Last night I smoked some pork ribs. Usually, ribs are an 8 hour, weekend-only affair. Last night I wanted to see if I could cut 7 hours off that process. The short answer is, “Yes. Yes, I can.”
After a couple attempts cooking sous vide with nothing more than beer cooler and a thermometer, I decided I liked the technique well enough to invest in an immersion circulator. Based on several reviews, I picked the Sansaire Sous Vide. I liked the size of the unit, its simplicity and its capacity (3 gallon per minute flow and max 6 gallon tank). I also loved that it was a KickStarter project. The project raised over $800,000 on a goal of $100,00. They went from initial funding in Sept. 2013 to manufacturing and distribution through Sur la Table in about 6 months. Ain’t modern capitalism grand?
I started with some country-style pork shoulder ribs. I’d usually have used spare ribs, but the grocery was inexplicably out of those.
Country-style shoulder ribs have a nice meat to fat ratio and are mostly boneless. That makes them easy to eat. I’ll have to try these more often, especially for some of my Asian influenced recipes like Bahn Mi sandwiches.
I mixed up a batch of Meathead’s Memphis Dust and rubbed the ribs heavily.
I don’t have a vacuum sealer yet, so I divided the ribs and used 2 zip lock bags instead.
Here’s an easy trick for getting all the air out of a zip lock bag. Instead of trying to suck it out with your mouth, zip the bag almost completely closed and slowly submerge it in the water bath. The weight of the water will force all the air out.
Zip the bag fully closed and repeat with the other bag. It’s cheap, easy and much more sanitary than sticking your lips on a bag full of raw pork.
There are dozens of recipes for cooking ribs sous vide, all slightly different. 136° F for 36 hours. 144° F for 28 hours. Etc.
I figured I was going to have to play around with times and temperatures to figure out what works best, so I went for round numbers. 140° F for 20 hours. I’ll try a little cooler, 135° F, next time.
Wednesday evening, I filled a large stock pot with hot tap water. After submerging the meat in the pot, the water was at about 112° F. The Sansaire got it up to my target temperature in under 10 minutes. The Sansaire is very quite. It made less noise than the pump on my fish tank. I went to bed and forgot about it.
By Thursday morning, about half inch of water had evaporated from the stock pot. I topped it off with hot tap water. The temperature dropped down to 138.5° F. The Sansaire kicked in and briefly over shot my target by 0.2° F. In less than 2 minutes, the temp settled down to exactly 140° F.
I went to work and came home 10 hours later to this.
The ribs felt nice, tinder but not falling apart. I poured the accumulated juice off and tasted it. It was too good to throw away, so I reduced it with chipotles, ketchup and brown sugar to make a glaze for the ribs.
I set my Big Green Egg up for two-zone cooking with two big chunks of hickory wood for smoke. Never let anyone tell you you can’t do two-zone cooking on a BGE. At least on an extra-large BGE, it’s actually easier than on any other grill I’ve used. Just light the charcoal in the center of the Egg, like you normally would, and put the food around the outside of the grate. Add smoke chips to the fire and close the Egg.
As the fire burns out from the center, it creates the hot zone. When you’re ready to sear the slow cooking meat, simply move it over the hot center. I’ve used this technique to slow cook meat for up to an hour before moving it to the hot zone.
If you want to slow cook longer than that, use your plate setter.
An hour later, the ribs were looking good.
I painted them with the glaze and moved them to the hot center of the Egg. A minute or two on a side later and they were ready to eat.
Pretty damn good. For an hour’s work on a weeknight, they were great.
The long cook in the water bath allowed the rub to really penetrate the meat. My daughter said, “It tastes like the animal was born this way.” That was the up side. The down side was the texture wasn’t quite right. My son thought they were too soft. Not enough “bite” or chew.
It’s shouldn’t be hard to fix that. Now that I can make ribs in an hour on a weeknight, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to experiment.
Recipe – Weeknight Ribs, serves 6
1 rack pork ribs, spare, baby backs or country-style
1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, divided
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
2 teaspoons rosemary powder
hardwood chips for smoking like hickory, apple or pecan
2 chipotle chiles, plus 2 tsp adobo sauce, finely diced
1/2 cup ketchup
Remove silver skin for ribs, if needed.
Combine 3/4 cups of brown sugar, white sugar, paprika, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ginger powder and rosemary powder. Rub ribs generously.
NOTE – This makes enough rub for several racks. Avoid contaminating rub by sprinkling it over the ribs, then putting unused rub away before rubbing it in with your hands.
Divide ribs and seal in two vacuum bags or zip lock bags. Put ribs in large pot of water, making sure the bags don’t touch each other. Immerse sous vide circulator in pot and set for 140 ° F.
Cook for 20 hours.
Set up grill for two zone cooking and stabilize temperature at 250° F.
Remove ribs from water and turn off circulator. Remove ribs from bags, reserving juices.
Place ribs on cool zone of grill. Add wood chips to hot zone. Close grill and smoke for 1 hour.
While ribs are smoking, place reserved juices in a medium sauce pan. Add chipotles, reserved brown sugar and ketchup. Heat over medium high to a slow boil. Reduce heat and simmer until glaze is thick. About 30 minutes.
Paint ribs with glaze and move to hot zone. Grill briefly, just long enough to mark the ribs and caramelize the sugars in the glaze. Flip and briefly grill second side.
Remove ribs and serve with baked beans, corn bread, Cole slaw, green beans, mac’n’cheese or anything else that goes with ribs.