Recipe: big bob gibson’s barbecue ribs
**Warning** It’s a long post, but there IS a recipe at the end.
The road to knowledge has never been so fun. My teaser from a few weeks ago was a quick glimpse into the Rigorous Studies that I and several food bloggers/writers endured in California. Kingsford University’s 3-day program took us from Oakland to Healdsburg for a thorough study in buttermilk fried chicken, charcoal, slow cooked pork
insanity ecstasy, Zinfandel, spice rubs, and grilled pizza. As with any university experience, the journey with your classmates and what you learn from them is just as important as the knowledge gained. So let me hit upon the highlights or else we’ll be here all day and all night!
Orientation: Everyone boarded the bus outside The Claremont Hotel and rode to Picán for an evening that started with a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres mixer on the patio. I was quite delighted in the parade of pecan and hickory smoked pork ribs, country ham and cheddar hushpuppies, chicken liver pâté and chow chow herbed biscuits, and Louisiana crab toasts because I had eaten one crunchy taco all day in my rush to the Denver Airport. [And thus my dirty little secret was revealed to my fellow food buffs: Jen ate Taco
i had never dined in oakland before
these biscuits were morsels of tender, melty wonderment
Eventually we were encouraged to mosey into the private dining room where Diane and I immediately scoped out the best seats for shooting – toward the back and against the wall. Priorities, kids. There was much conversation, much shooting of food porn, and of course heaps of phenomenal food. We were welcomed by Drew McGowan of The Clorox Company (parent company of Kingsford), Chef Dean Dupuis, and pitmaster Chris Lilly.
drew and dean introduce themselves and oakland to the group
first course: famous buttermilk fried chicken
first course: choice of shrimp and grits or southern caesar (this was diane’s shrimp and grits)
entrées: choice of grilled berkshire pork shoulder (that’s what i chose)
or grilled loch duarte salmon (what jen selected)
dessert: pear upside down cake
chris talks with picán’s fabulous event manager, miriam
On the bus ride back to the hotel, Chris Lilly sat next to me. I love Chris Lilly. He immediately struck me as a warm, friendly, and down-to-Earth kinda guy. Pitmaster. Wait a second, make that ten time world champion pitmaster and executive chef of Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q. What does that title say to you? It says “badass” to me. He is the Yoda of barbecue, but he didn’t make us do handstands while sitting on our feet as we tried to levitate the X-wing fighter out of the swamp. Chris was a far kinder master and had Luke been hanging out with Chris instead of Yoda, he wouldn’t have complained about the food… not a peep.
Charcoal 101: The next morning, I managed to wake up early enough to squeak in a workout (after wandering about the grounds of the Claremont in search of the fitness facilities) before we had to load up onto the bus and head over to The Clorox Tech Center where we were greeted with breakfast before sitting down for presentations given by the Kingsford research and development team and an unveiling of their latest product. Our group wasn’t shy at all and many of us piped up with questions, engaged in good discussion with the Kingsford folks as well as with Chris (he’s not a pitmaster for nothing, kids). I’m a gas griller for many reasons the main one being fear of burning down the state of Colorado. My fear has always been rooted in ignorance – my ignorance of how to grill using charcoal properly. Every minute I learned about charcoal at a more fundamental level (think engineering and physics) and in terms of what cooks are looking for, the more comfortable I was with the idea of charcoal grilling.
i dig the lectures
chris discusses what he looks for in charcoal performance
After the presentations, we filed over to the test facilities where Kingsford checks product quality and tests small-scale production and then into the courtyard for a head to head grill off with a competitor charcoal.
Of course, I always approach things with some skepticism – that’s how I’ve been trained. And now we come to it: charcoal or gas? I don’t think anyone disputes which one produces better flavor, that would be charcoal. It’s hard to beat a gas grill for ease of cleanup and maintenance. But let’s talk about environmental concerns both at the source and at the output. Before we can address the source, I should give a little background information.
waiting to reach 70% ash-coated
discussing ideal grilling techniques
The Kingsford process for making charcoal starts with waste wood which are byproducts of other industries. From that waste wood, they produce char under a controlled environment that minimizes the release of volatiles into the air and recycles water and heat. The traditional way of making char and the main method used in South America is to cut down trees and burn the wood in kilns until it has become char. Not only is this method inefficient and damaging to the environment, but it produces char that doesn’t burn efficiently. The majority of other charcoal producers source their char from other countries where restrictions on cutting forests are loose to non-existent. The bulk of Kingsford’s charcoal is char, but it is also mixed with coal (I’m not sure of the percentage), and small amounts of borax, sodium nitrate, cornstarch, and limestone.
