"So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." Franz Kafka
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Sous vide and steaks go together like Fred and Ginger, or soy sauce and ginger, (see my perfect sous-vide-que ribeye), but there is so much more to explore when it comes to the world of sous-vide-que. Take, for example, our namesake -- ribs.
We all love ribs and I actually consider myself to be a pretty darn good rib cook with trophies to prove it. But is it possible to turn out "amazing ribs" using sous-vide-que?
To find out, I first had to decide on a proper time and temperature for the water bath. After consulting a few experts and taking into account various data including this study by our friend J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at SeriousEats.com, I opted for 150°F for 24 hours.
The real issue, though, was how to add enough smoke to replicate a traditional low and slow rack of ribs. While other recipes rely on liquid smoke, my earlier experiments had shown that finishing the meat on the grill over indirect heat for 15 to 30 minutes could provide the perfect touch of smoke for that true BBQ flavor. Yep, that's all it takes!
In my experiments I also explored chilling food after the water bath so that it could be finished at a later point. Building upon that, I decided to see if the chilling step had any effect on the overall flavor of the finished product. One half of the rack of ribs was chilled before grilling while the other half went straight on the grill for a side-by-side comparison.
For seasoning I added a thin layer of mayonnaise to the ribs then seasoned liberally with a rub. Mayonnaise is completely optional but is something that I have done for years. It serves as a glue to hold onto the dry rub without altering the flavor of the finished meat.
Each half rack was placed in a sealable freezer bag, and cooked in a 150°F water bath for 24 hours. Note that the half that was to be chilled was started 30 minutes early so that both portions could be finished on the grill at the same time.
After the bath, one section of ribs was quickly immersed in a 50/50 mix of water and ice for 30 minutes in order to rapidly reduce the core temperature of the food to a safe range of 34 to 38°F.
To finish the ribs, the grill was prepared for 2-zone cooking, placing a charcoal chimney full of pre-heated charcoal briquets to one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and an indirect cooking zones. Two chunks of cherry wood were also added to the charcoal for smoke flavor. Once the grill was ready, the sections from the cold and warm water baths were placed on the indirect side of the grill. The lid was added (with the top vent fully opened and positioned directly above the ribs in order to force the smoke over and around the meat) and the ribs smoked for exactly 30 minutes.
The Results: Perfect Sous-Vide-Que Ribs
After smoking for 30 minutes, both sections of ribs were sliced and served. On texture/tenderness, I would easily score them 9s (the best possible score) in a Kansas City Barbeque Society contest.
On flavor, the 24-hour water bath helped the dry rub to flavor the meat and the 30 minutes of smoke was just enough to put the ribs on par with those cooked exclusively on the smoker or grill. That's because smoke sticks best to cool wet surfaces. As for the chilled and non-chilled sections of ribs, there was zero notable difference between the two. As such, it is fair to say that there is no downside to (properly) chilling foods after the water bath so that they can be finished at a later point in time.
Finally, while these could easily be called "perfect ribs," the time involved makes me hesitant to recommend this as a preferred method of preparation. If, however, you're looking for a great way to cook ribs ahead for say a tailgate party or picnic, simply sous vide the ribs and chill them so they can be reheated on the grill for 30 minutes when you are ready to serve.
Recipe: Smoked Sous-Vide-Que Ribs
Makes. 2 to 4 servings.
Takes. 24 hours to sous vide, 30 minutes to chill (optional if finishing the ribs later), 30 minutes to grill.
Special tools. Sous vide immersion circulator. One gallon sealable freezer bags.
Serve with. Your favorite ale or pilsner.
1 rack St. Louis cut (center cut) ribs
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of ribs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Meathead's Memphis Dust
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1) Remove membrane from the ribs. Salt the meat and let is soak in for about 30 minutes. Brush both sides of ribs with mayonnaise and season liberally with Meathead's Memphis Dust.
2) Before you sous-vide-que, make sure you are familiar with the techniques and safety principles as described in our article here. Prepare a sous-vide immersion circulator such as Joule by ChefSteps according to instructions and set water temperature for 150°F.
3) Because most slabs are too large for a zipper bag, cut the rack of ribs into two sections and place each in a separate bag with a stainless steel spoon to help hold it under water. Carefully submerge the bags in the water bath until most of the air has been removed and then seal. Once bags are submerged, cook for 24 hours.
4) Storing the ribs. If you are not planning on eating the ribs when you are done cooking, you can store the bags in the fridge for a week to 10 days or in the freezer for a month. Just remove the bags from the sous-vide and submerge in a large container filled with a 50/50 mix of ice and water for at least 30 minutes to reduce the meat's core temperature. Place bags in the refrigerator until ready to grill.
5) Whe you are ready to serve, prepare a smoker or a grill for 2-zone cooking and adjust the temp to bring the temperature to about 225°F. Add 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the charcoal for flavor.
6) Once the grill is ready, remove ribs from the bags and place in the smoker or on the indirect side of the grill. Allow the ribs to smoke for 30 minutes. If the ribs have been chilled after the sous vide process, cook for another 15 to 20 minutes at 225°F until completely warmed through. During the last five minutes, brush both sides of the ribs with BBQ sauce and close the lid.
7) Remove the ribs, slice, and serve.