Man vs. Wild. The genesis of our species directly and intimately tied with outdoor cooking – The most primal of experiences, both leveraging & seducing every degree of our senses. 10,000 years ago a means of survival. Today, a romantic connection point between flame and our forefathers.
Defined in our current time by it’s integration of smoke – barbeque most commonly employs smoldering wood chips, chunks, pellets, and/or logs. The intent of smoke application is exponentially elevating the flavor profile of grilled fare by imparting the natural, earthy essence of carbonizing hardwoods in a dry, indirect and low heat cooking environment. But, as pit master purists proclaim, “There’s low and slow cooking, then there’s barbeque.” Cooking is a science. Barbeque an art.
Inspired by my recent trek far into the land before time, Argentinian Patagonia, and camping adventures across the American National Parks, this recipe draws upon the asado-style cooking techniques of South American Gauchos. Leveraging smoldering livefire, massive carnal hunks of grass-fed cattle, and simple, yet bold seasonings to slowly cultivate the most succulent, pull-from-the-bone beef ribs on God’s Green Earth. All paired with grilled olive oil and sea salt Brussels sprouts, then washed down with 2 handfuls of ice cold craft root beer.
Perfection, right?! Well. Read onward for my recommendations to confidently construct a sustainable barbeque fire and how to prepare beef ribs like a backwoods boss.
Long live the adventure. Cheers!
Top 5 Recommendations for confidently building a sustainable backwoods fire to grill, barbeque and smoke incredible 5-star fare:
1. Safety first. Ensure you’re stationed in an open-air, outdoor cooking-approved zone, the fire pit is both lined with stone & dug at least 12-18″ deep. In the event flames must be tamed, maintain a bucket of water or sand on hand at all times. And, above all, never, ever leave your fire unattended – Unless you desire an army of Park Rangers, a cavalry of horseback Mounties, Smoky the Bear & Homeland Security hunting your guilty-as-charged, forest-fire-starting, soon-to-be sitting-behind-bars, broke-as-a-joke ass down, like wounded prey.
2. To effectively construct a campfire, use the following process – Stack & ignite Tinder (small dry twigs, leaves, brush, etc.) at base of the fire pit. Then add Kindling (dry, finger-sized branches) over the Tinder. Finally, arrange Firewood (forearm to bicep-sized logs) around the Kindling in a teepee-fashion. Light the fire from it’s tinder base, allowing one layer upon the other to produce a self-sustaining flame. As needed, feed your flame with additional tinder and oxygen until the firewood begins to smolder.
3. Never use softwoods, plastics, news papers, or artificial fluids to ignite or maintain a flame. Angels lose their wings & baby kittens cry when this happens. The aforementioned are all infectious to the flavor of your final product & will spoil the edibility of any grilled fare. The primary ingredients to a healthy campfire are… Wood and fire. Period. As you are electing woods for fueling your grilling pit, choose between dry hardwoods or fruit woods – Hickory, Pecan, Walnut, Maple & Mesquite or Apple, Cherry & Peach Wood.
4. Wood fires are extremely hot – much more so than your traditional gas or charcoal grill, radiating intense amounts of infrared heat. The art of outdoor rustic cooking lies in controlling the flame, smoke & temperature. Cooking too hot will carbonize your fare instantly. Cooking too low will produce proteins tasting of a bowling alley ash tray. The key – Allow the fire to super-heat the grill grates while the wood smolders down until ashes glow bright orange-pink & emanating smoke subsides. Note: a mature fire could take upwards of 45min-1hr to develop – Crack a beer or 2, relax & enjoy the scenery.
5. Next, establish a 2-zone cooking surface by: Raking ⅔ of the smoldering embers to one side of the pit. Then, slant the embers down to the lower, opposite side of the grill, establishing 1 higher-piled direct-heat hot zone & 1 lower-piled, indirect-heat cooler zone. Leverage this strategy to sear high-hot to encrust, then bring food to temp low & slow, basting intermittently to both maintain protein moisture, infuse smoky essence & develop a well-balanced crust.
Also, note that for every 30-45 minutes of cooking, add a log or 2 of firewood to grillpit’s hot zone. This is critical for maintaining sustainability of heat, particularly when cooking tougher or larger cuts of meat & whole birds, that may require longer cooking periods.
- 2 gargantuan slabs of beef ribs, trimmed and membrane removed
- Canola oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt and ground peppercorn per pound
- 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 can of beer, poured into a spray bottle, plus additional to drink
- Light and stoke your fire. Once the wood has ashed over, create your 2-zone grilling surface, per notes section below - Temperature of the fire should maintain near 250-300F, while every 30-45min adding a new log the the flame.
- Meanwhile, rinse ribs with cold water, then pat entirely dry with paper towel. Brush with oil, then massage a liberal degree of seasonings across all portions of the slab. Seal the ribs tightly with tin foil after pouring a few ounces of beer in the bottom of the pouch. Lay the rib packet bone-side down over the cooler zone grill grates. Cook for 2 hours, rotating once.
- Remove the ribs from tin foil and place back over cool zone grill grates, bone-side down, for an additional 1 hour, spraying intermittently with beer and rotating every 20 minutes. When the meat begins to pull back from the bone by near 1 inch, move the ribs over direct heat - searing to carbonize and finish the exterior.
- Remove ribs from grill and place on a cutting board. Rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving. Season additionally, to taste, and plate.
Worst case, if Membrane Not Removed: Simply lay the ribs, bone-side up, on a cutting board. Create an incision in the membrane by slicing through the tough flap with a sharp knife. Then, with a paper towel in hand, grip the membrane and pull away from the bone – slicing and pulling until it’s entirely removed.
Two-Zone Cooking Method: Heat only one side of the grill, creating one hot direct heat zone and one cooler indirect heat zone. This technique is imperative to the cooking process.
Charcoal: Ignite the wood. When ashed over rake ⅔ of wood to one side of the grill, slanting the remaining wood to the opposite side of the grill, establishing high-piled 1 hot zone & 1 cooler zone. Add wood as needed every hour.
Rib Doneness Guide: There are several tests for ensuring appropriate cooking of ribs, but this is as much an art as it is a science. 1. Ribs meat should not fall off the bone – overcooked. 2. Rib slabs should nearly break when lifted with tongs, not wilt – undercooked. 3. Internal temperature is difficult to measure due to the thinness of the meat, proximity of bones and variances in size from one end of the slab to the other. 4. With a toothpick inserted, juices should run clear and if cut into for a sneak peek, the meat should appear white with no pink remaining. 5. If able to accurately measure internal temp, remove from grill when ribs reach 150°F.