JOPLIN, Mo. —
Chris Howard is a dual threat when it comes to the world of barbecue. For years, Howard dabbled in competitive barbecue competitions, entering and winning awards in contests across the country.
Several years ago, Howard decided to take a look at barbecue from the other side. So he attended a series of classes offered by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and became a certified barbecue judge. The certification allows Howard to serve as a judge at any Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned competition, while still competing in the occasional contest.
“It (the judge certification) gives you a better idea of what the judges are looking for in competitions,” Howard said.
Last Sunday afternoon, Howard shared some tips on how to prepare the perfect slab of smoked ribs. Some of Howard’s tips are familiar standards, and some of them are special twists that he has developed after years of toiling over a barbecue grill.
Perhaps the most important ingredient, if you want to do ribs the right way, is time, Howard said. When it comes to ribs, Howard is a student of the classic “low and slow” school. Typically, Howard will smoke ribs a minimum of six hours at 225 to 250 degrees. If he is doing a lot of ribs, he might leave them on the smoker for a bit longer than six hours, Howard said.
“If there’s a lot of them on the grill they will act like a heat sink,” Howard said.
Howard smokes his ribs on a large, industrial-type smoker and uses a variety of woods such as apple, pecan and hickory. However, you can also use charcoal or a combination of wood and charcoal.
Before seasoning ribs, Howard removes the thin membrane that covers the bone side of each slab. Left-on membrane will toughen, and because ribs are laid on the grill bone-side down, they will prevent the smoke from the grill to penetrate the ribs on both sides.
To season the ribs, Howard applies a special rub that he developed. While he prefers to keep his exact rub recipe under wraps, Howard does share a basic rub recipe at the end of this story. Over the years, Howard added and subtracted ingredients to his rub recipe until he got his rub exactly the way he wanted it. To keep track of his evolving recipe, he kept a notebook detailing what he did with each rub.
With his fire at 250 degrees, Howard places the ribs on the smoker where they will remain for the next six hours. It’s important to keep an eye on the temperature of your grill Ñ if the fire gets too hot, you need to close vents to cool it down. If the fire drops much below 225 degrees, you may need to add more wood or charcoal.
About an hour before the ribs are to come off the smoker, Howard removes them and wraps them in food service film (a slightly stronger type of plastic wrap), then he wraps the ribs in foil and places them back on the smoker. The food service film and the foil help keep the ribs moist, Howard said.
Howard wants his ribs to top out at 190 degrees. But, because the ribs will continue to cook after they have been removed from the fire, he pulls them off when they are about 180 to 185 degrees. Howard said it’s important to let the ribs sit for a least 10 to 15 minutes after they come off the smoker to let the moisture settle back into the meat.
Howard and a number of other members of the Joplin Host Lions Club will hold the club’s annual Rib Fest on Saturday, May 26. Full slabs of ribs, weighing between 4 and 5 pounds will be sold. A single slab costs $16 and two slabs will sell for $30. Ribs are available by pre-sale only and must be picked up between noon and 4 p.m. at the Joplin Host Lions Club, 1827 Wall St. The ribs will be fully smoked, hot and wrapped in foil. To order ribs, people may call 417-529-0065 or 417-317-2003.
Chris Howard’s basic rib rub
Think of this recipe as a standard rub blue print. The amounts of each ingredient can be changed according to personal taste, and additional spice may be added. Experiment until you create a rub you really like.
1 cup salt (if you like, you may use a flavored salt such as celery salt or garlic salt)
1 cup sugar
1 cup paprika
1/2 cup lemon pepper
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Mix ingredients together and apply to ribs. Allow the ribs to marinate in the rub for 4 to 6 hours or overnight.