Earlier this year I bought a smoker and became obsessed with it, as dads are prone to doing. I spent all summer overcooking and undercooking meats of various sizes and unctuousness. I fiddled with the dampers endlessly. I toyed with the idea of getting a WiFi-enabled smoker fan (to control the temperature from the toilet!) before looking at the prices and realizing those things cost more than what I paid for the smoker itself. I smoked beef short ribs into oblivion. I took a pork shoulder off the grill too soon and decided I was deliberately serving it that way to be more “toothsome.” I ate all my mistakes.
Now, if you are Good Smokeboy as I am — if you are a proud member of the unofficial SMOKEBOY club — you talk about the cuts of meat you “do” like so:
“Oh, you have a smoker? What do you do on it?”
“Oh dude, pork butt. I do steaks. I even do pizza once in a while.”
And after months of tinkering, I have figured out what I myself do best. America, I am proud to tell you that what I do… is ribs. My kids love them. I love them, and smoking them up is a relatively risk-free enterprise, without the potential expense and heartache of doing something advanced like brisket. I think I made ribs four weekends in a row at one point. If I don’t fire up the smoker for some ribs on a weekend, I feel nude.
I was not always a fervent rib boy. Even as a little fat kid, I rarely ordered ribs off the menu because, in those days, ribs were all bones and cartilage drenched in shitty KC Masterpiece. You were ordering a mess, basically. But you and I know they don’t have to be that way anymore. There’s still a place for sticky sweet ribs that end up painting your shirt, but I am here to promote a more elegant, more genteel, brand of rib-aholism.
A popular way of cooking ribs is known as the 3-2-1 method, where you smoke ‘em for three hours, wrap them in foil for two more, and then cook them uncovered for one final hour. I have cooked ribs for this long and they usually end up blasted into fucking oblivion. I think you can pull off ribs faster than that, which is handy if you want to devote more time to drinking than to eye-fucking the thermometer. So let’s go:
Drew Magary’s award-eligible ribs
2 racks St. Louis ribs
1 cup brown sugar
Bunch of rosemary, chopped
Please note that baby back ribs are horseshit. Chili’s brainwashed you into believing those things are worth a damn and they aren’t. St. Louis-style ribs have more meat, more fat, and they cook more evenly. Give the baby backs to the dog.
Bring your ribs up to room temperature and then, using paper towels, tear off the membrane on the underside of each rack. This is a pain in the ass, but also kinda fun. I feel like a real strong cook man when I get under there and peel off that rib condom.
Okay, so now you got your naked racks. Brush one of them all over with the white vinegar. Sprinkle the kosher salt on all sides of both racks. The old adage is to salt it like the road, so do that. Then, mix up the brown sugar and rosemary in a bowl and slather it all over the non-vinegar rack. Someone on Twitter the other day said, “Rosemary doesn’t belong on ribs, son.” He really did call me “son.” Fuck that asshole. I’ll put what I want on my ribs. I went to a party once where they coated thick strips of bacon in rosemary and brown sugar, then crisped them up in the oven. They were awesome. So this is that. Treating ribs like bacon is how I roll.
Okay, so fire up the smoker and toss some soaked wood chips on there. Get the temp to roughly 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit (I’m not gonna give you any guidance here because every smoker is different and special). And now, here is the crutch: Put a piece of foil on the grate, right over the coals, and then lay the racks on the foil. No need to wrap them up. Stop yelling at me. It’s fine. The smoke’ll perfume the meat while the foil keeps the underside from scorching. Close the smoker up for three to four hours, check to see if the meat is 200 degrees inside with a meat thermometer, and there you go. You have made idiot-proof ribs. Fatty, porky, and delicious. Sauce ‘em however you like, but they usually don’t need sauce at all.
Like I said, tinkering is the best part of being a smokeboy, so run wild. I’ve done Vietnamese-style ribs (fish sauce, ginger, lime juice, sugar), and one day I’m gonna slather them in straight gochujang and have a Korean barbecue that stains the entire house. I’m not here to tell you what to do. I am only here as a rib ambassador. My name is Drew and I do ribs. Ribs are a force of good. Ribs will save us all.