Yesterday was my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday—a great occasion for a family cookout. On the menu, besides the usual burgers and dogs, were pork ribs that a friend had received from a local farmer and had contributed to the cause. However, this being upstate New York, very far indeed from the pig-prizing country south of the Mason-Dixon Line, no one had any idea what to do with them. Enter yours truly, a transplant who lived most of his life either east or south of that line. (Mason and Dixon surveyed the western boundary of my home state of Delaware as well as that separating Pennsylvania and Maryland.) When I arrived at the appointed place I found the “ribs” awaiting in a plastic bag of barbeque sauce. But they were not, in fact, ribs but rather, I divined, so-called “country-style ribs.” Country-style ribs are a marketing fiction rather like “sirloin tip,” a beef cut known in the trade as round knuckle. There are two types cut from one or the other end of the pork loin. Those most common in the supermarket come from the front, or shoulder, end, confusingly called the butt; the others, with which I was confronted, are cut from the rear, or sirloin, end and include small pieces of the floating ribs. This is, in fact, a very nice cut of meat: flavorful and not too fatty. But it can be tricky to cook. Also, I was faced with making the four attached ribs feed ten or so people. The answer, if you have not already guessed, was barbeque.
Generally I am not a fan of store-bought barbeque sauce which usually is just flavored high-fructose corn syrup. But this was a local favorite, Sensuous Slathering Sauce from Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. Still, I like a dry rub on meat I smoke so I rinsed off the excess sauce saving the rest in a saucepan. For the rub I mixed some brown sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. With no little effort I removed the bones, then cut the meat into large cubes, applied the rub, threaded the cubes onto skewers, and went off in search of suitable wood for smoking.
My brother-in-law and his wife live in a lovely little house next to a stream and surrounded by trees, some of which occasionally fall or have to be cut down. So he has a very impressive woodpile. The latest addition was a large sycamore. Unfortunately, sycamore is one of the few deciduous trees that is not suitable for smoking. After a bit of digging I came up with nice foot-long piece of hardwood that I think was cherry. I tested it by holding one end into the gas flame of the stove and smelling the smoke. Perfect! A chop saw quickly turned it into suitably-sized chunks.
By the time I got a couple of handfuls of charcoal going, the rub had done its magic and the meat was ready to smoke. I pushed the embers into two piles at opposite sides of the kettle grill, put a chunk of wood on top, and arranged the skewers in the center away from direct heat. An hour later the meat had lovely smoke rings and was nearly done. Since I needed to get the grill ready for the burgers and dogs, I moved the pork to the oven at 275° to finish cooking.
While the pork was cooking in the oven I added a cup of bourbon to the cup or so of barbeque sauce in the saucepan and brought it to gentle simmer. (If you try this be sure to have a lid handy in case you need to extinguish flaming alcohol.) When the meat was done I removed it from the skewers, coarsely chopped it, and then mixed the sauce into it.
Voila! The only genuine pork BBQ in Ithaca!