If I had my way, I’d skip the candy on Halloween and instead greet costumed kids with a true “treat” – a sandwich baggie filled to the brim with rib tips.
For the uninitiated, the rib tip (a.k.a. brisket, costal cartilage, or break) is the triangular, cartilage-dotted slab of meat attached to the lower end of the sparerib. When preparing St. Louis cut ribs (a.k.a. center cut ribs), this section of meat is removed in order to square up the slab of ribs.
While many see the slab of ribs as the star of the two cuts, the rib tip takes flavor to a whole other level by combining the meaty goodness of spareribs with the fatty richness of pork belly, which sits nearby. Many butchers grind the rib tips for sausage or pork burgers, but if you call a few days in advance of your cookout, butchers will often set aside the rib tips for you. Alternatively, you can simply purchase two full slabs of spare ribs and trim off the rib tips at home.
Some recipes call for rib tips to be cut into long, wide strips prior to smoking, but I find that keeping the slab of tips intact helps keeps the meat from drying out during the long cooking process. After 2 1/2 hours, I wrap the meat in foil to ensure maximum juiciness and tenderness, though this step is completely optional.
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Once they come off of the smoker or grill, I cut the slab into bite-sized pieces that make the perfect snack, appetizer, or main course. Note that rib tips often contain small pieces of cartilage: navigating your way around them as you nibble is part of the overall rib tip experience!
Serve with: Pilsner beer or bourbon-based cocktail.
- Prep. Combine the rub ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. If the sugar is lumpy, crumble the lumps by hand or on the side of the bowl with a fork. If you store the rub in a tight jar, you can keep it for months. If it clumps, just chop it up. You can also spread it on a baking sheet and put it in a 225°F oven for 15 minutes to drive off moisture. No hotter or the sugar can burn.
- Season the rib tip slabs with Kosher salt. If you can, give the salt 1 to 2 hours to be absorbed. The process of salting in advance is called dry brining. The rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat, but rib tips contain a significant amount of cartilage, so use about 1/4 teaspoon per pound. You can simply eyeball it by sprinkling on the same amount of salt you would sprinkle on rib tips if they were served to you unsalted.
- Fire up. Prepare a smoker for indirect cooking. Alternatively, you can set up a charcoal grill for 2-zone cooking by placing a chimney full of pre-heated charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Adjust the smoker or grill vents to bring the temperature to about 225°F and add 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the charcoal for flavor. On a gas grill, adjust the temperature knobs so that one half of the grill is off and the other half is heated enough to maintain a temperature of approximately 225°F on the indirect side.
- Cook. Once the smoker or grill is ready, season the rib tip slabs with enough Meathead’s Memphis Dust to color them.
- Place the rib tip slabs on the main cooking grate as far away from the heat source as possible. Set the lid on the grill with the fully opened top vent positioned directly above the slabs in order to force the smoke over and around the meat. Allow the meat to smoke for 2 1/2 hours. If you opt not to wrap the rib tips in the following step, simply allow them to smoke for another 45 minutes.
- Optional Wrapping Step: For optimal juiciness and tenderness, lay out two double layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil approximately eight inches longer than the slabs of rib tips. Lay the slabs meat side down in the center of the foil. Fold the sides of the foil up and add 2 tablespoons apple juice to each foil packet before loosely sealing.
- Place the wrapped ribs on the smoker or grill and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Remove the foil packets from the smoker or grill and cautiously open the foil to allow the steam to escape. Remove the slabs of rib tips from the foil and set them back on the smoker or grill. Cover the smoker or grill, and allow them to cook until the bark has firmed up and the slabs of rib tips are tender, approximately 15 minutes. Use the “bend test” to check for doneness: just pick up the slab on one end with a pair of tongs and bounce them slightly. If they are ready, the slab with bow until the meat starts to crack on the surface.
- Serve. Remove the slabs of rib tips from the smoker or grill. Using a cleaver or sharp chef’s knife, cut the slabs into 1- to 3-inch pieces like they do at Lem's in Chicago. Serve with your favorite BBQ sauce.