Slow-Smoked Pork

I once judged a rib contest in North Carolina and surprised myself by preferring the spareribs over the baby back ribs. The meaty baby backs are the choice in many restaurants, but there’s something about the longer, sparer ribs into which you can – pardon the pun – sink your teeth.

North Carolina and Tennessee share many things, but foremost in my mind is their choice of barbecued meats:
slow-smoked pork. Not beef, as in Texas, or heavily sauced meat as is served many places, but so flavorful from the cooking that it doesn’t matter whether you use sauce at all. That pork is mostly pork shoulder, smoked for many hours over charcoal and hickory wood, and ribs, cooked similarly but for fewer hours.

My husband Doug and I have lived in New Orleans for years, but when it comes to barbecue, our Tennessee roots begin to show. Recently, we’re happy to see more barbecue places opening in the New Orleans area. But we still enjoy doing our own, and it’s always Tennessee-style. Since you can’t buy whole shoulders here, we use several pork butts, which are part of the shoulder. (Why it’s called a butt is beyond me.) After smoking them for about 10 hours and pulling the meat off the bones, we serve the pulled pork on hamburger buns with cole slaw on the sandwich. Not much, but just enough for that little crunch. We also prefer the thin, vinegar-based sauces, not too sweet and not too heavy.

But this year, I think we’ll take the easy way out and smoke spareribs for the Fourth of July. This doesn’t mean that some time isn’t required. It definitely is – about four hours. But those can be fun hours with friends, checking the barbecue and drinking cold beer. Everyone loves ribs, and the cooking time is much shorter than for pulled pork.

We make our own sauce but many good ones are available at the grocery store. I think the key is not using too much. Let the flavor of the meat come out without smothering the ribs in sauce. Or, serve the sauce on the side so each person can use as much as he likes. We actually baste the ribs lightly at the very end of cooking, having basted them with vinegar during the smoking.

My potato salad is a combination Louisiana-Tennessee recipe. The Louisiana edge is mashing a couple of the potatoes with a fork for a creamy effect and adding some spicy Creole seasoning. And, wouldn’t you know?

Blueberries are still in season, and I can’t resist a red, white and blue dessert for the Fourth of July.

Best Barbecued Ribs

2    3- to 4-pound slabs
    spareribs, preferably
    St. Louis-style
    Salt, pepper, garlic powder
    and Creole seasoning
2    cups cider vinegar
1     8-pound bag charcoal
    Hickory chips
    Barbecue sauce, store-
    bought or homemade
    (see recipe on
    following page)

Trim ribs of excess fat and leave the slabs whole for smoking. Trim off the flap across one end of the ribs. (Smoke this piece, too, then chop it in small pieces and add to canned baked beans, if serving.) Remove the skin beneath the rack of ribs by cutting the skin across one end and peeling it back. Holding the peeling with a paper towel will help.

About 4 hours before serving, light about 50 pieces of charcoal on a large cooker with cover. Burn until white on the edges and spread out one side of the bottom of the grill. Meanwhile, soak several handfuls of hickory chips in water. Position the grill about 8 inches over coals. Just before putting ribs on grill, throw a handful of hickory chips over coals. Place ribs on opposite side of grill from coals. Adjust vents on grill so that smoke will flow across and over ribs.

Season ribs generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Creole seasoning. Put vinegar into a squirt bottle for basting. Cover grill and smoke ribs for 30 minutes. Turn ribs, add a few new coals (about 10) and a few hickory chips, baste cooked side of ribs and smoke again for 30 minutes. Continue this process for about 3 hours, turning and basting and adding coals and chips about every 30 minutes. Be careful not to let the fire go out. The temperature in the grill should be at 300 degrees or a little higher at all times. When ribs are tender, baste with a thin layer of barbecue sauce on both sides and smoke a few more minutes. Take them up and keep warm in tin foil until ready to serve. Serve extra barbecue sauce on the side.

Serves 6 to 8.

Doug’s Homemade Barbecue Sauce

1     cup Louisiana hot sauce
1    12-ounce bottle chili sauce
2    Tablespoons
    Worcestershire sauce
1/3     cup ketchup
1     cup Steen’s cane syrup
1/2     cup chopped onion
3     smashed garlic cloves
2/3     cup brown sugar
2/3     cup water
2     Tablespoons liquid smoke

Put all ingredients in a medium sauce pan, cover and simmer for about 1 hour.

This sauce is hot but not noticeably so if using a thin coating on ribs. If you prefer a milder sauce, use less hot sauce and substitute cider vinegar.

My Favorite Potato Salad

6 to 8     medium-large potatoes
6     eggs
1/2     green bell pepper
1/2     red bell pepper
6     green onions
2     ribs celery
1     large dill pickle
1/2     cup plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2     Tablespoons extra-virgin
    olive oil
3     Tablespoons yellow
Salt and pepper to taste
1     teaspoon garlic powder
2     teaspoons Creole
1     teaspoon paprika, plus
    some for top
2     Tablespoons chopped flat-
    leaf parsley, plus some for

Cover potatoes in a large pot of water and boil until fork tender. Remove from pot and cool until easy to handle.

Boil eggs in same water for 10 minutes and cool.

Meanwhile, chop peppers, onions, celery and pickle, and add to large mixing bowl. When potatoes and eggs are cool, peel and chop all but 2 potatoes, and mash these 2 with a fork. Add to bowl, followed by all other ingredients.

Mix and taste to correct seasonings. When just as you like it, place in a pretty bowl and sprinkle with paprika and decorate with parsley.

Serves a crowd.

Patriotic Pie

1     9-inch pie crust, home
    made or refrigerated
1     pint strawberries
1     cup blueberries
1     8-ounce package cream
    cheese, at room temperature
1     14-ounce can sweetened
    condensed milk
1/4     cup lemon juice
1     teaspoon vanilla
1/2     cup water
11/2     cup sugar
1 1/4     teaspoons cornstarch
1     cup whipping cream, or canned real whipped cream

Bake pie crust and cool. Rinse berries, trim strawberries and cut into halves and let dry.

In a mixer, mix cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla until fluffy. Pour into cooled pie shell. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set. Top with berries in a pretty pattern. Place strawberries cut side down. Place pie in refrigerator while you make the glaze.

To make glaze, combine water, sugar and cornstarch in a small pot. Heat, stirring, until mixture is thickened and clear. With a pastry brush, spread the glaze thinly over the berries and return pie to the refrigerator. When pie is set, whip cream until peaks begin to form. Add 1/2-teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar and whip until stiff peaks form. When serving, top each piece with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 6 to 8.

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