St Louis Ribs Question

I @m going to smoke my ribs in a homemade stove top smoker first at 225 F for two hours. How long should I Sous vide at 150 F after I smoke and how should I finish the ribs on an open gas grill?

Should I use liquid like apple juice or beer in my Sous vide bag? If so how much?

Thank you

Ross

Ross, if you are keen enough to have made a smoker you likely also have developed your personal favourite barbecue process. You don’t define quality, but surely you know what it is. Are you now prepared to abandon it for some other cook’s technique? Are you sure you need a change? And why wouldn’t you describe your expected outcome? Some guidance from you would be useful if you are serious about SV instead of considering it a passing fad as so many appear to. Sorry, the cat gets cranky when folks expect a lot and give so little.

I don’t believe there’s any better barbecue than the extraordinary results you get from combining SV with the smoker and grill. I like to call it Sousvi-cue. It’s a particularly superior method for safely serving ribs to a crowd because i can SV cook-chill them far in advance and relatively quickly give them a smokey finish just before service.

There are far too many regional barbecue variables for Community members to guess at the set you employ and the outcome you enjoy according to your real estate, or not. For example:

  • Brined, or not. Dry or wet? And for how long? It matters for timing, texture and resulting amount of piggy flavour.
  • Your Rub, with salt or without. What about sugars? Or no rub. It makes a difference in the bark, smokiness, moisture content and texture of your end product. How about mayo? Let’s have some details, Ross.
  • Smoke intensity. Why have you decided to use your smoker first, before SV? High stove top temperature source, or low? You realize the 2 hours of smoking is also going to be par-cooking the ribs while developing a crisp crust depending on how you control your smoker’s cavity temperature. You are going to have less smoke flavour and no crust after the SV cook.
  • Liquids added when you vacuum pack your ribs will dilute the flavour you just developed and increase cooking time. Can you describe the flavour you’re aiming for?
  • You identified 150á´ĽF as your temperature of choice and that’s close to mine too. I’d start with 24 hours, maybe up to 30 for extra thick racks. If you know barbecue well you will be able to identify the point of exact doneness by touch anyway, and with SV you have a lot of timing leeway. Remember you have already partially cooked them, so start checking early. That will result in a tender and juicy set of ribs.
  • If you are a member of the fallin’-off-the-bone barbecue club, 36 hours will get you pretty close. As you go longer you’re getting closer to piggy-mush. Keep checking.
  • If you have decided to add liquids while you SV cook, i’ll defer to others of the Community for amounts and time. I’ve not done it and never will.
  • If you brine, which you may, or not. We don’t know. Consider making a Beer Brine or Apple Cider Brine to get the kind of flavour profile you are aiming for. I find it creates wet ribs with reduced flavour.
  • How do you usually finish your ribs on the grill? Wet or dry? And with what? More Rub? Sauce or no sauce? What do you enjoy? Above all, i’d avoid finishing on too high a heat. A Medium-Low setting, about 225á´ĽF is usually hot enough. The ribs are already fully cooked. Some gas grills can deliver food-punishing heat levels. There’s a significant difference between a pleasant bark or tasty glaze and charred ugly.

With Souvi-que I prefer to start by applying my rub, bagging and sealing, SV cooking and either ice bath chilling or finishing right out of the bag.

I apply more rub to the wet ribs and finish with a combination of indirect smoking and grilling to finish with a few chunks of hardwood for a about a half-hour for a just-enough smoky kiss. I find a 30-minute post cook smoking may be just about flavour-equal to a full 2 hour precook smoking. A very light dusting of rub just as you serve is a special enhancement guests appreciate.

Please let your Community know how you decide to do them and your results. I hope they will be better than you expect, maybe even last meal worthy…

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Hi Frank,

Thank you for your reply.

I have been learning about SV for a little over one year. I have two circulators permanently positioned on my counter top, one for average size proteins and another for large size. I SV almost all protein,some veggies and eggs. I SV on average 3 or 4 times per week. I have learned a lot over the time I have been “immersed” in SV…but I still consider myself a beginner.

So, no…I have not found the best process for making smoked St Louis Ribs. Last week I setup my homemade large stove top smoker and experimented with smoking fish. I was very happy with the outcome. So, I tried the ribs.

I used Clint Cantwell’s Process (no brine and yes mayo) except that I smoked the ribs in my smoker after SV for about one hour. I used hickory at around 200 degrees. I did use a homemade KC Style BBQ sauce that he recommended. Before smoking I coated the ribs with the sauce. Here is the link to his recipe https://amazingribs.com/tested-recipes/pork-ribs-recipes/sous-vide-que-smoked-st-louis-spare-ribs-recipe. I finished the ribs (wet) on a gas grill for about 10 minutes. I believe I erred by keeping the cover on and allowing the temp to reach 400. The ribs were dry but well seasoned, smoky and pretty tender. Tasty but not near great

So, next weekend I am having company and I have a request… to make…you guessed it…St Louis Ribs.

