In case you don’t know, this is Pigs in Space.
BBQ season ‘09 foodnerd-style has officially commenced! In what was surely a personalized message to me from the universe (or Safeway’s marketing dept., whatever) I trekked to the supermarket at 10:00 p.m. to placate a serious Stouffer’s French Bread pizza craving when I happened across a truly beautiful bit of signage:
99 cents a pound for spareribs?!? Suh-weet! They only had 3 boxes left, so I grabbed those and because it was the last day of the sale, indeed the last couple hours, I then drove 20 minutes to the next closest Safewaw and got 2 more.
50 pounds of ribs for 50 bucks! To put that in perspective, spareribs from Whole Foods are 6 bucks a pound, or $300 for the same amount of ribs. But of course the big difference is that while flavor and texture are comparable, Whole Foods’ ribs are beautifully trimmed, as has been documented in this space in the past. So I thought it might be helpful to post about trimming up ribs at home.
Rib Trimming Tutorial. Begin.
Here we see a couple of racks from a box of the sale ribs (which were imported Danish fwiw). These are actually not so bad, since although the floating rib meat flap thing is still attached (highlighted in yellow), they have been been trimmed of the extra layer of tough meat and fat that’s sometimes left covering the actual rib bones. A notable example of this totally untrimmed style of ribs is Chaps Pit Beef, and their thoroughly disgraceful ribs.
In any case, you can see that this flap has small cartilaginous rods running through it at an angle to the rib bones.
And at one end there are typically some larger bones to contend with, but the whole section is relatively easy to cut away from the ribs.
Simply locate where the cartilaginous rods and the rib bones meet, both visually and by virtue of that fact that the flap will bend easily at the interface, and starting at the non-bony end, carefully and slowly run a very sharp knife right down the seam and if you’ve found the sweet spot, it should cut with minimal effort.
When you get to the bony part (can’t think of a relevant Napoleon pun sorry) lay the rack down flat and cut forcefuly through. Not too much force is required again if you are cutting through the correct area though, so move the flap around and again locate the joint before cutting.
Here’s what the two pieces look like separated. Now you’re left with what’s referred to as St. Louis style ribs above, and what’s sometimes referred to as “tasters” below. This is because that scrap meat is useful for testing seasoning and doneness when smoked along with the ribs.
Next turn the rack over and you’ll notice a semi-opaque whitish membrane covering the underside. The thing about this membrane is because it’s mostly collagen, it breaks down at a higher temperature than is employed for smoking. So in properly barbecued ribs, it remains tough and leathery – if this layer is soft and tender, you’re probably eating baked ribs, and should thus promptly go stand in the corner and wallow in shame.
The stuff has to go, so starting at a corner slowly peel this layer away. You may have to use a knife cut to get the layer off the bone initially, and using a paper towel will help with grip since the membrane can be slimy and slick.Also, it may not all come away in one piece, but peel away as much as possible in any case.
You may then notice there is yet another membrane below the one you just peeled away, and this is in fact what holds the ribs together as a rack (you can see some cross-grained filaments that give it an appearance similar to that of packing tape). Now this shit is really difficult to get up, in fact I’m not sure it’s possible without seriously damaging the ribs, so I cheat and simply cut through the layer between the ribs.
As you can see, though you must be careful to cut into the meat as little as possible, it’s important to cut through the membrane completely, and it will be fairly evident when you do because the cut edges will retract away from each other slightly.
By doing this, it appears to me that the membrane shrinks in toward the bone during cooking, and when eating the ribs, it is completely not noticeable. Mission accomplished.
So in this particular ten pound box, you’re left with 4 1/2 racks of trimmed ribs…
…and this amount of tasters. I was curious as to the final usable weight, and found that the ten pound box actually contained 11 pounds of meat – 8 pounds of trimmed ribs and 3 pounds of tasters. That comes out to a still paltry $1.24 per pound of trimmed ribs, not counting labor – it took me exactly fifteen minutes to trim the whole box for the record. Bottom line, awesome deal. I should’ve gotten more, because 4 racks is really only barely enough for one cookout. Oh well.
I’m totally making excuses, but yes the ribs are as dark as they appear in the pic above. It was a shitty, rainy, cold Saturday morning, and I was hungover, and didn’t regulate my fuel properly. The ribs were thus subjected to too high temp and were overcooked, resulting in texture and moisture deficiencies. Guh, when will I learn to always follow my own mantra – “You cannot half-ass ribs. Ever.”
And now for your viewing pleasure, a gratuitous drunk Rock Band video of my cousin Jerome trying to pull off the rare singer/drummer act a la Night Ranger, and a DAS BOOT (capitalized because you cannot just say “das boot”, you must yell “DAS BOOT” – this is a rule apparently) video from that cookout. Enjoy.