LAKE PLACID - The winner of the I Love BBQ & Music Festival's Top Chef competition Saturday, July 5 gave visitors an insider's view on how he prepares ribs.
Andy King, of the Bastey Boys Barbecue Brigade, lives in Templeton, Massachusetts, and has been competing in Lake Placid for the past nine years. He and four other teams vied for the honor of becoming Top Chef, each giving a one-hour workshop on their culinary skills. King spent most of his time under a tent at the Olympic Speedskating Oval teaching the audience how to cook ribs, then creamy coleslaw and grilled apple crisp.
"When we cook our ribs in the smoker, they cook for about five hours, sometimes even six," King said.
Andy King, of the Bastey Boys Barbecue Brigade, peels the membrane off his baby back ribs during the Saturday, July 5 Top Chef competition at the I Love Barbecue & Music Festival on the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)
Those who don't have a smoker can still barbecue their ribs on a charcoal or gas grill or in their kitchen oven.
"They might cook a little quicker, and maybe you won't get the 100 percent perfect desired tenderness, but they'll still be mighty good," King said.
King began the workshop by prepping baby back ribs, also known as loin ribs, which come from the back of the pig. He dug out a 5-pound bag from the cooler that had two racks in it.
"A lot of times, these come frozen," King said. "If it's frozen, it's fine. If you want to buy them and get them on sale, go ahead and buy them and fill your freezer up with them. You're not going to hurt them by freezing them."
Spare ribs are from the chest of the pig. They're a little bigger than baby back ribs, with more fat content, and they require more time for cooking. But King usually cooks baby backs for home and competition.
"I have a very good reason why I cook the back ribs," King said. "It's because one time I cooked the spare ribs, and my mother didn't like them. 'We like the back ribs. We don't like the spare ribs.' So I always cooked the back ribs, and I got into the habit of it."
Sometimes when people cut the package open, they get a funky smell, but King said the meat is usually OK.
"The first time I bought a Cryovac brisket, I actually brought it back. I thought it was bad," he said. "The butcher ran it over water to rinse it off, brought it back, and you couldn't smell a thing."
King suggested rinsing off the meat after opening the package. Then it's time to peel off the membrane on the inside of the rib.
"Some people don't," King said. "They think it keeps some of the juices in. That's fine. Experiment. Find out what works for you. ... I take the membrane off before cooking. It's not going to be good eating. If I leave that on, you're not going to be able to bite through it or you'll have a hard time biting through it. ... I'm going to put a dry rub on this, and I want to get the dry rub on both sides of the rib ... and the rub or the smoke won't get through that membrane if I leave it on."
Start from the fatter end of the rib and work a finger under the membrane between the first and the second bone.
"Some people try to use the end of a spoon, maybe a screwdriver," King said. "I've seen some people try to do it with a knife, but a knife is sharp. You're just going to keep cutting it, and it's not going to work."
Once he gets started, he tries to work a finger across the other side of the rack.
"And once I get it all the way across, I start peeling it," King said. "It peels back pretty easily, but if it slips on me, a paper towel helps me get a real good grip."
King puts the rib on the cutting board with the meat side down, placing the rub on the inside of the rib first.
"If I rub the meat side first and then flip it over, most of the rub is now on the cutting board," he said.
If it's colder, sometimes King will put mustard or vinegar on the meat first so the rub will stick to it. That wasn't necessary for the demonstration because it was warm out, and the meat was sweating. he shared his homemade rub recipe with the audience.
"If you don't have all the ingredients, don't worry about it," King said. "As long as you have salt, pepper and sugar, anything else you add to it will taste good."
King's rub has nine ingredients, including a tablespoon of apple pie spice.
"Even though I call it a rub, I don't really rub," he said. "I just sprinkle."
Once the meat is covered with the rub, King wraps the two racks together with plastic wrap and places it in the cooler overnight.
"I like to rub them the day before because it gives it time to permeate the meat," he said.
At his setup, King has several kinds of smokers but relies on his two Backwoods Smokers made by Mike McGowan in Louisiana. He uses Wicked Good Charcoal.
"Those are serial numbers 4 and 5," King said. "They're very old."
The insulated Backwoods Smoker has a charcoal fire on the bottom, a water pan above that, and meat shelves above that. But King doesn't use water. Instead, he replaced the water pans with bricks.
"I don't have any water in my cookers," King said. "Some people think that's absolutely crazy, and they're probably right, but I found that the water evaporates. And when the water evaporates, your temperature goes up. Then you add water, and now your temperature goes down. One of the very important things when cooking barbecue is maintaining a constant cooking temperature. If I say cook these at 250 degrees for five hours, cooking them at 200 half the time and 300 half the time will not cook the same way as if you're at 250 the whole time."
Some people ask if King's meat dries out quickly, but he reminds them that there's already a lot of moisture in the meat.
"The moisture and flavor that we're getting out of the meat is already in there," King said. "All we've got to do is bring some of it out at the right temperature and the right speed for the right amount of time."
Once the smoker is up to temperature - 265 degrees at first, which rapidly drops to 220 once the meat is added - King puts the ribs on the rack, curve side down, for about 90 minutes and then turns them over.
"Then I flip them, and they're curve side up," he said. "And now this is what's going to happen. After I flip them the first time and I go in an hour or so later, there will be juices hanging in this cavity, which is nice. And at that point (2.5 hours) ... now that they've got a nice coating of juice, I'm going to put more of that rub in there."
Then King gives the ribs one more hour before flipping them again and sprinkling more rub. When the meat if fully cooked, he adds the homemade barbecue sauce.
"I don't want to add it too early because it will burn," he said.
King uses a sauce mop for one day only, throwing it out at the end of the day because it is tough to clean thoroughly. He glazes one side of the ribs and then sprinkles on some of the rub.
"By rubbing it three times throughout the cooking process, you're getting layers on there," he said. "Layers of flavor. And because one has been cooked longer than the other one that's been cooked longer than the other, they change a little bit. So you really do have different layers of flavor."
The final time, King glazes the ribs, sprinkles the rub, gives it 5 minutes, flips it, glazes and rubs it, gives it 5 more minutes, and takes them out.
"Then when I take them out of the cooker, I let them sit about 10 minutes, and I cut them," King said.