kingsford going head to head with the competitor charcoal
the “other” brand couldn’t even move the temperature gauge
Wood is a renewable resource, coal is not. Propane is not a renewable resource. So in terms of renewability, charcoal has the advantage. However some folks use lighter fluid to get their charcoal started which is the same class as propane – not renewable (I am not a fan of lighter fluid, I have always used a chimney to light my coals in the past). Now let’s look at the byproducts. Propane burns more cleanly than charcoal. When propane burns completely, its byproducts are water vapor and carbon dioxide. Charcoal produces ash, soot (airborne carbon), and trace heavy metals (from the coal, although I don’t recall if Kingsford volatilizes their coal before incorporation into the charcoal) in addition to water vapor and carbon dioxide. It’s not surprising that charcoal doesn’t burn as cleanly, because it is intended for burning at lower temperatures, it is not a pure hydrocarbon, and it is not aerosolized. Keep in mind, water vapor and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases. The difference between the carbon released by burning charcoal and the carbon released by burning propane is that the charcoal-sourced carbon is adding substantially less net carbon into the carbon cycle than propane-sourced carbon.
brooke documents the grill-off
Another byproduct of charcoal is ash. I had originally thought that the ash would be great to add to our compost, but the general consensus among gardeners is that you shouldn’t add charcoal ash to compost unless it is 100% wood char. Coal and other additives in charcoal can alter the pH of your soil and coal also has a nasty habit of carrying trace heavy metals which you probably don’t want to be adding to your soil.
the new product produces less ash
Which is more efficient? Hands down propane is more efficient which means it produces more energy (heat) than charcoal per unit mass. Which should you choose? Well, it’s probably far more complicated than the few points I’ve touched on here. From a cook’s point of view, charcoal is the time-honored way to go. There are many other factors to weigh when making your decision.
That said, Kingsford’s latest product (to be released in January 2010) is a new formula that uses more wood char, less coal, and produces less ash. They claim their new formula “reduces CO2 emissions by 11,000 metric tons per year… uses 57 fewer tons of coal per day or 10% less non-renewable resources per year.” Kingsford dominates the US charcoal market (something on the order of 70-80%); they could conceivably do whatever they wanted and purchase cheap char (at a high environmental cost) from abroad. I’m impressed that the company invests as much time and resources in finding as sustainable a solution as possible while juggling customer demands and their bottom line.
In wine country: After a lunch of fried chicken and brisket sandwiches, the whole gang shipped off for Healdsburg, California. I got to bond with the cool kids in the back of the bus for the two-hour trip like Todd and Diane, Shauna and Danny, and John and Michele. When we arrived at the Hotel Healdsburg, we were given our keys and a few hours of free time before we had to meet up again.
in the lobby
a quiet little courtyard on my floor
why hello, big big bathtub!
i’ve shown the room before, but it’s simply too lovely not to share again
Reminiscent of the scene from The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman pounds on the glass over the chapel as Elaine is getting married, I spied from a glass walkway Todd, Diane, and Brooke hanging out in one of the courtyards below. We burned up an hour walking around the charming town center. By dusk, the lot of us walked over to Seghesio Family Vineyards. We were warmly greeted at the door by their fine staff, members of the Seghesio family, and a 2008 Arneis.
the shop front
barrels in the cellar
Peter Seghesio, the CEO of the winery, invited us upstairs for a dinner prepared by their executive chef, Jon Helquist. The meal included Chris Lilly’s barbecued pineapple sweet ribs, grilled Tuscan-style young hens, slow roasted butternut squash, Sonoma Coast wild mushrooms and leeks in parchment, grilled fingerling potatoes, autumn lettuces, and garden carrots with Chioggia beets. On the table were three Zinfandels: 2007 Rockpile, 2007 Home Ranch, and 2007 Old Vine.
pineapple sweet ribs
dear jen poses the hens for me
delectably sweet vegetables
There were many welcomes, toasts, and a great story told by Uncle Ed before we finished the meal and slowly wandered out onto the deck then down into the courtyard where a tent had been set up. School was in session and this time Chris Lilly was going to instruct us on how to make flawless pork butt (shoulder). He had about 70 pounds of pork butt on the table and explained his method for low and slow cooking (low temperature for 12-14 hours).
