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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

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Posted by Derek

I'm enjoying myself at home this long weekend - fencing in a vegetable garden to keep the marauding groundhogs out, hoping the sky clears up enough to use my telescope tonight, and cooking some food in the backyard. And being glad to have the opportunity to do these things - luxuries, all of them - because of the sacrifices made over the last 225 years or so. Happy Memorial Day to my U.S. readers, and I'll see everyone tomorrow!

With my Arkansas/Tennessee background, I don't have to go out for barbecue. Just get started early, and make it yourself. . .

Update: As one person in the comments section put it, "What is this, Tet. Lett.?" So, here's the procedure for this prep:

That's about 7 pounds of ribs, which is all I can hold on that smoker/grill. The key, as far as I'm concerned, is to cook them a long time over rather low heat, with plenty of wood smoke. I use no sauce at all - people from Kansas City, St. Louis, Georgia and other locales will have their own opinions about that, but I'm true to the Memphis "dry rib" tradition.

Accordingly, take the raw ribs and season them with (at a minimum) seasoning salt and ground black pepper. That's what's on the ones in the photo. There are all kinds of dry-rub recipes out there, with paprika, cumin, brown sugar, mustard powder, and who knows what else in them. If you want to try those, you can find proportions for them all over the web, or buy a commercial mix from some Memphis outfit. My advice is to go easy on anything with sugar in it - it'll get too dark, or burn outright during the cooking. That's another reason that I don't sauce things while cooking them - that, and finding most commercial sauces way too sweet and gooey. I've always had a suspicion that barbeque places that make too big a deal out of their sauce must have something to hide where the meat is concerned.

Leave the dry seasoning on the ribs overnight if you can, or at least a couple of hours. Start an indirect fire to cook them over - to the side, if you have a big cooking surface, or at least a foot below the meat if you're doing it in a tubular meat smoker like the one the in the picture. You'll also need some hickory wood chips or chunks - soaking it in water before hand will give you more smoke - but I can't say exactly how much, since different batches give varying amounts of wood smoke.

Cook the ribs over low heat - not quite enough for audible sizzling - for several hours, with frequent addition of fresh hickory wood to the fire. You'll need to add some more charcoal to the fire itself over that long a period, too, naturally, but don't go too wild, or things will get too hot. Four or five hours should about do it, but (since there are so many variables in play here), you'll need to judge for yourself. You can finish them off (carefully) on a hot grill at the end if you wish, which will render out some of the fat.

Sauce - well, that's up to you. If you're the type, then add it in the last hour or so of cooking. I serve mine on the side, and often don't take any, but (as mentioned above) I grew up near Memphis.

Comments (27) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. McChemist on May 30, 2011 1:57 PM writes...

What is this, a Tet. Lett. paper? Don't just show us what you made, give us the experimental!

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2. MIMD on May 30, 2011 2:45 PM writes...

What type/size telescope? You are lucky if you have dark skies.

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3. Derek Lowe on May 30, 2011 2:58 PM writes...

11-inch Dobsonian, modified a bit over the years (better focuser, light-blocking, cooling fan, and so on). My skies are fair here, not great, but then again, I lived in New Jersey for several years, so after that, everything is New Mexico.

I have seen one of the brighter globulars (G1) around the Andromeda galaxy from the back yard here, but that's more of a point source. What I need is better overall contrast to pick up the extended fuzzy stuff. . .

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4. pete on May 30, 2011 3:32 PM writes...

D, not to be a kill-joy or anything but can't help but comment that your nice BBQ photo comes right after discussions about statin/niacin for CVD -- ;)

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5. Sili on May 30, 2011 5:37 PM writes...

Clear skies!

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6. MLBpitcher_and_MedicinalChemist on May 30, 2011 5:50 PM writes...

I'm glad your DUI charge is dropped Derek.

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7. AlchemistOrganique on May 30, 2011 6:48 PM writes...

