Sunday, December 04, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Missouri I - Finger Lickin' Messy (or How I learned to smoke ribs in my oven)

I'm getting back on track with the state-by-state posts again.  So meet me in St Louie, Louie....

Continuing up the Mississippi River we arrive at the Missouri, a state whose food is at times Midwestern, at times Southern.  The state is more than just wonderful, wonderful BBQ.  I'm ready for it to Show Me just what else is there.

Official Name: State of Missouri
State Nicknames: The Show-Me State
Admission to the US: August 10, 1821 (#24)
Capital: Jefferson City (15th largest)
Other Important Cities: Kansas City (largest), St. Louis (2nd largest), Springfield (3rd largest), Independence (4th largest)
 Midwest, South; Wet North Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCorn Bread & BBQBison
Bordered by:
  Iowa (north); Illinois and the Mississippi River (east); Kentucky and Tennessee (southeast); Arkansas (south); Oklahoma (southwest); Kansas (west); Nebraska (northwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Eastern black walnut (tree nut); channel catfish (fish); Norton/Cynthiana grape (grape); bobwhite quail (game bird); crayfish (invertebrate)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Midwestern and German foods to the north, Southern and Ozark foods to the South and in the center of the state; Kansas City BBQ (sweet BBQ sauce, with dry rub before barbecuing), gooey butter cake

I have to be honest: I'm not sure where to begin with Missouri, the state right around the center of the nation (at least according to 2010 Census figures - Plato, in Texas County, MO, is the population center of the United States).  Like California, Missouri has so much going on: Southern and Eastern, Western and Northern, Mississippi River and Ozark Mountains, steamboats, frontiers, barbecue - all nestled in a very big chunk of the Midwest. And I thought my own home state of Maryland was confusing.  As with all things Midwestern, I turn to Marcia Adams to clear things up.  She points out that Missouri attracted all manner of settlers: folks from the Upper South who brought their foodways and their crops - and slaves; immigrants from Ireland, France and especially Germany who loathed slavery (hence Missouri's status as a border state) but brought their own foods - especially German beers [Adams 1991:149-150].  Missouri is also bookended by two of the Midwest's most iconic cities, each with its own character:
St. Louis...with its location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers...was a Southern-belle sort of town with an Eastern look to it... Buzzing with activity and crammed full of inviting new shops and restaurants, it is as lively today as it was a hundred years ago.
Across the state on the western border is Kansas City, and it is as Western as St. Louis is Eastern; there is an expansiveness here... Today it is a metropolis, a sophisticated place with a flourishing arts community, wide streets, and green meadow parks dotted with Henry Moores.  And, of course, there is Kansas City barbecue, an enthusiasm of the whole area, as important as baseball or ballet. [Adams 1991: 150-151]
Okay then, so you know which dish I have to tackle first.

Kansas City-style barbecue is, among all the regional variations of barbecue in the United States, one of the most iconic.  Even one of the US's foremost authorities on barbecue, Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn, points this out about KC barbecue: "Kansas City is Mecca for barbecue lovers. Barbecue is to KC what pizza is to Chicago" [Goldwyn 2010].  Kansas City barbecue is slowly smoked with a dry rub, and works with various meats - pork, beef, etc.  Perhaps even more characteristic of KC is its barbecue sauces.  Just as there are many varieties of clam chowder in New England though Americans still think of the type from Boston as the iconic chowda, so there are many varieties of barbecue sauce in the South and Midwest, though when most  Americans think of barbecue sauce the stuff that comes from Kansas City is the first that comes to mind.  But to take Meathead's advice, I avoided buying barbecue rubs and KC-style BBQ sauce and made my own, using Steve Raichlen's barbecue and grilling Bible - and yes, remember that barbecue is not the same as grilling for God's sake!!!  He gives various dry rub and sauce recipes, and his first one of each are, to my knowledge, pretty typical of Kansas City.

The one problem I had in making this was where to cook it.  I don't have a food smoker, and my charcoal grill isn't exactly useful at the moment - especially since I don't have the time to fire it up and wait for the food to cook.  Curious if there was any way to do this in the oven, I set my fingers to the Google, and came up with two sources that looked promising. One was Mark Bittman's article for the New York Times that describes how to get slow cooked and wood smoked barbecue ribs in the oven in mid-December (a recipe is linked).  The second was a very useful page authored by user "noahw" detailing just how to do this step-by-step.  Eventually I used Steve Raichlen's recipes but followed Noah's procedures.

The Recipe: Kansas City Style Barbecue (with dry rub and Kansas City Style Sauce) - in the oven

There are three things you have to do in order to slow smoke your ribs in the oven: prepare the ribs and pan, make the rub, and make the barbecue sauce.

