I have previously written in this space that “Barbeque is America’s National dish” and, citing Arthur Miller, argued that we ought to appreciate it as such in its seemingly infinite variety. (http://sdfoodtravel.com/san-diego-kansas-city-pulled-pork-sandwich-with-pink-pickled-onions/). That article, written in the context of a Chargers v. Chiefs game, highlighted Kansas City’s version of barbeque featuring a smoked pork butt that is not necessarily something that every backyard grill maven might find familiar.
For the Tennessee Titans’ visit to San Diego it was Tennessee’s version of BBQ that took center stage with a version of barbeque that might be a bit more accessible: ribs. But Tennessee barbeque is not just ribs on a grill with a smoky and sweet, ketchup heavy sauce. It is low and slow smoking with a sauce featuring vinegar and one of Tennessee’s favorite son products: straight Bourbon Whiskey.
When Tennesseans barbeque (and the center of Tennessee barbeque culture is mostly in Memphis, rather than Nashville) ribs it generally comes in two styles: wet and dry. Dry ribs are seasoned with a dry rub whereas wet ribs are brushed with a sauce both before and after cooking.
For the Titans’ visit we decided to go with a bit of both styles, using a dry rub before smoking the ribs and then saucing the ribs before reheating them in the pan (or on a grill) at the tailgate.
Tennessee Smoked Ribs with Whiskey BBQ Sauce
- 1 rack, baby back ribs
- 1 quart apple juice
For the Dry Rub
- 2 ½ tablespoons paprika
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 3 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper, ground
- 1 tablespoon white pepper, ground
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
For the Whiskey BBQ Sauce
- 2 cups good quality Bourbon Whiskey
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons dark molasses
- 1 tablespoon Louisiana-style hot sauce (or hot sauce of choice)
Make the Spice Rub. In bowl, combine all the spice rub ingredients. Whisk, mix or process to fully combine.
Prep and Rub the Ribs. Place slab of ribs bone-side up on flat surface. Slide a knife under the membrane and against the end bone to separate the two. With a dry paper towel or rag, grasp the edge of the thin membrane and pull. The entire membrane should separate from rib. There are two reasons for this step. First, it will result in a more tender finished product. Second, will allow the flavors of your rub to better penetrate the meat. Rub the ribs all over with enough spice rub to cover the entire slab. Gently pat the ribs to make sure that the rub is adhering. Reserve the rest. Wrap the ribs with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Smoke the Ribs. Prepare a smoker (using apple wood chunks or chips) as required by your equipment such that it can maintain a heat of between 225 and 275 degrees, Fahrenheit. If using a Weber-style charcoal smoker, fill the water pool with one quart of apple juice. Remove plastic from the ribs, place them meat-side up on the smoker’s rack and cook for 3 to 4 hours, until the ribs will separate with a tug. Allow the ribs to cool, re-wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
Make the Barbeque Sauce. Pour 1 cup of the whiskey into a sauce pan, reserving the remaining whiskey, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the saucepan comes to a boil, reduce the flame to low and reduce the whiskey to about 2 tablespoons. Add a half cup of the remaining whiskey, along with the remaining ingredients, and bring the sauce back to a boil. Reduce the flame and simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Drink the remaining whiskey as your reward for a sauce well made.
- Finish the Dish. Apply a generous coat of the Whiskey Barbeque Sauce to both sides of the ribs using a paint brush. Bring a grill (or large sauté pan over a burner) up to medium heat and place the ribs the grill. Cook 15 minutes, re-painting the sauce on the ribs every five minutes. Remove the ribs from the heat, cut and serve.