By Sungkey Paik
It all started with a trip to the eye doctor for my annual exam. I knew from last year that I would be given a choice of dilating eye drops or a digital scan that costs $40 extra and is not covered by insurance. I decided to skip both tests because I hate the eye drops and I didn’t want to pay extra. In my opinion this is an unnecessary test that adds to health care costs and can be performed every other year.
So I declined both tests and waited to see the doctor. When it came time for the glaucoma test, I got the glaucoma drops and was asked if I wanted the dilating drops next. I tried to decline but the doctor convinced me that the test was for my own good so I capitulated and got the damned drops put in. Fifteen minutes later, suffice it to say that everything was perfectly fine, except that I couldn’t read anything more that 2 inches in front of my face.
As I left the doctor’s office, with the sun burning through my retinas, I was about to get into my car when I saw that I was parked right next to the Bear and Grill. Since I had never been there and it was lunchtime, I decided to get out of the sun and grab some food while my eyes recovered. I got a seat at the bar and reviewed the menu through blurry, squinty eyes. I had a craving for some good ribs after recently watching the BBQ Pitmasters TV show, so I ordered the half rack of baby backs.
When they came out, the best parts of the meal were the cole slaw and French fries. The ribs left a lot to be desired. I provided the mandatory “good” response when asked how they were, finished up, paid, and left. I drove home daydreaming about the ribs I should have had.
After I got home, I went online to find good places in Fairfield to get some smoked ribs but only found a few, all with mixed reviews. For every good review, there was a negative one that suggested that either people had very different standards or that these restaurants were inconsistent in their offerings.
Since I couldn’t find any good ribs in Fairfield, I decided to make my own. I started researching rib recipes, especially Texas Beef Ribs, which I remember as being outstanding at a company event held last year at Blue Smoke, Danny Meyer’s barbeque place on 27th street in NYC. I found a NYT article about the restaurant with a Salt-and-Pepper Beef Ribs recipe adapted from Kenny Callaghan of Blue Smoke and decided to go with it.
My wife Analiese and I debated the recipe and she insisted there was no need to start it on the smoker and finish it indoors. It could all be done on the smoker. Since we’d always enjoyed chili powder in our beef rubs, I added some to the recipe and made the paprika half hot, half sweet. Otherwise, I was true to the instructions.
My first call was to Ryan at Saugatuck Craft Butchery to see if I could get my hands on the beef back ribs the recipe called for. Mark answered the phone and said that they had just gotten a fresh steer delivery and would cut the ribs to order. I headed down and Ryan prepared a beautiful 8” rib set with wonderful extra layer of marbleized meat on top. The ribs were huge, three ribs at over 3 pounds each. Ryan said that this particular steer had especially good marbling and was excited about my cooking plans. I got the ribs home and started preparing the smoker, knowing I’d have to cook them longer than the recipe said because of the additional layer of meat.
In the meantime, I had a midnight to 3am phone call that night on a European project so I decided to start smoking the ribs after the call. I had already prepared the salt, pepper, brown sugar, paprika and chili powder rub and coated the ribs, so they were ready to go. During lulls in the meeting, I went out to light the smoker and got the temperature steady at 225 degrees. I use two thermometers on the smoker, one on the outside that came with the Big Green Egg, and an oven thermometer on the inside because the outside one is unreliable. The day before, I had ordered a digital smoker thermometer from Amazon to finally get some accurate temperature measurements. Once the meeting wrapped up, I got the ribs on the smoker and went to bed.
Four hours later, I was on another business call and checking the smoker. The temperature had dropped to 150 degrees during the night so I opened up the vents to get it back up into the 225 degree range. I kept an eye on the temperature all morning and tried to keep it steady. Then, around 1pm, about 12 hours into the cooking time, the UPS man arrived with a package. I opened it up and lo and behold, inside was the dual temperature remote display smoker thermometer I had ordered!
I unpacked the thermometer, glanced at the instructions, cleaned the probes and inserted it into the meat and the smoker. The wireless remote displayed the exact temperature of the meat as well as the smoker temperature. Now I had instant temperature readings and a level of accuracy and control that I hadn’t experienced since buying the smoker. I saw that the ribs had stalled at 170 degrees and was able to fine tune the smoker temperature. Six hours later, the meat was at 190 degrees and ready for dinner.
The timing was perfect. Analiese was making some sweet potato biscuits and roasted squash as side dishes and they were ready. The meat had pulled back, exposing half the ribs, in the 18 hours they had been cooking, yet the meat was incredibly tender and moist and perfectly seasoned. No sauce was necessary. I called them Bronto ribs because they were so enormous, but the Flintstones reference was lost on my kids. They were better that any ribs I have had in any restaurant lately, except for those original Texas Beef Ribs at Blue Smoke. Pitmasters, I’m ready!
Sungkey Paik, aka The Meat Man, is known to steal chicken livers from the cat’s rations when his wife Analiese isn’t looking. He considers the Big Green Egg a gastronomic laboratory and regularly seeks to experiment with lesser known cuts from Saugatuck Craft Butchery. These “Bronto” beef ribs are his crowning achievement to date.