CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In my hedonist's mind, almost everything has a relationship to food and wine. This time of year, my thoughts turn to light and refreshing sparkling wines and rosés along with medium-bodied, spicy reds like pinot noir, Beaujolais or Grenache.
As far as food is concerned, my warm-weather menus more often than not consist of grilled foods or barbecue. Barbecue, however, means different things to different people.
For some, it is a verb as in: "I'm going to barbecue some hamburgers." For others, barbecue is a noun and refers to a type of cooked pork or beef (usually rib meat) that is dry-rubbed and/or immersed in various sauces, then chopped or pulled and served on a bun.
To me, barbecue means a style of cooking. You'll find just about every kind of food on my grill, including (but not limited to) pork, beef, lamb, fish, vegetables -- even fruit.
In my estimation, barbecuing also requires a grill that uses charcoal. Gas grills -- no matter how fancy -- simply do not measure up. The biggest problem with them is uneven heat distribution. It's also difficult to use smoking woods such as hickory, mesquite or apple on a gas grill. I believe these chips or chunks of wood add a wonderful flavor dimension to many grilled foods.
And I admit it, there's just something compelling and almost ritualistic about setting charcoal on fire, and then using the coals to sear animal flesh. I'm not sure I want know why this practice is so appealing to me, but it is.
So, in the interest of making barbecue believers of you, I'm going to share a simple recipe for barbecued pork ribs that is easy to prepare and delicious to eat. I prefer to use baby back ribs that have been trimmed of excess fat and scored with a fork.
Whether you use large slab ribs or baby backs, this recipe begins with a dry rub. What's a dry rub? Well, first of all, let me assure you it does not require a masseuse. However, it does involve a massage -- of the ribs with spices, that is.
One of my favorite dry rubs consists of one tablespoon each of cumin, chili powder, kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper, brown sugar, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper (optional for those faint of heart). Stir this mixture and then rub it onto both sides of the ribs. If time permits, let the ribs sit in the refrigerator for a few hours allowing them to absorb the flavors.
At this point, I often grab a handful of hickory chips, immerse them in warm water and allow them to soak for at least an hour. Using wood chips is optional, but worth it because they give the meat another layer of flavor.
Now, fire up the charcoal. When the coals turn white/gray, divide them in half and move them to either side of the grill so you'll be able to cook the ribs indirectly. I have a large Weber kettle-type grill that has two small metal containers I can fill with the coals. Add the hickory to the charcoal and place the ribs on the cooking grate.
Make sure the air vents on the grill are closed to about one-fourth of an inch and place the lid on the grill. In this manner, you'll be able to keep the temperature relatively cool, about 275 to 300 degrees. Check the vents regularly to adjust the heat if necessary and turn the ribs once during grilling. It usually takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours to slow-cook the ribs.
Wines for your barbecue? Try these: