Just because it’s open flame doesn’t mean the only items on the menu are burgers on dogs. Let’s face it, food often defines a trip, and the trail shouldn’t be any different. Defined in our current time by it’s integration of smoke – barbeque most commonly employs smoldering wood chips, chunks, pellets, and/ or logs. The intent of smoke application is exponentially elevating the flavor profile of grilled fare by imparting the natural, earthy essence of carbonizing hardwoods in a dry, indirect and low heat cooking environment.
Cooking is a science. Barbeque, an art.
Inspired by my recent trek far into the land before time, Argentinian Patagonia, and camping adventures across the American National Parks, this recipe draws upon the asado-style cooking techniques of South American gauchos. Leveraging smoldering live fire, massive carnal hunks of grass-fed cattle, and simple, yet bold seasonings, this recipe slowly cultivates the most succulent, pull-from-the-bone beef ribs on God’s green earth—all paired with grilled olive oil and sea salt Brussels sprouts, then washed down with two handfuls of ice cold craft root beer.
Perfection, right? Well, read onward for my recommendations to confidently cultivate a sustainable barbeque fire and how to prepare beef ribs like a backwoods boss.
Long live the adventure. Cheers!
1. Safety first. Ensure you’re stationed in an open-air, outdoor cooking-approved zone, and the fire pit is both lined with stone and dug at least 12-18 inches deep. In the event flames must be tamed, maintain a bucket of water or sand on hand at all times. And, above all, never leave your fire unattended.
2. To effectively construct a campfire, use the following process. Stack and ignite tinder (small dry twigs, leaves, brush, etc.) at base of the fire pit. Then add kindling (dry, finger-sized branches) over the tinder. Finally, arrange firewood (forearm to bicep-sized logs) around the kindling in a teepee-fashion. Light the fire from it’s tinder base, allowing one layer upon the other to produce a self-sustaining flame. As needed, feed your flame with additional tinder and oxygen until the firewood begins to smolder.
3. Never use softwoods, plastics, news papers, or artificial fluids to ignite or maintain a flame. The aforementioned are all infectious to the flavor of your final product and will spoil the edibility of any grilled fare. The primary ingredients to a healthy campfire are… wood and fire. Period. As you are electing woods for fueling your grilling pit, choose between dry hardwoods or fruit woods – Hickory, Pecan, Walnut, Maple and Mesquite or Apple, Cherry and Peach Wood.
4. Wood fires are extremely hot – much more so than your traditional gas or charcoal grill, radiating intense amounts of infrared heat. The art of outdoor rustic cooking lies in controlling the flame, smoke and temperature. Cooking too hot will carbonize your fare instantly. Cooking too low will produce proteins tasting of a bowling alley ash tray. The key is to allow the fire to super heat the grill grates while the wood smolders down until ashes glow bright orange-pink and emanating smoke subsides. Note: a mature fire could take upwards of 45 minutes to 1 hour to develop. Crack a beer or two, relax, and enjoy the scenery.
5. Next, establish a 2-zone cooking surface by raking the smoldering embers to one side of the pit. Then, slant the embers down to the lower, opposite side of the grill, establishing one higher-piled direct-heat hot zone and one lower-piled, indirect-heat cooler zone. Leverage this strategy to sear high-hot to encrust, then bring food to temp low and slow, basting intermittently to both maintain protein moisture, infuse smoky essence and develop a well-balanced crust. Also, note that for every 30-45 minutes of cooking, add a log or two of firewood to the grillpit’s hot zone. This is critical for maintaining heat, particularly when cooking tougher or larger cuts of meat and whole birds that may require longer cooking periods.
Purchasing Ribs from the Butcher: Request ribs be trimmed and the tough membrane removed. No one wants to play tug of war to remove that membrane, and it’s just as difficult to chew through. Remove it before that rib leaves butcher’s counter.
Worst case, if Membrane Not Removed: Simply lay the ribs, bone-side up, on a cutting board. Create an incision in the membrane by slicing through the tough flap with a sharp knife. Then, with a paper towel in hand, grip the membrane and pull away from the bone– slicing and pulling until it’s entirely removed.
Two-Zone Cooking Method: Heat only one side of the grill, creating one hot direct heat zone and one cooler indirect heat zone. This technique is imperative to the cooking process.
Charcoal: Ignite the wood. When ashed over, rake wood to one side of the grill, slanting the remaining wood to the opposite side of the grill, establishing high-piled one hot zone and one cooler zone. Add wood as needed every hour.
Rib Done-ness Guide: There are several tests for ensuring appropriate cooking of ribs, but this is as much an art as it is a science:
1. Rib meat should not fall off the bone overcooked.
2. Rib slabs should nearly break when lifted with tongs, not wilt— undercooked.
3. Internal temperature is difficult to measure due to the thinness of the meat, proximity of bones and variances in size from one end of the slab to the other, so there’s no one rule that applies to all rib cooking.
4. With a toothpick inserted, juices should run clear and if cut into for a sneak peek, the meat should appear white with no pink remaining.
5. If able to accurately measure internal temp, remove from grill when ribs reach 150°F.
Author: A Bachelor & His Grill
Prep time: 1 hour Cook time: 3 hours 30 mins
Total time: 4 hours 30 mins
Serves: 2 beef rib racks
- Two gargantuan slabs of beef ribs, trimmed and membrane removed
- Canola oil
- One tablespoon kosher salt and ground peppercorn per pound
- Two tablespoons ancho chili powder
- One tablespoon garlic powder
- One tablespoon onion powder
- One tablespoon cumin
- One tablespoon smoked paprika
- One tablespoon dried thyme
- One tablespoon brown sugar
- One teaspoon cayenne
- One can of beer, poured into a spray bottle, plus additional to drink
Light and stoke your fire. Once the wood has ashed over, create your 2-zone grilling surface. Temperature of the fire should maintain near 250 to 300F, while adding a new log to the flame every 30-45 min.
Meanwhile, rinse ribs with cold water, then pat entirely dry with paper towel. Brush with oil, then massage a liberal degree of seasonings across all portions of the slab. Seal the ribs tightly with tin foil after pouring a few ounces of beer in the bottom of the pouch. Lay the rib packet bone-side down over the cooler zone grill grates. Cook for two hours, rotating once.
Remove the ribs from tin foil and place back over cool zone grill grates, bone-side down, for an additional one hour, spraying intermittently with beer and rotating every 20 minutes. When the meat begins to pull back from the bone by 1 inch, move the ribs over direct heat, searing to carbonize and finish the exterior.
Remove ribs from grill and place on a cutting board. Rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving. Season additionally to taste, and plate.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Fall 2016 print issue of Tread Magazine.