Vancouver chefs put their ribs on the grill
It’s those first barbecue ribs, tender with smoky, charcoal flavours, that make you close your eyes and thank the heavens that barbecue season has finally arrived. Your mouth is smeared with barbecue sauce, your hands are wonderfully sticky, and your inner glutton is loving it.
At Migz BBQ (2884 West Broadway), they give you a wet wipe to clean yourself up after your ribs orgy. On offer are succulent baby back ribs (taken from the upper portion of the rib cage), larger St. Louis side ribs (taken from the belly side of the rib cage with the tips removed), and big meaty veal ribs.
Chef Raj Pillay rubs his hands together with relish when he talks about his ribs. He shows off the gigantic smoker at the back of the kitchen where, every second day, he smokes 30 kilos of ribs. He seasons them with salt, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and Cajun powder, and then smokes them with cherry wood for two-and-a-half to three hours at 225 ° F (107 ° C).
“When you smoke the ribs, the cherry-wood flavour goes in there and gives them a totally different taste,” he says.
When a customer orders up a batch of ribs, he reheats them on the grill and then tosses them in a barbecue sauce made with ketchup, sugar, molasses, mustard, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, pickle juice, beer, vinegar, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Oh, and a pound of butter for each 32-litre batch, just to give the sauce extra taste and shine.
For home barbecuers, Pillay suggests putting cherry-wood chips on a piece of foil under your grill, and making sure to cook the meat slowly, without too much heat: “You don’t want to shock the meat. You want to tell the meat, ”˜Yes, I want you nice and juicy and succulent.’?”
Angela Kim, manager of Seoul House Royal (1215 West Broadway), may not sweet-talk her meat, but she’s equally devoted to ribs. The most popular selection is the marinated prime-cut beef short ribs (wang galbi). In this case, the ribs are butterflied so that there’s a thin strip of meat attached to a three-inch bone.
The wang galbi is marinated for a day in a reduced mixture of soy sauce, onion, sesame seeds, and garlic, as well as puréed fruit such as kiwis and grapes, to give it some sweetness. Servers fire up a gas grill in the centre of each table, and diners cook their own ribs, roughly four minutes a side if they want them done medium.
“When you go home, your hair smells like soy sauce!” Kim says, laughing. But it’s all part of the experience, she insists. Some customers even get the raw ribs to go, and then make their neighbours envious when they cook them in their back yard.
The people living next to Brian Fowke, chef and owner of Kitsilano Daily Kitchen (1809 West 1st Avenue), must salivate on a regular basis. During a chat at the restaurant, he explains that he owns four home barbecues: two charcoal and two gas (one of which he’s transforming into a smoker).
In 2008, he participated with a team called Bad Dads in the annual Langley BBQ on the Bypass, a one-day championship that sees teams from all over B.C. barbecue everything from beef brisket to ribs. Some competitors didn’t sleep for 24 hours, and when showtime came, his team captain was sweating (even though it wasn’t hot). Were the ribs unbelievable? Yes. Were they practical to make for those who aren’t barbecue geeks? Not so much. “At home, no one’s going to start at 6 in the morning to have ribs at 6 at night,” Fowke says.
When he’s cooking for family and friends, Fowke parboils his meat to shorten time on the barbecue. He buys baby back ribs from Jolly Meats & Fine Foods (111 Charles Street, North Vancouver), and then leaves the meat to cure overnight in a mixture of half coarse sea salt, half Demerara sugar. In the morning, the meat will have lost 10 percent of its weight, due to water being pulled out by the cure.
He puts a mirepoix of celery, garlic, onion, ginger, basil, thyme, and bay leaves at the bottom of a large roasting pan before adding a single layer of ribs. Water is poured in so that it just covers the ribs. The pan bakes covered for an hour at 350 ° to 375 ° F (176 ° to 190 ° C), and then uncovered for about 45 minutes, or until the bones feel slightly loose when he gives them a tug.
Once the ribs have cooled out of the broth, they’re ready to be grilled or stored in the fridge for later. Fowke charcoal-grills them for five minutes on each side, and then brushes them with a homemade barbecue sauce of tomato purée, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, and organic apple cider. Then it’s a minute on each side until the outside of the ribs caramelizes. “And that’s the fun, at-home, easy version,” he says.