At our house, holidays are celebrated with food – and plenty of it.
The holidays that fall during the warmer months – Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day – are spent outdoors and grilling on my beloved Big Green Egg, a ceramic kamodo-style cooker that uses natural charcoal as its fuel source and looks like the name implies: a big green egg. To me, it looks more like a big green golfball, with its dimpled surface. But, hey, I guess Big Green Egg has a better ring to it than Big Green Golfball.
The beauty of the cooker lies in its versatility. I’ve prepared just about everything in it, even turkeys at Thanksgiving. The ability to control the heat through strategically placed vents allows me to sear steaks at high temperatures or smoke ribs long and slow, which was the featured dish on this year’s Fourth of July menu, along with brats cooked in beer and barbecued chicken. Of course, no Independence Day picnic would be complete without hot dogs – the big, fat ones, in honor of Joey Chestnut and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every Fourth at Coney Island.
Admittedly, grilled baby backs require considerable preparation and a long cook time, but the end result is well worth it.
This year, I decided to try an apple-bourbon barbecue sauce that I basted on the baby backs during the final half-hour or so of cooking. The bourbon and chipotle peppers combined with the Granny Smith apples and brown sugar gave the sauce just the right amount of spicy sweetness. For an even bigger kick, you can add more chipotle peppers, depending on your tolerance for heat, and cut back on the brown sugar if you prefer a more subtle sweetness to your sauce.
In keeping with the bourbon flavor profile, I used bourbon-infused Smoker BRICX that I tossed onto the coals just before adding the ribs and halfway through cooking. I also sprayed the ribs every 45 minutes with equal parts apple cider vinegar and water, for more flavor layers.
While this recipe is written with the egg in mind, you don’t need a kamodo-style cooker to make the ribs. Just modify by setting up your grill for indirect cooking, taking care not to overcook, or you’ll end up with tough, dry meat.
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons paprika (I used smoked)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Combine ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl. Rinse three racks of baby back ribs, pat dry, and remove the membrane from the underside. Place ribs on baking sheet, meat side up, and sprinkle with rub. Cover and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.
Prepare grill for indirect cooking at 275 to 300 degrees. Fill a spray bottle with 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 3/4 cup water. If using smoke chips, soak about a half-hour prior to cooking. Place a foil pan half filled with water (I used beer!) on convEGGtor (stone platform designed for use in the egg) to catch drippings from ribs. Place cooking grate over pan and place ribs in a rib rack on grate (or directly on grate if you don’t have a rib rack). Close lid. After 45 minutes, lift lid, spray ribs with vinegar-water mix and close. Repeat every 45 minutes for about 3 hours, spraying the ribs and turning them until ribs are just tender.
Brush ribs with a light coat of sauce (recipe below) every few minutes or so for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the meat has shrunk from the ends of the bones.
Remove ribs from grill onto a foil covered baking sheet and wrap tightly. Allow to rest about 20 minutes.
Serve with remaining sauce on side.
Apple-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (use less to reduce sweetness)
2 to 4 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
Juice from one lemon
Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onion and sauté until tender. Add garlic and sauté about 3 minutes. Stir in paprika and mustard powder.
Stir in bourbon, then vinegar; simmer 3 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, ketchup, brown sugar, chipotle chilies, Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper. Add apples and lemon juice.
Bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until sauce reduces and thickens slightly, stirring occasionally.
Use to baste ribs while on grill, serving remainder on side.