I finally found time a few weeks back to fire up the smoke-house for some cold-smoking as the weather warmed up above freezing during the day. Unless you are buying hogs by the 1/2 or 1/4, you will typically buy pork ribs from your grocer or butcher that are frozen. Since we have plenty of freezer space and a vacuum sealer, I like to smoke several racks of ribs so that we can pull them out of the freezer for a rib dinner whenever we are in the mood.
I start thawing the ribs two days before I’m going to run the smoker. One day to thaw, and another day (or at least overnight) to let them dry. After the ribs are thawed, I dry them off with paper towels and then liberally coat them with a dry rub. There are several good rubs available on the market; I like Famous Dave’s or Rendezvous (from Memphis), or you can mix up your own concoction.
After the ribs are dry rubbed, separate them on cookie sheets so that they can dry in the refrigerator for 1 day or at least overnight. The reason to let them dry is that wet meats tend to allow the soot from the smoke adhere to the meat.
You can see that spring had not yet arrived (it still hasn’t), but with day time temps in the 20’s the heat from the smoker will keep the meat from freezing in the smokehouse. Frozen meat does not absorb smoke very well.
After finally getting the firebox dug out from the snow, I was ready to start the fire. My favorite wood for smoking any kind of pork is white oak, although red oak is a close second. If I have some apple wood available, I will add a few sticks of apple to layer in some sweetness from the fruit wood.
I had enough space in the smokehouse to add in a chicken that I had brined in salt, sugar, and rosemary. If you haven’t yet tried brining your chickens and turkeys, I highly recommend it!
You can see the smoke starting to draft up through the floor of the smokehouse.
Now that a good draft has started, I close the door and add a little more wood about once an hour. Depending on how smokey you like your ribs, you can smoke them from 2-6 hours. I like mine right at 4 hours.
The last step of the process is to vacuum seal the ribs to ensure freshness for up to one year. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can also wrap the ribs in a good butcher paper, but you will probably want to cook them within a few months.
A few tips on cooking ribs. The key is to cook them low and slow. Coat them with a little barbecue sauce and place them in a cake pan covered tightly with tin foil, or you can wrap them individually with tin foil to seal in the juices. I like to cook them at about 220 F for about 4 hours, or just until they are ready to fall of the bone. Then I like to finish them off for a few minutes under the broiler in the oven or on the grill to give them a nice caramelized flavor, but don’t overdo this last step because it is easy to dry them out too much.
And the most important tip? Enjoy with a nice full-bodied beer or a hearty glass of red wine!