I have scoured other recipes (put liquid in the bag, smoke first…etc)…but do not have enough confidence or experience to make a judgement. So, that is why I reached out to the community.

Your input is very helpful…please feel free to add comments. And I will let you know what i did and how it came out…look for my update after the 18th.

Thanks again,

Ross

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My pleasure Ross, Clint is a seasoned professional cook and competition BBQ judge who has developed many superior BBQ techniques. I am rushed today, but i have a good idea about his recipes and they are dependable. I’ll read it later.

Scouring the internet, not so much, particularly Facebook where there is far too much guesswork and bunk masquerading as knowledge. Some of it is dangerous. Cooking combines craft with science. You will do well to precisely follow Clint’s recipes before making your own based on your experience, critical judgement, and feedback from your raving guests.

Temperature awareness and control is the foundation of all competent cooking. If you can develop the habit of being constantly aware of both product and cooking temperatures you will be successful. SV makes it far easier than conventional techniques.

Since you have some time before your command performance do a practice cook to gain confidence and an awareness of the timing. For your guests, start early and work with a written time plan. Very early, as you can depend on distractions. BBQ done right can be very forgiving.

A oooler chest preheated with boiling water becomes a hot holding cabinet that preserves both heat and moisture for several hours. (Dump the water before using.) A layer of plastic wrap around the ribs, then heavy duty foil holds the heat well too. Why the plastic? The acids on the surface of your meat will eat the foil and i don’t want aluminum in my food.

Do well.

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Hi Frank,

I would love to receive your advice when your time allows on the following:

Assuming I am using Clint’s process and SV for 24 hours. How long would you suggest smoking in my stove top smoker and what temperature, assuming I am using Clint’s KC BBQ sauce and some additional rub.

So, once I have the smoking done…what is your recommendation as to how to finish the ribs on the gas grill…lid open or closed, temp & time? Also, assume another layer of sauce is applied.

Thanks,

Ross

I’m afraid you are mostly on your own with Clint’s process when it comes to the KC style of ribs. Most KC Ribs are far too sweet for the cat, though Clint is economical in his use of the sauce. It’s mostly a glaze. In my experience most BBQ folks subscribe to the, if-some-is-good, - a-lot-is-better, technique and ruin ribs. It’s meat, not candy.

I do have the following suggestions for you.

  • rib ends can be ragged and sharp if they don’t go absolutely straight through the band saw. It’s usually prudent to double bag or protect the SV bags from the bone-ends with strips cut from old SV bags and folded over the ends when inserting. At least feel them before bagging.
  • if you are following Clint’s technique, do it all the way the first time.
    Please.
    I am confused by your questions that infer you are determined not to.
    -You are skipping the preliminary stove top smoking, (of which i have no experience). Right?
  • Or give it an hour at most at a moderate chamber temperature, no higher than 225á´ĽF. Since you are going to dilute most of the smoke when you SV cook, go easy. Only you know your smoker’s characteristics and the product you use, be it pellets, chips, or chunks, and your flame control method.
  • i recommend applying sauce, if deemed necessary, almost at the end of the finishing step, and lightly. Burnt sugar results in a bitter taste.
  • You have invested 24 hours to achieve precisely cooked ribs. Don’t waste the effort with cosmetics. Preheat grill for 15 minutes with lid closed and a couple of chunks of good hardwood over the flame. Preheat at Medium setting with one side in the Off position.
  • Meanwhile decant ribs and season with more rub. Don’t dry the ribs. Check grill temperature, it should be about 350á´ĽF and there should be ample white smoke evident. Take a deep breath, open lid, place ribs on the Off side, close lid. Take a breath. Adjust control to hold chamber at 225á´ĽF, or thereabouts. Keep the lid closed for about a half hour. That will give the ribs a pleasant smokiness that’s not bitter. Then apply sauce, if using, and close lid. Heat for about 5-minutes, just enough to firm up the sauce. Time to serve.

Hi Frank

Thanks for the reply. I will follow Clint’s process carefully.

I think I did confuse you.

My plan is to use my stove top smoker immediately after I SV for 24 hours. Based upon what I think you are suggesting, I will smoke them for one hour at around 225 F with hickory chips…Did I read you right?

I will then preheat the grill to 350 F…apply more rub. I live in an apartment complex and the grill when closed does not hold the smoke…but since I have already smoked them do I need the wood chunks?

