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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coke Ribs

Well into my 30s ribs were one of the things I assumed I couldn't cook. One reason was that I didn't know how to make too many things, and what I could make outside of pasta was typically done in a pan. My wheelhouse was pretty cramped. At the age of 30 I had never even cooked on a grill. I was not a real man. I'd had roommates who handled the grilling, so my right of passage never occurred.

A week after my 30th birthday I bought my first home, and my parents gave me a gas grill as a housewarming gift. While I was excited about all the football parties I would be hosting, I needed someone nearby when I made hamburgers and grilled chicken. The price I paid for the tutoring was the ridicule I received.  “Tell me something: How do you get that fat without knowing how to grill a burger?” I stood silently staring at the flames, metal spatula in hand, and took the abuse.

Eventually I got the hang of it. Before long I was buying ribeyes and fresh fish. Nothing crazy. And nothing too pricey. You see, another reason I hadn’t attempted ribs is I’m cheap. At about fifteen bucks for a rack it would be an expensive experiment. I’d learned about grilling flat meat most of which fit on a bun. Giving me something significantly bigger would be like handing a camera to a chimp.

I remember visiting Brent & Kim Vreeland in Tampa about a decade ago. Brent is a) one of the roommates who manned the grill when we were in our 20s, and b) one of my early tutors who took great joy in belittling me.  Brent’s been a good cook since college, and he’s who I call when I need guidance. For dinner during my visit Brent grilled a whole pork tenderloin over charcoals. As we stood at the grill drinking beers and catching up, I stared at the huge piece of animal over the glowing coals thinking I would have absolutely no clue.

But that was a decade ago, and I’ve come a long way. I’ve graduated from gas grill to smoker (thanks, Tammy), and it’s a fun hobby. About 5 years ago I started having NFL Draft parties. Derek and I would each invite a few friends plus his uncles Josh and Kerry. It would be a testosterone-filled day: Draft coverage on TV, shooting pool in the garage, playing basketball in the driveway, and a lot of meat.

The first year I decided it was time to take on ribs. I sought out a recipe and found a BBQ championship winner called Best Ribs In The Universe, BRITU for short. Coincidentally, the guy who won the title used the same smoker I own. How’s that for a good start?

Yada, yada, yada everyone at my draft party loved the ribs. I was emboldened. My next task was to find a way of making ribs that didn’t take all freakin' day. These efforts have resulted in what I call Coke Ribs.

If you've ever poured a can of cola onto a corroded car battery post, you'll understand what I was thinking.  I figured if it could eat that stuff away it would likely do a good job of getting into the meat and tenderizing it.  So... I fill my big pasta pot with 2 to 3 two-liter bottles of cola (root beer works just as well) and set the burner on full blast. 

While that heats up I cut the racks into 2-rib sections.  This allows the cola and then the sauce to penetrate more of the meat.

When the cola's boiling add the ribs and let them cook for an hour.  After adding the ribs I start making my BBQ sauce.  Here's the recipe.  Or goof off for an hour if you're using store bought sauce.

After an hour add the ribs to the sauce to stew for about 20 minutes (I can only fit about a third of the ribs at a time in my sauce pot).  Then light the grill and set to medium high.

Twenty minutes later the first batch of ribs come out of the sauce pot, the second batch goes in, and the first batch goes onto the grill for 3-5 minutes per side just to put a little char on the sauce.  Hopefully you know to repeat the process with the second and third batches. 

Rednecks rejoice!