Create: Game Day Party Food
Smoked ribs and potato salad with green beans, hard cooked eggs and mixed greens.
Photography by Janet Warlick
Football season is upon us, and fans will need plenty of nourishment to keep up their energy to support their teams. Ribs are a huge hit, and smoked ribs leave plenty of room for personal preference — you choose the rub, the smoke and the sauce. It may take you a few tries to master the method, but it’s not difficult, especially if you start with some simple basics. And, preparing them does not mess up the kitchen just before guests arrive.
Smoked Ribs For Beginners
Smoking ribs is a two-step process — cooking and finishing. In Step 1, you cook the ribs without sauce. After the flavor from rubs and the smoke is locked in, then a last grilling; Step 2, with sauce, gives the ribs more flavor and a beautiful finish. You will need patience. Smoking is not grilling. More time — not more wood or a hotter fire — gets more flavor into the ribs. The good news is that you do not need to nurse them. You can open a beer and enjoy the game until it is time to eat.
Preparation: Baby back ribs or St. Louis-cut ribs are best for smoking. There is plenty of flavor in country style ribs, but they do not stand up under hours of smoking. Rinse the ribs thoroughly and pat dry, very dry. Water left on the ribs will create steam.
To rub or not to rub: You can just salt and pepper the ribs before putting them on the grill. Or you can brush the ribs very lightly with oil, and use your favorite rub. Rubs can add spice or subtle flavor from herbs. My favorite go-to rub is two parts chopped rosemary and thyme to one part chopped garlic and chili powder. You can use anything from five-spice powder for an Asian flavor to Cajun blackening spices for more heat.
Fire: You will cook the ribs a long time on low heat. Ideally, you have heat on only one side of your grill. I generally start a fire with about half a chimney of coals and put them on one side of my Webber Kettle. That allows me to add more if needed through the grate trap door.
Smoke: Wood chunks are generally better than chips. Soak them in water for an hour or so to prevent them from just burning up immediately. Hickory and mesquite are popular. You can use apple or cherry for a softer flavor.
Cooking: Move the coals to the far side of the grill, piling them against a wall so as not to allow any direct heat to be on or near the ribs. You are looking for a temperature of about 225 degrees once the lid goes on, so you do not want a big fire. Place about 4 ounces of soaked wood on the coals. Remember: more smoke is not more flavor, it is dried meat! Place the ribs on the opposite side of the grill, meaty side up. Now the secret step: put a few teaspoons of thyme or other fragrant herbs into a disposable aluminum loaf pan, and fill about ¾ with water. Place that pan over the fire so the inside of the grill will remain moist protecting the meat for longer smoking. Cover the grill. You should see smoke curling out of the top after a few moments. When the smoke stops, and only then, (usually about 20 to 30 minutes), remove the cover and add another 4 ounces of soaked wood chunks. You may also need to add a briquette or two, and encourage the fire with a little air. Cover, and repeat the process every 20 to 30 minutes. Baby backs should be ready in about 3 ½ to 4 hours, St. Louis-cut in about 5 hours. Cooking time is difficult to predict as it varies with each piece of meat, grill and smoker … this is where the art comes in.
One tip: do not expect the meat to fall off the bone. If you are smoking a pork shoulder for pulled pork, the meat will be ready when it is falling off the bone. But ribs should retain their firmness.
Finishing: The ribs will be smoked, but will look too pale to be appetizing as they are. NOW is the time for your favorite sauce. Either heat your oven to 450 or spread the coals out and add more to make a hot grilling fire. Put the ribs directly over the coals for 4 to 5 minutes a side, allowing them to seal and crisp the sauce.
Notes on smoking methods submitted by Barry Goldberg, Little Rock, AR
Smoking Ribs: Do’s & Don’ts:
Do have patience.
Do build a small fire. Aim for about 225 degrees.
Do dry the meat thoroughly so it does not steam.
Too much wood = too much smoke = dry meat
Don’t rush and use too hot a fire.
Don’t cook with the sauce on.
Do finish with the sauce.
Dilled Potato Salad
Using a mixture of red, purple, gold and white potatoes is festive and colorful. Fresh dill is essential.
8 or 9 new potatoes, about 1 pound
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup finely-minced red onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
Wash the potatoes, then quarter them and put into a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender but still firm, about 7 to 8 minutes. When the potatoes are done, drain them and put them into a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Combine the sour cream and yogurt and gently stir into the still warm potatoes. Add the onion and the dill, toss gently and cool to room temperature before serving or refrigerating. Before serving, taste and adjust seasoning, adding more sour cream or yogurt if the salad seems dry.
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.
Potato Salad with Green Beans, Hard-Cooked Eggs & Mixed Greens
1/4 red onion, finely-diced
1/4 cup jalapeno or apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1/4 cup herbed olive oil
6 medium boiling potatoes
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1/2 red bell pepper, finely-diced
2 celery ribs, finely-diced
4 tablespoons fresh basil or fresh thyme leaves, torn into small pieces
8 ounces green beans, steamed until tender, rinsed under cold water and patted dry
4 hard-cooked eggs, shelled, cut into quarters or sixths
6 ounces mixed salad greens
Put the diced onion in a strainer. Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and pour it slowly over the onion. Shake the onion dry, and put into a large salad bowl. Add the vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper, the oil and set aside.
To cook the potatoes, scrub them well, cut into quarters or eighths, then put into a pot with salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. While still warm, add them to the onion along with the mustard and garlic. Toss gently with a soft rubber spatula. Add the bell pepper, celery and basil, and toss once more. Taste for salt and grind in plenty of pepper.
Toss the green beans with a little olive oil. Arrange the salad greens on a wide shallow serving dish. Top with the potato mixture and scatter the green beans on top. Garnish with the eggs. Pour over any remaining dressing from the potatoes. Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
Sun Dried Tomato Dip
1 pound pitted Kalamata olives
8 ounces sundried tomatoes packed in oil
1 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 head radicchio, leaves separated, washed and dried
Goat cheese to serve
Pulse the olives, sundried tomatoes and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a food processor until well blended but still chunky. Add remaining olive oil to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl.
Arrange the toasts on a platter, spreading some with a thin layer of goat cheese. Tear the radicchio leaves into bite-sized pieces and arrange with the toasts. Offer guests either toasts spread with or radicchio spooned with tapenade.
Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis
Feta Walnut Dip
2 tablespoons each of fresh mint, parsley and basil
7 ounces feta cheese
7 ounces shelled walnuts, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 whole lime
1/4 cup olive oil
Process all of the above in a food processor to make a grainy paste. That’s it. What are you waiting for? Serves 4 to 6 with crudités (celery, carrots, plain crackers, etc.)
Adapted from Nigella Fresh by Nigella Lawson
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips or combination
1 cup whipping cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish with foil (don’t skip this step; you may also use a disposable foil pan). Melt the butter over gentle heat in a medium saucepan. When it’s melted, add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon, still over low heat, to help it blend with the melted butter.
Whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and pinch of salt, then stir into the butter sugar mixture. When mixed — this will be very dry and not wholly blended at this stage — remove from heat. In a bowl or pitcher, whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract and then mix into the brownie mixture in the saucepan.
Stir in the chopped chocolate, and quickly pour into the foil-lined baking pan or disposable foil pan, spreading the mixture with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. It will look set, dark and dry on top, but when you feel the surface, you will sense it is still wobbly underneath, and a cake tester will come out sticky. This is desirable.
Transfer the pan to a rack to cool a little before cutting into 16 pieces. Serve with freshly whipped cream, either warm or cold. Yields 16 pieces.
Adapted from Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson
Questions? Reach Faith via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.