Mmm...I'm "jonesing" for some ribs right now. Do you prefer your barbeque sauce to be on the sweeter or tangier side? Alluding to one of your earlier photos from the grill, I could also go for some koobideh or barg kabob, with extra sumac.

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8. Dave McConnell on May 30, 2011 8:23 PM writes...

Derek: The groundhogs will climb the fence and mow your garden unless you electrify it. Trust me, I've been there.

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9. Derek Lowe on May 30, 2011 9:19 PM writes...

Dave M., funny you should mention that. I have indeed decided to go electric - I also think that that's the only way to really keep 'em out. There's a layer of chicken wire all over the ground to keep them from tunneling though, too.

Of course, none of this saves the ornamentals. Phlox, petunias, zinnias, cleomes, rosebushes in bud - chomp, chomp, right down to the dirt. I've been trying to live-trap the critter (or critters), but with no luck so far.

One year in Connecticut, I looked out on a row of heirloom tomato plants on the first week in August: six varieties, two plants each. . .and noticed that every single solitary ripening tomato had been eaten off, up to the height of a standing groundhog. Nothing left that would ripen by the end of the summer. I'm hoping not to go through that again!

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10. Anonymous on May 30, 2011 11:37 PM writes...

FAIL. The most important part before even dry rubbing or marinating ribs is removing the sheath on the back. Most amateurs miss that. Youtube it to see how it is done. The next step is to cook the ribs for 1.5 h, completely wrap them in thick foil to keep all the juice so that they marinade in their own flavors, remove the ribs after 2.5 h, and then cool for at least 30 minutes before unwrapping and cutting.

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11. RKN on May 31, 2011 1:28 AM writes...

I made pork spareribs just the other day. Smoked them for an hour using a stove top smoker (set off the smoke alarm), and finished them on the grill slathered in Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. Store bought, but not bad. Man they were good. Life at the top of the food chain, ain't nothin' better.

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12. CEO Chef on May 31, 2011 3:28 AM writes...

Why bother cooking ribs yourself? My long term strategy is to immediately outsource all the early phase work (appetizers, entree's etc) to my local Chindian CRO's and work up to main courses and dessert by 2015. I find this saves any major expenditure on trained staff, specialist equipment and downstream waste processing. I also have them on a "here-in-30-minutes-or-its-free" contract. Of course we retain all rights to any new IP arising from such a collaboration, and if a new cheaper player appears on the market I can easily abandon them for someone who can do Mongolian goat ribs. Smart eh? But then I do have a Harvard MBA!

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13. Andy on May 31, 2011 6:17 AM writes...

@#12: LMAO

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14. mike on May 31, 2011 8:13 AM writes...

I find that a grill with a firebox on the side works best for ribs. And at least nine hours to cook, at about 200F (yes, that is indeed slightly below the boiling point of water). If you absolutely have to have sugar or a sugary sauce cooked on, wait until the last 30 minutes or so to add it or it turns into sticky charcoal on the outside of the meat. But I'm with you - dry rub is the best!

As for the groundhogs, I've found a couple of dogs to be a very effective deterrent.

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15. Fishy Fish on May 31, 2011 8:30 AM writes...

Derek, You certainly have a good back-up plan in case the chemistry thing doesn't work out. Did you spray apple juice over the ribs during cooking?

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16. johnnyboy on May 31, 2011 8:39 AM writes...

a couple questions from a northerner rib-cooking noobie: I assume these are pork, do you ever do beef ? and if so do you use the same approach ?
Am quite interested in your dry rub-smoke-no sauce approach; but isn't the end result quite dry ? All tips appreciated.

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17. Vader on May 31, 2011 9:49 AM writes...

Pleased to hear you're a felllow star-starer. I've got a basic 10" Dobsonian, and, because I live in a sparsely inhabited desert region, I've got pretty dark skies. Great fun.

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18. Nick K on May 31, 2011 11:03 AM writes...

This is exactly the opposite approach to grilling meat to that practisd in Belgium. The Belgians like their beef cooked for a very brief time (sometimes only a few seconds) but at a very high heat. The meat is thus sealesd and cooked on the outside with the interior effectively raw (saignant, meaning bleeding). Needless to say, for obvious reasons they don't cook pork like this.

