Big Bald Ribs, 3/21/2015

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Lessons Learned

  • When cooking without water in the pan, the temps of the smoker come up quick.
  • Controlling temps with only the exhaust vent showed how leaky the WSM really is
  • There is an art to drafting the cooker to get clean smoke

It was a busy week during my run-up to my  first Spring Cook. I finally got rid of an older Weber 22.5 grill. Prior to my WSM this was my primary rotisserie and smoking rig. Once I got the WSM proper, I stopped using this unit at all. It breaks my heart to see a Weber go unused. Hopefully it went to a good home and not picked up by some anonymous scrapper to turn into slag.

First day of Spring in Philly

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Thankfully there’s not much snow and ice on my smoker. Was able to clean it up the night before to get it ready for my first real smoke of the season.

You know the routine so here goes:

Mise en Place: The Rub

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The Meat:

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Putting on the mustard:

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Hary Soo

I’ve been reading alot about Harry Soo and his Competition winning team, Slap Yo Daddy BBQ. Harry is renowned for using only WSMs in his competition cooks and will beat teams with $15,000 computer controlled PIP systems. Which in turn gives me hope because all I use is a WSM in my backyard.

One thing Soo recommends is not controlling the WSM with the bottom dampers at all but to leave one open and control the cooker with the top only.  (Harry’s Article)

This goes in the face of everything you read about leaving the top wide open and using the bottom to control airflow. It sounds counter intuitive. You would think that you would be inviting bad tasting smoke to ruin your food. But the WSM un-modded is very leaky. The area around the door leaks, as does the lid and the top ring. So air is always entering and exiting the unit around these areas.

Another thing he recommends for new users is to use the WSM without filling the water pan, but foiling it twice instead.

This allows for easier clean up as there isn’t that nasty “bong water” left over after a smoke. I’ve read of some folks doing this, or filling their water pan with sand, or terra cotta plates to act as a heat sink. For me, having the water helped temper any rapid fluctuations with the temps because you have this huge amount of water absorbing any extra heat. Plus it added moisture to the smoking chamber. However now, the heat inside the smoker is dry and you need to compensate with spraying the meat once an hour to prevent it from over drying. But the bark formation is definitely more pronounced doing it without water in the pan.

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Pulling Meat at 3 hour mark for wrapping:

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After 2 hours in the foil:

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Sauced  and going back on for the last hour:

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Pulled for plating:

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Cherry Smoked 3-2-1 RIBS!!!

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I figured for my first real cook in my smoker I had to go with ribs. I used my favorite method, 3-2-1. Three hours cooking unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped, then 1 hour unwrapped. This is the usual method I would do when trying to cook ribs on my 22.5” Weber One Touch Gold. Overall they came out pretty good

Lessons learned:

  • Start out with slightly more fuel (after 6 hours smoker was at 200 versus 250)
  • Use deeper cutting board to handle the juices better when unwrapping the ribs

Meat and Material

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I went with three racks of spares from my local grocer. I trimmed them St. Louis Style and kept the ends and tips to smoke on the middle grate. I used a Cinnamon Cumin rub recipe from virtualweberbullet.com

Cinnamon/Cumin Rub Recipe:


1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons garlic salt
2 Tablespoons celery salt
2 Tablespoons paprika
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

Lighting up

Judging the amount of charcoal is a bit art and science. I still had some leftover unspent coals from the inaugural session with thighs and brats. I probably could have used a bit more “full” coals as I’m sure those didn’t last long once the coals burned down. Used 3 fist sized chunks of Cherry wood

Rackin’ up

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I managed to get 3 racks of spares on the top grate by curving them inside of my rib rack. I had to search in my garage to find the thing as it’s been so long since I’ve used it. In theory I could probably smoke 6 spares at a time on my WSM. You gotta make sure there is some room for the air/smoke to hit both sides of the racks. Remember to leave space.

Spraying ‘em up

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Every hour I spray the ribs with apple juice. For this session I just used some generic store bought apple juice. Maybe next time I’ll go with some premium juice. Still trying to break in my smoker. I bought the sprayer at a local restaurant store.

1 – 3 hours

1 hour mark
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2 hour mark
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Spraying ‘em at 3 hours
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Dusting/drizzling with brown sugar and honey
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Wrapping ‘em up
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Going back on for hours 4-5
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Here’s how they looked each hour of the cook. My little “helper” came outside to see what Daddy was up to. After spraying them I pulled them and gave them a sprinkling of brown sugar and drizzled honey. Then they got wrapped with aluminum foil and then placed on the smoker for 2 hours.