watching as the master reveals some secrets
injecting liquid into the pork
chris sprinkles the rub while eric looks on
loading up the coal
The rest of the evening was spent roasting marshmallows over pit fires and eating s’mores while the Steve Pile band played. Back at the hotel room, there was a package on my bed including a cookbook by Chris Lilly. I can’t tell you how giddy I felt flipping through that book despite having stuffed myself of barbecue, vegetables, and s’mores that night. With a few hours the following morning, Jen and I walked down to the local bakery to join our pals and then we were back to the Seghesio Winery for class.
perfect fall weather in california
Split into two groups, my group went to the wine blending class first where we tasted and then blended our own Zinfandel under the instruction of Peter and the Seghesio enologist, Andrew. We bottled and sealed our wine to keep (not to open for at least 6 months)!
peter and cathy, a charming and delightful couple
Come lunchtime, everyone gathered around the table to watch as Chris presented us with the pork butts that had been slow cooking overnight. To see and appreciate the entire process, you really need to view John’s video!
removing the bone while brooke and shauna take pictures
gently pushing the pork into a pile of tender, juicy, goodness
We all ate the pork in slider buns with coleslaw. If pork butt was not my favorite part of the pig already, it certainly was by the end of this trip. When lunch was over, we swapped classrooms and my group went upstairs for a class on spice rubs taught by Chris. He gave us basic guidelines and then let us loose at the five stations to make our own, tasting a pinch of each one to assess if we had done right by our master. I got a thumbs up!
my spice rub had hints of star anise, ginger, garlic, and onion
There were a few hours of free time and several of us decided to visit some of the local wineries. I forgot that while our leaves in Colorado were pretty much changed and stripped by the end of September, it was peak fall colors in California wine country. We were driven through fields of vines painted in greens, golds, and brilliant reds until we arrived at Michel Schlumberger Wine Estate. Jim Morris graciously gave us a tour of the grounds and then a tasting of their organic wines.
brooke in the courtyard
my second autumn this year
On the ride back to the hotel, Tamar, Jen, Lenny, and I laughed and joked with our driver while Brooke fell asleep on my shoulder (she falls asleep in moving cars). For our final night in Healdsburg, we trickled onto the grounds of the Seghesio winery after sunset to see a grilled pizza demo by Chris. I think he worked harder than anybody else this whole trip, but Chris never made it look like work – he always made it look like art. After he grilled and served up a phenomenally good Indonesian-inspired grilled shrimp pizza, we were led to a half dozen pizza stations to grill our own.
everyone films or photographs
eric, the pro
As our pizzas came off the grill, staff members invited us into the cellar for a veritable feast of our grilled pizzas, butter lettuce and smoked trout salad, grilled fennel with capers and green olives, barbecued fresh shelling beans, and radicchio and pear salad with hazelnuts and blue cheese. The accompanying wines: 2008 Fiona, 2007 Cortina Zinfandel, 2007 Barbera, and a 2006 Venom. The table extended nearly the entire length of the cellar. The space vibrated with energy, friendship, and toast after toast.
sitting down to our last meal together
Dessert came in the form of a perfectly delicate quince and huckleberry crostada with crème fraiche. I was leaving on the 6 am bus for San Francisco in the morning, so we bid one another good-bye, safe travels, and promises to stay in touch. I crawled into my hotel bed (which, I have to say, is the BEST freaking bed I have ever slept in) feeling very fortunate to have connected with so many wonderful people – friends. AND I actually remembered to bring my book to dinner to have Chris sign it. Thanks to Kingsford, Chris Lilly, and Seghesio Winery for this terrific and educational trip.
Full disclosure: My trip (all transportation, lodging, meals) was paid and/or provided courtesy of Kingsford.
