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Labor Day Weekend: Pork Ribs, Homemade Sugar-Free BBQ Sauce and More...

posted September 20, 2020

kettle charcoal grill on patio

On my first weekend as an Idaho resident I wanted to "test-drive" my rental's patio space, to scope out its outdoor-cooking potential. The desire to be able to own and operate charcoal and pellet grills in a private area was actually the decisive factor in my avoidance of apartments and most of the condo listings I came across. I need to figure out a solution for counter/ table-top space but otherwise I was quite pleased with this first experience.

kettle grill on patio

As an aside, I am a very serious partaker in the market for a pellet grill. It took considerable restraint to stop myself from going out for one of these last weekend:

The topic of my interest in pellet grills warrants a post of its own, suffice it to say I decided to stick with my Weber Jumbo Joe and save the pellet grill purchase for a (hopefully imminent) holiday-season sale.

I had a rack of pork ribs thawed in the refrigerator, and a half-dozen pack of pre-cooked sausages (the reason I did not purchase raw sausages was because in the grocery store I thought I was grabbing raw sausages but in fact did not read the label or pay attention to the coloring). The best thing I have learned to make on my Dad's Traeger Ironwood 885 is hickory-smoked pork ribs, and I wanted to see how close I could get to that same result working with charcoal and hickory chips, something I had never previously attempted.

My Dad's Ironwood 885, the day of purchase
Traeger Big Game Rub and Mustard coated pork ribs, prepped to go on the Traeger for about 8 hours at 225F

In addition to the ribs, I had the sausages, two cans of sweet peas and a half-jar of raw almonds. To complement these, I made a homemade barbecue sauce on the stove while the ribs were going.

The Process

Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs

I started thawing the ribs in the refrigerator two days prior to smoking. This was sufficient to thaw them all the way through.

The Recipe:

For this recipe I referred to a tutorial video hosted on YouTube Channel TruBBQtv John Foley titled How to Smoke Ribs in a Weber Kettle | TruBBQtv

The tutorial is thorough and I was able to achieve satisfactory results without any guesswork or any deviations I didn't willfully pursue. Although at the time of this post there has not been any new content uploaded in 3 years, I will definitely be bookmarking this channel for future reference.

How to Smoke Ribs in a Weber Kettle | TruBBQtv (YouTube)

My Deviations:

Coating the pork ribs with mustard and Traeger Big Game rub
Apple juice and drip pan
  • For the rub, I used Traeger's Big Game Rub, possibly my favorite store-bought rub so far (except for its containing sunflower oil)
  • I placed the drip pan under the grate, adjacent to the charcoal tray and directly under the ribs, rather than on the cooking grate beside the ribs

Lessons Learned:

  • This was the first time I payed attention to the silver-strand, and cutting it off as instructed in the video tutorial definitely enhanced the experienced eating quality of the final product, if only in a subtle, aesthetic manner
  • In the past I have always had some difficulty keeping coals in-tact and hot for the duration of a smoke; the time to heat a full chimney of coals was also tedious and a bit stressful to endure repeatedly; the approach of laying down unheated coals and then covering these with heated coals was a major improvement in maintaining a sufficient coal volume and sustained temperature
  • The embarrassing amateur-hour mistake I made this grill was filling the drip pan with apple juice before attempting to place it on the charcoal grate; in short, after washing the apple juice off my patio, I decided next time I would not only place the tray before pouring the juice, but before even filling the charcoal tray; placing the tray after pouring the charcoal resulted in pieces of charcoal lodging under the tray and allowed juice to drizzle out of the now non-level pan. Things worked out in the end, but this part of the process could go a lot smoother in future cooks
Pork ribs, about 80% through cook, sitting over apple-juice drip pan

Re-smoked Sausage

This was more or less thrown together as the sausages were pre-smoked; I coated the sausages with Big Game Rub and homemade BBQ sauce (see below), placed them in aluminum foil, and gauged some holes in the foil.