First, you will need some pork ribs.  Make sure you have as long an oven pan as you can to fit them,  You will also need aluminum foil (I needed far less than I thought I would), a short rack that will fit in your pan (upon which to rest the ribs), and your choice of wood.  I should have gone with hickory wood chips, a common choice in Kansas City, but went with cherry instead.  Not a bad choice, but next time I'll go with the hickory.

Before applying the rub to the ribs, remove the membrane from the rack.  You don't have to do this, but it's easier to do it before you slow cook them than while you are eating them.
Next you will preheat your oven to a low 250°F, and prepare the rub.

The Recipe: Steve Raichlen's Basic Dry Rub

The most difficult part is gathering the ingredients (the exact specs are on page 441 of Raichlen's How to Grill):

* brown sugar (note to self: check to make sure you don't need to go out and buy more.  I keep assuming I don't have enough brown sugar and now I'm drowning in it)
* paprika (I used both smoked and not - you will need at least a quarter cup)
* coarse salt (in this case kosher salt)
* sea salt (alder smoked in this case, which I already had around from Whole Foods for about $3 for a few ounces - that will last a good long while)
* black pepper (had it)
* onion powder (only had dried chopped, which was actually pretty difficult to grind up)
* garlic powder (that I had)
* cayenne (had it)
* celery seeds (same)

Mix all the dry rub ingredients together in a bowl.

Use your hands if you can.  If you are also making the sauce from scratch, depending on the recipe you are using, set aside about a tablespoon of this rub to mix into that.

Next, apply the dry rub to both sides of the pork ribs.  Set aside and prepare the slow cooking pan.

Take your pan and spread a layer of your wood chips on the bottom.

Next, pour just enough water to almost cover them.

Put on top of that the rack that the ribs will sit on.

Place the ribs on top of the rack.

Next comes the important part: creating the smoking pan.  In order for this to work, you must completely seal up the pan so that no water (steam) escapes during cooking.  Put together a few large sheets of aluminum foil.

And wrap it around the entire pan, creating a tent around it (as suggests).

Like so.

While the ribs are in the oven, prepare your barbecue sauce.  Steve Raichlen's is not so difficult, and if you use the new HFCS-free ketchup, you can avoid all that gunk in this barbecue sauce, since the store-bought stuff is usually full of it.

The Recipe: Steve Raichlen's (Kansas City Style) Barbecue Sauce

This Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is also pretty easy to make (find the complete recipe on page 447 of Raichlen's How to Grill, where he notes "there isn't a Kansas City pit boss around who wouldn't recognize it as local" [Raichlen 2001: 447].

* ketchup (I used HCFS free, usually from Trader Joe's though in this case I used Hunt's)
* Tabasco sauce (had it)
* molasses (same)
* liquid smoke (this I did not have, and shelled out about $3.  This gives the sauce its smoky flavor)
* Worcestershire sauce (had it)
* brown sugar (had more than enough by now)
* black pepper
* cider vinegar
* prepared yellow mustard
* dry rub (in this case, the one I made above)

Mix your ingredients together in a saucepan, and stir together until blended.  Bring to a boil.

Turn the heat down, and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  It will stay good in the fridge for up to six months.

Meanwhile, tend to those ribs, which will be done after about three hours.  Be careful of the steam when opening them.

Serve them with the barbecue sauce (Raichlen suggests running them under the broiler for a few minutes first, but I was hungry and lazy and wanted ribs now, dammit).

What can I say?  These were just wonderful, spicy ribs with a beautiful and tangy sauce on top.  I really can't go into it anymore.  Wonderful stuff, just wonderful.  And now I know how to have them year round, when I can't fire up the grill because it's covered under two feet of snow.


Adams, Marcia. Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens. Clarkson Potter: New York, 1991.

Bittman, Mark.  "For a Smoky Taste in Oven Ribs".  The New York Times website.  Published: December 4, 2009.

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead".  "A taxonomy of American barbecue sauces".  Amazing Ribs website.  Last revised September 12, 2011.

Lee, Jennifer 8. "St. Paul Sandwiches (in St. Louis), Made with Egg Foo Young Patties".  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles website.  Published April 8, 2009.

"noahw" ( user).  "Oven Smoked Ribs". website.  Copyright 2011.

Oland, Sydney.  "Sunday Brunch: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake".  Serious Eats website.  Published May 28, 2011.

Raichlen, Steve.  How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques.  Workman Publishing: New York, 2001.

STLToday.  "St. Paul Sandwich (Fortune Express)".  STLToday website.  Published August 17, 2011.

Stradley, Linda. "Gooey Butter Cake". What's Cooking America website.  Copyright 2004.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Missouri" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Missouri".


theminx said...

Mmm...looks good! I might have to abandon my tried-and-true recipe and try smoking my ribs in the oven next time.

John said...

You should try to do them in the oven at least once.