[Blog] Cook #1 – Beef Ribs on the ‘cheapo’ kettle barbecue

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Today marked my first attempt at smoking meat on a charcoal barbecue and although the final product was good, there were plenty of lessons to be learned (which you’ll see listed at the bottom of the page). The gameplan was as follows:

  1. Light the barbecue and bring it to 250°F using the ‘snake’ method (see below)
  2. Place seasoned ribs on the barbecue
  3. Cook for 3 hours, spraying with water/vinegar solution at each hour interval
  4. Wrap the ribs and cook for a further 1-2 hours until 200°F internal
  5. Take off and let rest for 30 minutes
  6. Devour

The first mistake I made was to purchase precut beef ribs. I’ll go into more detail later, but the finished product could have been much better had I sought out a single rack of short ribs. On the plus side, I was able to season each rib individually and opted for 2 ribs seasoned with a basic beef rub and the other 2 ribs seasoned with ‘Great Cow Rub’ from Turner & George; I was fortunate enough to pick this up when I was living in London last year and it’s got a lovely balance of flavours that suits more than just beef, in my opinion.

Individual beef ribs with seasoning applied.

While they sat and absorbed some of the seasoning, I prepared the barbecue. It was a typical British summer’s day, meaning that the clouds were thick and the rain was heavy but it didn’t stop my excitement as I setup the briquettes using the ‘snake’ method:

Charcoal briquettes layed out in a line around the edge of a kettle barbecue.
The ‘snake’ method of laying out your charcoal and wood ensures that you get a slow and constant burn for 5+ hours. Lighting it is as easy as lighting 10-15 briquettes in a chimney and then piling them at one end of the ‘snake’.

Once the briquettes were lit, I hooked up my new Sendowtek Barbecue Themometer (link to review) and shut the lid. The thermometer allowed me to wirelessly monitor the internal temperature of the meat and the ambient temperature at the same time. Unfortunately, the ambient temperature never got to the golden 250°F that I was aiming for due to fairly cold conditions but averaged out at about 230°F which would be enough for the cook.

Once the time hit 3 and a half hours, I brought them in to wrap:

Beef ribs getting sauced and wrapped in foil.
I brushed half of them with some watered-down Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce (recipe incoming) as an experiment to see if it would result in a tastier end product. The results were interesting (and can be found at the bottom of this page).

The wrapped ribs went back on the barbecue but, by this point, the rain was coming down hard and the temperature was hovering around 210° as a result:

Screenshot of thermometer app showing temperatures.
The ambient temperature (lower figure) dropped way below 250°F due to a typical British summer’s day aka rain and wind.

At 4 and a half hours in, I pulled the wrapped ribs off and threw them in an oven that was preheated to 250 °F. This isn’t uncommon (as long as you have access to an oven) as the meat will only absorb so much smoke and so the remainder of the time is just to ensure that they’re cooked fully.

Wrapped beef ribs in the oven.

The ribs didn’t need long in the oven before hitting around 200°F at which point I took them out and rested them for a further 30 minutes.

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for…

I was fairly happy with the result but definitely learned some lessons from my first cook:

  1. The flavour was a bit too smokey and/or it was too salty. The oak I had came in massive chunks which didn’t help and the salt-based seasoning I used was too salty (or I used too much). The other seasoning I used contained paprika and sugar and, despite having plenty of salt, was a lot easier on the tastebuds.
  2. I should have bought a full ‘rack’ instead of settling for pre-slices individual ribs. The meat on the ribs varied so much that half of them were a beautifully moist and juicy and the other half were drying out in places.
  3. I need to find a way of making the barbecue hotter on cold days. This may not be a problem if I upgrade to something more suited to smoking (like a WSM or PBC) but it wasn’t that cold however the rain was bad today and it only really peaked at about 230. All vents were open and even leaving the lid off didn’t do too much.
  4. I prefer wrapping the ribs with sauce. This might be somewhat controversial for beef ribs (as it seems commonplace with pork) but the watered down mustard sauce gave a mild flavour but kept the ribs quite ‘wet’ – which doesn’t sound too appealing, but was actually something that I preferred.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. It means a lot to me as I start my journey towards great barbecue.

Cross section of a piece of perfectly cooked beef rib.
Bonus Picture! Althought I’m colourblind, my wife assured me that there’s a very visible smoke ring – chuffed!

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