the food. Set your smoker between 225 to 250 degrees.
Trimming pork ribs is not a difficult task, but Dahlstrom recommends you view Internet videos on how to trim and skin ribs. However you learn, don’t skip this step.
Lightly season the back side (bone side) of the ribs with a dry rub — this side tends to dry out and form a tough crust if you apply too much rub (which is mostly sugar). Do apply the rub liberally to the meaty top of the ribs.
Contrary to what you might have learned about cooking beef, pork ribs should be put on the smoker cold. This helps extend the short period of time when the ribs can absorb smoke favor. Once the ribs are hot and a bark has started to form, the ribs have stopped absorbing the smoke. Another good trick to help extend this period is to spray the ribs one hour into the cook with a liquid such as apple juice. Remember, every time you open the smoker you are losing heat and extending your cook time — call the spectators over when you are ready to spray.
The ribs will take between four and six hours, depending upon their size and smoker temperature. Grab about half the length of the rack with a pair tongs and lift them. If they droop and start showing signs of cracks in the bark, they are done. If they split in two, they were done an hour ago (but they will still be great). If they are not done, give them another half hour.
Just before taking them out of the smoker, apply sauce to both the top and bottom sides of the ribs.
Remove to a cutting board, cut and serve. Take your time cutting the ribs and try to visualize where the bones are running (looking from the underside helps). Cutting ribs is a skill you will learn with time; the good news is you already have a great meal on the board in front of you and none of it will go to waste.
Skull & Bones
Paul Dahlstrom of Hollis has always enjoyed cooking as a hobby, but eight years ago joined the New England Barbeque Society (NEBS) and took a class in judging. Dahlstron explains that the society is about helping people enjoy the art of BBQ and also learn the skill of the science. There is a lot to know about temperature and timing, especially timing at a competition. It is easy to overcook meat, but it needs to be presented at the correct temperature in a plain nine-inch square Styrofoam box with only a fringe of parsley or green leafy lettuce to dress it up.
Dahlstrom now also competes in a variety of NEBS-sanctioned events each summer with the team name of Skull & Bones. He has won Tailgate Team of the Year from NEBS for the last two years and had the honor of competing in the World Championship Memphis in May three times with his BBQ mentor, Andy King, and his team, Bastey Boys.
Dalhstrom and family have always enjoyed the spirit of Halloween and last May he purchased a used casket (used by Fright Night) to convert into a smoker and grill. The product seems the perfect piece of hardware with its two-lid opening. Dahlstron, an engineer by trade, drew up plans for the smoker box and had it executed by a local tool and die company.
His daughter, Carley, has recently also entered the Junior Q competition field with her own recipes for burgers and finished twice in second place (via a coin toss) after tying for first two years in a row.
The Dahlstrom family volunteers at Hollis Haunt in the upper elementary school where one floor is transformed into a haunted house. Unfortunately there is no Q at the event.