Next week, Steven Raichlen will be in Austin to give a free lecture at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on the history of barbecue. Not just recent history or the history of Texas barbecue. "Barbecue all over the world, starting 1.8 million years ago," the prolific cookbook author and host of "Primal Grill" on PBS said recently by phone.
Raichlen released his 28th and 29th books this year: "Best Ribs Ever: 100 Killer Recipes Including Slaws, Baked Beans & Finger-Lickin' Sauces" (Workman, $13.95) and "Island Apart" (Forge Books, $24.99), which is Raichlen's first novel. "I got a degree in French literature," he says. But instead of becoming a professor of comparative literature, which is what he thought he might do for a living, Raichlen took a slightly smokier career path, becoming one of the country's foremost experts in barbecue.
Texas barbecue, of course, has a long, storied history that has been influenced by Mexican, African American and European pitmasters. "In this age of Starbucks at every corner, it's hard to have things that are truly regional and distinct," he says. "(Texas) has managed to preserve that."
This is Raichlen's second rib book, and even though Texas barbecue revolves around brisket, ribs remain one of the most iconic cuts in all of barbecue. "Ribs are so great because the meat next to the bone is the most flavorful," he says. "It's the architecture of the rib that exposes the maximum amount of meat to smoke and fire." The two biggest misconceptions about ribs: That you have to parboil ribs to make them tender and that rib meat should be falling off the bone. You should only boil ribs if you want to take the flavor out of the bones and put it into a soup, he says. And as for how tender ribs should be: "A rib that's just mush is just mush. It should have a little chew to it. That's why God gave us teeth."
The lecture, which is free for museum members, but $4 for the general public, is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Spirit Theater at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave.
Contact Addie Broyles at 912-2504 Twitter: @broylesa
Lone Star Beef Ribs
When it comes to ribs, Texas lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from Kansas City or Memphis. Texans prepare ribs with simple seasonings and an even simpler sauce. The typical Central Texas barbecue rub consists primarily of salt, pepper and cayenne, with little or no sweetener. As for the sauce, it's little more than meat drippings reddened with a squirt of ketchup. The focus is kept on what a Texan believes matters most: the marriage of meat and wood smoke. For this recipe, you'll need 1 1/2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably oak) that have been soaked for 1 hour in water then drained, as well as a barbecue mop or brush to apply the sauce.
For the Lone Star rib rub:
3 Tbsp. coarse salt
3 Tbsp. pure chile powder
1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
For the mop sauce:
1 bottle Lone Star beer or other lager
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 racks (about 5 to 6 pounds total) beef long ribs
Bare-Bones Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)
Place the salt, chile powder, cracked pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cayenne and cumin in a small bowl and mix with your fingers. Set aside 1 Tbsp. of the rub for the Bare-Bones Barbecue Sauce.
In a nonreactive bowl, whisk together the beer, vinegar, coffee, and 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the Lone Star rib rub. Set the mop sauce and remaining rub aside separately.
Place a rack of ribs meat side down on a baking sheet. Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of the rack by inserting a slender implement, such as a butter knife or the tip of a meat thermometer, under it. The best place to start is on one of the middle bones. Using a dishcloth, paper towel, or pliers to gain a secure grip, peel off the membrane. Repeat with the remaining rack.
Generously sprinkle the ribs on both sides with the remaining rub, using about 1 Tbsp. per side and rubbing it onto the meat. (Any leftover rub will keep for several weeks in a sealed jar away from heat and light.) Cover the ribs with plastic wrap and refrigerate them while you set up the grill under the grate.
Set up a charcoal grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium (325 to 350 degrees). Place a large drip pan in the center of the grill. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the ribs bone side down in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat. Toss half of the wood chips on each mound of coals. Cover the grill and cook the ribs for 45 minutes.
Mop the ribs on both sides with some of the mop sauce. Re-cover the grill and continue cooking the ribs until they are well browned, cooked through and tender enough to pull apart with your fingers, 45 minutes to 11/4 hours longer, or about 11/2 to 2 hours in all. When the ribs are done, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by about 1/4 inch. Mop the ribs once or twice more and replenish the coals as needed.
Transfer the ribs to a large platter or cutting board and let rest for a few minutes. Cut the racks in half, if you are serving 4, or into 1- or 2-rib pieces. Serve at once with the barbecue sauce on the side. Serves 4 to 6.
Bare-bones Barbecue Sauce
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 cup Lone Star beer or other lager
About 1/4 cup beef stock
1/2 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp. steak sauce, such as A.1.
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. Lone Star rib rub (see above recipe)
Heat the oil in a heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the beer, increase the heat to high, and boil until reduced by about half.
Add the beef stock, ketchup, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Lone Star rib rub, reduce the heat to medium-high, and slowly bring the sauce to a boil. Add 1 to 2 Tbsp. of water or beef stock, enough to thin the sauce to a pourable consistency, and let simmer until the flavors meld, 3 to 5 minutes. Makes 1 cup.
— Recipes from "Best Ribs Ever" (Workman, $13.95) by Steven Raichlen