Once a month for the past two years I have had to write and submit a recipe for The Independent. It is usually something easy, some kind of comfort food that a few people might try at home but it’s mostly to get an idea of what the students are eating. It’s a pretty easy, straightforward assignment and I enjoy it, but somehow it never fails that its Thursday already, I’ve blown the deadline and the editor is e-mailing me wondering where her article is. The weird part is that there are very few other projects that I have that I procrastinate with such regularity.
Granted, people would go hungry and farmers wouldn't know what to plant if I dropped the ball in other areas, but I really do take these recipes just as seriously. I think that reaching out to community members and letting them know what's going on in the kitchen or at least in my brain a critical part of the program.
Anyway, I thought folks might be interested in this dish I have been playing with at home for some time—Smoked Beef Ribs. The preparation is the culmination of my current fascination with umami, Asian ingredients and cooking over wood, specifically smoke. The dish is fun to cook and eat, people tend to go crazy about meat on the grill and like any other artists, cooks like to get a reaction out of people and “crazy” is a good one.
Most of the ingredients listed, if not all of them, can be found at any grocery store that caters to a majority Asian clientele. In the U.S., most “Asian groceries” tend to lump five or six ethnicities and cultures into one shop, so there is generally a pretty diverse range of “Asian” ingredients available. My favorite store in the greater Dayton area for this stuff is in Riverside, Ohio, across from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It is called the Far East Center. Here is the recipe:
6-10 pounds beef ribs
½ cup black vinegar
1 Tablespoon mushroom salt
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon setzuan peppercorns finely ground
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons yellow rock sugar, crushed or brown sugar
2 Tablespoons 5 spice powder
1 inch ginger root, peeled and crushed
½ bulb worth of garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Smoker or grill
100% hardwood lump charcoal
Mix all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag large enough to house the marinade and the beef ribs. Because I enjoy to cooking big slabs of meat over wood fires, I leave the ribs in one big piece. If you would like the ribs to be more manageable (reasonable) then feel free to butcher them down to smaller units.
Marinade the beef for 4-6 hours. It is recommended for food safety reasons that you refrigerate the meat while marinating, however, meat that has been tempered to room temperature generally cooks more evenly and at a more controllable rate. (This technique demands that we leave the meat out on the counter at a temperature considered unsafe for the storage of meat, for about 2 hours. I recommend that you do some research about beef safety, meat tempering and have an intimate knowledge of where your beef is coming from and who grew it. Employing this technique requires the highest quality 100% grass-fed beef and meat whose integrity can be vouched for.)
45 minutes before its time to cook the meat, begin to build your fire and heat up your grill. I use a chimney-style coal starter to get my hardwood coals going and I must say that this technology has changed my life and I highly recommend using one. Mine cut my fire prep time to 10-15 minutes.
(I need to point out that you should only be using hardwood lump charcoal, NOT charcoal briquettes. Charcoal briquettes are sawdust soaked in glue and accelerant, pressed into little shapes with a logo on top. While their smell invokes nostalgia, they are nasty to cook with. I also use fruitwood and nutwood chips to create a little heat and smoke. The technique, art and craft of cooking over wood is so vast, so complex and nuanced that I really encourage you to just jump in and start doing it yourself. It is hard to explain it because when it comes down to it, it is something you just have to feel. There are some good videos on YouTube about pit masters who can break it down, the show “The Mind of a Chef” on PBS has some segments on cooking with wood, and the magazine Lucky Peach has an article in their latest issue that features some pit masters talking about cooking over wood.)
After your coals are red hot place them in your grill (I use a Weber Grill for this preparation). Make sure to pile the coals into one side of the grill leaving most of the bottom of the grill uncovered. The idea is to cook the meat with the indirect heat and smoke from the coals, but not directly over the coals themselves. We are trying to cook the meat “low and slow.” That is, at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2 hours. During the two hours under the lid, periodically move and turn the meat so that it experiences many different angles and positions in relation to the coals. This will ensure a nice, even cook.
When the meat is done, it will be 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the centermost part and it will have formed a nice dark juicy crust on the outside. Let the meat rest on the cutting board for about 15 minutes before slicing the ribs apart so that the proteins in the meat have time to relax. This will prevent the meat from drying out as soon as you slice it. I like to serve these ribs alongside some grilled green vegetables, spicy mustard and beers. It is best enjoyed with a bunch of friends.