Monday, September 12, 2011

Food: Making Mike J.'s Famous Ribs

I love baby back ribs.

But I didn't think I could ever make them myself, or not anywhere as good as a rib joint anyway.   I just figured it was one of those food things not worth the effort--like phở or crème brûlée or pulpo Gallego--because you could find great ribs for not that much money (although they can get pricey, which is another reason to make them yourself!) in all sorts of places. 

But then my friend, Mike J., started experimenting.

And it turns out that making excellent ribs is pretty damn easy.  And a helluva lot cheaper then at the restaurant.

These are idiot-proof, you'll see.  Not that Mike J. is an idiot, mind you.  

Here's how to make Mike J.'s Famous Ribs:

* Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

*Spices.  Room for endless experimentation here, of course, but for his dry rub Mike mixes about 3 parts brown sugar to 1 part mixed spices.  Some of the possibilities include chili powder, garlic, salt, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried mustard (a preference of Mike's brother, Steve J., but not Mike)

*Shake your dry rub all over your ribs, about 1/5 on the bottom (the part you don't eat) and the rest on top.  Just shake to cover evenly throughout and then rub in.  It's dry rub.  Get it?  It's dry (no oil) and you rub it.

*Line a cookie sheet with foil and then wrap the ribs (cut for convenience as above but you could keep the rack intact if you'd like; I probably will, for aesthetic purposes) in a "basket" leaving some room for steam to escape.  Throw the ribs in the oven for 2 hours 10 minutes.  Mike adds: "If the meat is beginning to shrink away from the tips of the bone, they're done.  If not, cook a little while longer..."

* Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.  Mike uses bottled sauce (though I suspect I'm going to want to learn to make my own, so if you have a recipe...).  He then makes one hot by adding ever-dependable Tabsasco.

Note enfoiled corn ready to be sacrificed to the fire gods.
*After the ribs are thoroughly cooked, throw them on the grill.  Not to cook them (because they are already cooked), but to cook the sauce.  10-15 minutes should do it, but depends on what you like.  Time to invest in a brush of some kind, b/c Mike has found that no other implement (e.g., a fork) works nearly as well.

*Watch them carefully here, flip them once, rebaste as necessary.  You don't want to burn them when you are so close to rib goodness...

*Sides are fine (here, Dana J.'s cole slaw and mashed taters), but hardly necessary.  Corn is good, too.

*And when you are done, survey the scene.  

And be pleased, pleased with the destruction you hath wrought, the goodness you hath eaten, the camaraderie you hath shared.  But, be a little sad also, for you have consumed another creature.  

And, worse, you have no more of this creature until you cook some more ribs. 

Jennifer McLagan knows what she's talking about in her cookbook, Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore, when she argues that eating meat from the bone makes eating meat taste better, makes it more enjoyable.  I think it has something to do with this trifecta: something primal (hunter and gatherer), something about flavor (marrow), something about eating with your hands (silverware is but an artificial barrier between human and meat)... 

True, sometimes you need that wonderful smoky goodness that can only come from longtime smoked meats in an old school smoker that sits out behind the back of the storefront in some hot and humid place, but in the meantime you can make these ribs at home.  You won't be disappointed.  Soon enough I'll make my own ribs from the above directions.  And they will be good. 

But I'm always looking for recipe suggestions or to hear about your ribs, so...


  1. I have been waiting for the moment when the first recipe appears on your blog.... and not surprised that it is a carnivores delight. But I must argue the point that crème brûlée is something not worth making at home. I have done it often with most delectable results, and not a lot of effort. One only needs a bit of patience and a gentle hand. (and soon I will have the most coveted kitchen tool - the kitchen torch) to make the deliciously burnt sugar on top. (heretofore done under the broiler) So, Dear Chef Jeff, Bon Apetit!

  2. So, where's that creme brûlée recipe? I love the stuff...

    Next up on the blog, food-wise: LA Gourmet food trucks.

  3. I just made the ribs on my own for the first time. And, I was true to my word: they are idiot proof. And delicious.

    Dry rub: I threw everything in there but the kitchen sink, doubt there exists the perfect recipe.

    Used excellent BBQ sauce from the apparently world famous Montgomery Inn in Cincinnati...

  4. Sooo...when's the neighborhood reunion barbecue?

  5. There is a super easy way to make creme brulee...okay- it is the *one* item that I cheat on:


  6. Fine idea, Janey. I love Dr. Oetker, as I lived in his hometown for part of a summer in '96, Bielefeld. I have even been to the Oetker museum. I'll give it a try.