Lessons Learned:

  • Pay more attention at the grocery store

Smoked Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas on Aluminum Foil
Traeger Coffee Rub

I took two cans of sweet peas, drained the liquid in the sink and dumped the remaining contents onto two layers of aluminum foil. I sprinkled about a teaspoon of Traeger Coffee Rub over them, wrapped them up completely and then gauged holes in the foil with a kitchen knife tip, akin to the sausage.

Smoked Coffee-rub Almonds

Akin to the sweet peas, I layed out two layers of foil and poured the raw almonds onto these. I again sprinkled on the Traeger Coffee rub, folded up the nuts and gauged the foil with the knife tip.

The almonds, peas and sausage, each wrapped separately, all went on the grill at the same time and remained there for the same duration, about one hour.

Sweet Peas, Sausage and Almonds moments after removed from the grill

Sugar Free BBQ Sauce

The no-sugar, no ketchup prospect drew me into this recipe, even though I customized significantly

One of the biggest problems I have encountered in American grilling/ outdoor cooking culture as someone adhering to a low-carb, high fat diet is the emphasis on sugars and syrups in rubs and barbecue sauces, dry rubs and other "meal-enhancers". I want to develop an arsenal of rubs and sauces that improve the variety of my meals without sacrificing nutritional value and forcing divergence from my preferred way of eating.

I later described to some friends that from my novice perspective, there are three types of barbecue sauce: spicy, tangy, and sweet. I am very open to more nuanced perspectives on this, but I needed a conceptual place to start. In order to cut back on sugar cravings, I am working to eliminate all sweeteners and sugar substitutes, so with the above model assumed correct I was left with spicy and tangy.

I found a recipe that required neither any sweeteners, nor ketchup as a base, which was compelling. I have made one barbecue sauce previously, an apple-cinnamon barbecue sauce; I very much enjoy it, but that recipe is neither low-carb nor sweetener-free, nor ketchup free. I was very interested in the prospect of making a sauce without the ketchup base.

The Recipe:

My Deviations:

I ended up adding a bunch of extra stuff that probably changed the outcome significantly from what one would get from perfect adherence to the recipe linked above. Unfortunately I did not record specific measurements, I will be more vigilant about this in the future particularly with deviations.

  • Bourbon (okay, Jack Daniel's): it just seemed like the right thing to do
  • Cinnamon: I added multiple table spoons to the mixture to give a stronger flavor in absence of sweetener;
  • Onion Powder instead of Onion
  • Garlic Salt instead of Garlic
  • Stubb's Liquid Smoke, Hickory flavored: as with the cinnamon, I thought maybe this would substitute some flavor in absence of sweetener, which it did

Lessons Learned:

  • Even though I really layered in the cinnamon on a recipe demanding little cinnamon, I think the flavor contribution was positive
  • Adding bourbon to this sort of sauce definitely adds character, and gives me an excuse to off load any bourbon I don't much care to drink
  • The adobo sauce with chipotle pepper was a major flavor enhancer, definitely something I would want to pursue when attempting similar recipes in the future
  • I feel just a little bit of shame for using hickory flavored liquid smoke on something to be applied to foods that were actually smoked with hickory; I also took a glance at the ingredients of the liquid smoke, after the fact, and was not so impressed
Charcoal and Hickory Chips, hard at work

The Results

I was very satisfied with the way this meal turned out. I wish some of the fat in the ribs was ever so slightly more well-done, and that the hickory flavor was a bit stronger. I think I might have accomplished both of these by using hickory wood chunks, rather than chips, as recommended in the tutorial referenced. Unfortunately, I had no hickory chunks on hand, and the Ace Hardware I visited had a sign posted suggested the COVID shutdown business caused some sort of supply chain rift for wood chunks.

In any case, especially paired with the bbq sauce, this quickly became something I knew I would crave. The adobo sauce with chipotle pepper was definitely an excellent, flavorful touch given the absence of any sweetener.

Finally, I would have preferred to start from raw sausage, as the sausage was the weakest link. I promise never to write that again.

Well, this concludes my first post on outdoor cooking. Thank you for passing by, here is to hoping I continue to learn as much as possible and put this meal to shame within a year's time.