So this past weekend, I felt justified in trying a barbecue recipe from Chris’ book seeing as I totally blew off Thanksgiving. We haven’t purchased a charcoal grill yet because we have entered our eight months of Crazy Wind Season. Maybe this summer. In the meantime, we made due with our crappy gas grill.
memorize this cover and then go out and get yerself a copy
mixing up the spice rub
I couldn’t conceivably justify slow cooking a pork shoulder for 12 hours, but a rack of ribs for 4 hours? Hell yeah! I chose the Big Bob Gibson bar-b-q ribs – nothing fancy, just pure barbecue. It calls for a straightforward spice rub and a Memphis-style red sauce. That would be Chris’ championship red sauce.
seasoning with the rub
slow cook over indirect heat in a 250°F grill
For an instant I thought, “I have some extra Mutha sauce in the fridge, maybe I should use that up.” Some little voice inside my head told me to stop screwing around and just try the Memphis red sauce and I’m so glad I did.
mixing up the red sauce
after four hours, the ribs are ready for a paintin’
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, people get religious about their barbecue. There are so many styles of barbecue in the South: vinegar-based, tomato-based, sweet, spicy, or no sauce at all. I grew up in Virginia and Jeremy’s mom grew up in Tennessee. If there is one thing to get a couple of Southerners chattering away, it is pork. But I’m not the type to go and get my shotgun if someone says one style of ‘cue is better than another. Well, first off, I don’t own a shotgun. The point is I am an equal opportunity lover of barbecue even though I do have my preferences. The love of the pig (and cow and bird) should unite us all… except, I guess for the veggies (I love my veggies too). Besides, I’m CHINESE, how can I be Chinese and not love pork?
juicy and tender
The ribs weren’t quite the meat-falling-off-the-bone tender as I like, but I think that’s because we were gas grilling on our deck in 40°F weather with a breeze. Still, they were pretty spanking good and the rub and sauce were a perfect combination of sweet and spice. You should have seen the smile on Jeremy’s face. Kaweah sat by my chair extending her neck and nose as high into the air as possible to sniff the heavenly aromas. That’s what barbecue is. Heaven. I cannot wait to try more recipes from this awesome book. It’s not just a cookbook, but it’s barbecue wisdom and barbecue lore imparted by the great ten time world champion pitmaster, Chris Lilly. Thank you, Chris.
i’d fight you for this plate
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Ribs
from Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by world-champion pitmaster Chris Lilly
1 slab St. Louis-cut pork spareribs
1 batch dry rub
2 cups Memphis-style championship red sauce
2 tbsps (14 g) brown sugar
1 tbsp (7 g) paprika
1 1/2 tsps (9 g) kosher salt
1 tsp (2 g) black pepper
1/2 tsp (3 g) garlic salt
1/2 tsp (3 g) onion salt
1/2 tsp (2 g) celery salt
1/2 tsp (1 g) cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp (1 g) ground cumin
memphis-style championship red sauce
1 1/4 cups (12.5 oz/355 g) ketchup
1 cup water (8 oz/235 g) water
3/4 cup (6 oz/170 g) vinegar
3/4 cup (6 oz/170 g) tomato paste
3/4 cup (4.5 oz/135 g) brown sugar
2/3 cup (7.75 oz/220 g) corn syrup
1/2 cup (4 oz/ 170 g) pure maple syrup
4 tbsps (1.5 oz/100 g) honey
3 tbsps (2.25 oz/60 g) molasses
4 tsps (25 g) salt
4 tsps (.75 oz/20 g) Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp (.75 oz/25 g) applesauce
1 1/2 tsps (.25 oz/8 g) soy sauce
1 1/2 tsps (.25 oz/5 g) liquid smoke
1 tsp (4 g) onion powder
3/4 tsp (2 g) cornstarch
1/2 tsp (1 g) dried mustard powder
1/2 tsp (1 g) cayenne powder
1/2 tsp (1 g) black pepper
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp celery seed
1/8 tsp ground cumin
Make the rub: Combine all rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well. I like to put the rub in a shaker with large holes (because the brown sugar always clumps) to shake onto the meat.
Make the red sauce: Place all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and stir with a whisk to mix well. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Let the sauce cool. You can store it in a tightly covered jar or container in a refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes 4 cups.
Make the ribs: Remove membrane from the back of the ribs. Shake the rub onto the ribs – don’t be stingy! I used all of the rub on one rack of ribs. Be sure to press the rub onto the ribs so that it sticks. If using charcoal or wood, place the coals on one side of the grill leaving the other side empty. If using gas, turn on only one side of burners. Heat your gas or charcoal grill to 250°F. Put the rack of ribs on the part of the grill that isn’t over direct heat with the meat side up. Cook with this indirect heat method (covered) for 4 hours or until the ribs are tender. Remove the ribs to a plate or pan and paint them with the red sauce. Return the rack (or racks – speaking from experience, if you have the space, by all means cook more than one!) to the grill, again over indirect heat, and cook for another 20 minutes at the same temperature. When the ribs are ready, remove them, slice them up and serve.