After 5 hours/ (Unwrapping)

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Here’s what they looked like unwrapping. They are almost ready. In retrospect, I should probably trim about 30 mins off each of the stages. But as I get to know my WSM I’m sure I’ll be able to dial it in. My poor cutting board was swimming in juices! Might mock up a cutting board with a drain hole to collect these.

Pulling and Plating them up

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Here’s what they looked like after 30 minutes of being kissed by smoke. Since they were so tender, I only left them uncovered for 30 minutes instead of 1 hour. Not too bad of a smoke ring on the board. Half a rack never even made it into the house! Sacrificed for BBQ Science!

Blackened Tilapia

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I love Cajun food, particularly Blackened Redfish, but since I didn’t have any Redfish, I substituted Tilapia. I made these the same time as I made my Cedar Planked Lemon-Pepper Tilapia. As before, I had this bag of Tilapia just sitting in the freezer, so I figured I’d do something with it.

The raw materials…

I split the bag in half. I blackened 6 fillets and cedar planked the other 6.

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I used a variation of a recipe from Terry Thompson’s The New Cajun-Creole Cooking cookbook. Here is the recipe I used to “paint” the fillets.

Dry Ingredients “Wet Ingredients”
  • 1 tbsp. Paprika
  • 1.5 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 6 Tilapia fillets
  • 2 cups butter melted
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed, never the stuff from the plastic lemons, EVER!)

I melted the butter in the microwave on low heat, then stirred in all the rest of the ingredients and allowed the mixture to cool. Once cool I painted each fillet on both sides with the mixture and let it marinate for about 3 hours.

Painting the fillets…

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While the fillets were marinating I started a full chimney of Kingsford briquettes. I used half of the lit coals to fill a Weber basket, and the rest I spread in a single layer to toast cedar plank for the other fish I cooked.

Lighting the coals…

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Laying ‘em down…

I let the cast iron griddle heat for about 15 minutes over the weber basket. You’ll know when your griddle/skillet is ready, because the cast iron will get a bit of a gray haze on it.

As soon as you put the fillets on they will produce prodigious amounts of smoke. They will sear and begin to cook immediately. Be careful that the spits and sputters from the fish and butter don’t burn you. You may be tempted to lift the fillets or move them. DON’T! You will touch this only once, when you flip it over. It took these about 3 minutes per side.

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The finished product…

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These tasted as good as they look. One fillet never made it in the house. I brought out a fork and plate and ate it there at the grill.

Lessons Learned/For next time…

The Tilapia was a little too tender for this recipe. A couple of fillets got mangled in the turning. In addition, the weather was cold that day so I had to watch the heat on the second round of fillets. I can’t wait to try this with some Redfish or Red Snapper next time!

Cedar Planked Lemon-Pepper Tilapia

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I cooked these the same weekend I did the Smoke Roasted Round Roast. I had a bag of Tilapia that was taking up space in the freezer. Plus this fish cooks relatively fast. So I decided that I would blacken some, and then use up  my last cedar plank on these fillets.

A bit of courage…

This cook’s official sponsor was a Polish Mule. A great cocktail and easy to mix. 2 oz. Chopin Rye Vodka, juice of half a lime (freshly squeezed, not that green plastic grenade), two dashes of Angostura Bitters and 6 oz ginger beer over ice.

The funny thing about grilling in the middle of winter in Philly, when I take my drinks outside, they actually get colder!

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Step 1: Season…

These fillets got a simple dusting of equal parts kosher salt and ground black pepper. Nothing too complicated here, as the flavor is going to come from the wood and the lemons during the cook.

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Step 2: Gimme some heat…

I lit a full chimney of briquettes, filling one weber basket and then spreading the rest next to it. Below you see me toasting the cedar plank while cooking some blackened tilapia along side. It took about 5 minutes for the cedar plank to toast up nicely.

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Step 3: Laying on the fish…

After toasting the cedar plank, I flipped it, rubbed it with a bit of olive oil and laid the fillets on top. Then as you can see, I added 2 – 3 lemon slices on top of the fillets. Closed the lid and let it cook for about 10 minutes over a hot grill. The smell of the cedar and the blackening tilapia next to it, had my neighbor from down the street come down to see what I was cooking. That and it was 32 degrees outside!

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Step 4: Pulling the fish…

I ended up putting a third fillet on this plank, but the poor fillet never made it inside! He was sacrificed for the sake of cooking science.

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Results/Lessons Learned:

These fish came out very lemony. I guess this would work better with a fillet that had a more robust base flavor, like maybe Sword Fish or Sea Bass. One of the fillets was too lemony, the other two were great though. If I decide to plank these again in the future, I may just go for a spritz of lemon juice at the beginning and just be done with it.

But no worries I gave these a good home!

PG