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19. Derek Lowe on May 31, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

#15 Fishy - nope, no apple juice (another source of sugar for Maillard browning reactions). The flash make these look a bit redder than they are, but the color is from some paprika in the salt and a lot of wood smoke.

#16 johnny - nope, not a beef rib fan. Someone from Texas might know! As far as the dry rub, no, the ribs themselves are still fine. There's enough moisture (and fat) in them, although any thin edges will get crisp. Check out any Google combination of "Memphis" and "dry" and "ribs" for more info.

#18 Nick - you're putting your finger on the difference between grilling and barbecue. High heat/short time versus low heat/long time (with a lot of wood smoke in the latter). They're both honorable traditions.

In the Northern US, they confuse matters by using "barbecued" to mean "cooked outdoors over a fire", but what they usually mean to say is "grilled". Good Southern or Midwestern US style barbecue isn't always easy to find outside its region, and is very hard indeed to find outside the US, in my experience - although they do some good similar stuff in Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. Steve Raichlen's "The Barbecue Bible" is a good sourcebook for worldwide cooking methods in both the grilling and barbecue styles.

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20. Nick K on May 31, 2011 12:08 PM writes...

Derek, if ever you bring your telescope to the UK you should try the West coast of Scotland. There are virtually no settlements (apart from Oban and Fort William) and no sodium-lit motorways (sorry, freeways) so no light pollution, and the wind blows in from the Atlantic, so the air is as clean as you can get. The Milky Way is spectacularly clear up there in Winter.

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21. Patentguy on May 31, 2011 12:13 PM writes...

As a fellow Arkansan I cannot help but agree with you on the virtues of a dry rub. If you want sauce, one of teh best is McClard's from Hot Springs (very little sugar, nice and tangy). I will spray pork butts occasionally with a 2:1 apple juice to apple cider mixture, but not ribs. As for foil, that's a cheat for those who cannot control their fire temperature. It does not allow enough smoke to enter.

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22. Bunsen on May 31, 2011 4:29 PM writes...

#14, you say "sticky charcoal" like it's a bad thing. A moderately sweet sauce (not store-bought BBQ Flavor Fructose Paste) can turn into a wonderful, caramelized, smoky, slightly charred glaze under the right circumstances.

Since I don't have access to a smoker, or even a respectable kettle grill, my standard rib prep method is built around this. Frequent application of thin coats of sauce keeps the surface temperatures down even under direct heat. The caramelization and charring must be carefully monitored, as it's very easy to over-char, but a bit of blackening is nothing to be afraid of. Even on my pathetic little portable squashed-kettle grill, the results can be very good.

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23. Fishy Fish on May 31, 2011 5:29 PM writes...

Molecular gastronomy, Derek?

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24. MIMD on June 1, 2011 7:29 AM writes...

11-inch Dobsonian, modified a bit over the years (better focuser, light-blocking, cooling fan, and so on). My skies are fair here, not great, but then again, I lived in New Jersey for several years, so after that, everything is New Mexico.

Yes, I have a stock 8" LX10 Schmidt Cassegrain I got when I was in Del., but it's almost useless except for planets and the Orion Nebula here near West Point PA.

Darn light pollution!

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25. Anonymous on June 1, 2011 4:39 PM writes...

Surely you didn't make it out of North Carolina without learning that barbecue is whole hog and ruined by adding anything but smoke, vinegar, and peppers. I guess they don't teach that over in Durham. Those do look like fine ribs, though.

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26. DB on June 9, 2011 4:46 AM writes...


When you can see the sky. Last time I went up there with the idea of doing some astrophotography it rained for a week :)

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27. Nick K on June 12, 2011 3:38 PM writes...

#26 DB: Unfortunately, you're absolutely right about the weather on the West coast of Scotland. That said, without the abundant rain the air wouldn't be so clean and dust-free.

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