Then I will open the grill and place the ribs on the indirect side, close and maintain at 225 F for 30 minutes, apply the sauce and close for 5 minutes.

FYI, I am making two racks one with the KC and another (my favorite) a sherry vinegar BBQ sauce.

Please let me know if I have the steps from the time after I SV correct.

Thanks so much for your help.

The best,

Ross

I think i’ve got it now, Ross.

My first reaction was, nope, but you got most of it that’s possible now that i have your latest information. Both SV and Q are detailed techniques requiring full disclosure.
Apartment dwelling is not conducive to outdoor smoking. Now i understand the purpose of the stove top smoker.
Another of the cat’s ah-ha moments.

An hour at 225á´ĽF in your smoker is going to continue to cook those ribs significantly past your carefully planned 150á´ĽF point by service time.
Could you live with a 30-minute smoke?
Why not?
As you take those ribs to a higher temperature they are becoming less juicy. What’s your priority, - smokiness or juiciness?
Let’s find an acceptable balance.
Personally, i don’t think most folks will notice much true smokiness once ribs are finished with sauce, particularly vinegar based sauces which is why i don’t enjoy typical Eastern North Carolina BBQ. Alt that piggy goodness is masked by the sauce.

Have you considered adding a few drops, and i really mean drops, of liquid smoke to your sauce recipes? Most people can’t determine any difference in flavour.

I hesitate to ask, but do you have a quick-reading digital thermometer and/-or a remote reading digital thermometer? They make precision BBQ cooking so much easier by eliminating guestimation. If you do, good.
If you don’t get them on your Santa List right away. They will help you be a more successful cook.
If you do, it’s time to use them to monitor internal temperatures and minimize tangential damage during the smoking and grilling without smoking steps.

We want to preserve the perfection you’ve achieved up to this point. Both steps should be as short as you can tolerate and do as little damage as possible while still resulting in satisfying ribs.

Do well.

Hi Frank

Yes, I do have both types of thermometers and will use both throughout the finishing process.

The desired balance is juicy and smoky…so I will smoke for 30 minutes at no more than 225

I am now prepared to grill with a lot more direction as to how to get a much better result. Thanks so much for your guidance.

I’ll report the results shortly after the dinner.

The best

Ross

Ross, consider keeping a detailed record of this rib cook so you can replicate it, or know where to start making future adjustments based on this experience.

The longer and higher above 150á´ĽF the less juicy your outcome will be.

What time is dinner?

6:30 on the 17th…come on over!

I will definitely take your suggestions.

The best,

Ross

Working with you has been fun.

In my youth i had the opportunity to work with Walter Jetton, President Johnson’s BBQ Chef down at the LBJ Ranch. Part Chef, part showman, all Texan, Walter could present a delicious dinner cooked over logs in open pits for 400 with grace and ease. Clint has Walter’s sauce recipe on his site. Out of respect for Walter i still use Worcestershire Sauce in both my table sauce for BBQ and salad dressing. Try it sometime.

Walter’s Rib Rub was interesting too:
6 parts salt and sugar, 2 parts Accent or MSG, 2 1/2 parts black pepper, and 1 part each paprika and powdered lemon. Apply liberally.

Hi Frank,

That is a wonderful experience to work on the LBJ ranch…and you got to eat too!

I will try Walter’s rub…even if it has MSG!

I’m just going through my notes for my cook on Saturday. I’m not clear on the temp and time on the grill after I have smoked the ribs on my stove. And is the grill open or closed?

Thanks again for you help…oh yeah, I just learned my quests are Vegan…kidding!!!

The best,

Ross

You’re not in the no-MSG Club, are you?
Say it isn’t true!

It’s a naturally occurring compound that’s a superior flavour enhancer found in many foods, like seaweed from which it is extracted, and for example: mushrooms, cheese, grapes and tomatoes. All good delicious foods.

Ok now, back to our ribs that are out of the bags, through your smoker, and next onto the grill. Not too high now, your ribs are already perfectly cooked and going downhill the more you play with them. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig, you want to be quick and gentle.

Temperature about 225ᴼF, just warm enough, and with lid up because we want the water in your sauce to evaporate as quickly as possible. The grill is warm, not hot, because we don’t want the sugars in your sauce to turn to carbon. Lid up to because you want to be vigilant for flames and over cooking.

Time? Give them just-'nuff.
That’s why the lid is up, open.
Give the ribs a gentle poke in a meaty area with your thermometer. Ideally you want the internal temperature to stay below 150ᴼF, - good luck. This is where the artistry of a seasoned Pit-Boss becomes so important. Only you can judge when enough is enough. It’s the combination of experience and knowledge.

Do well.

Hi Frank,

My understanding is that MSG is synthetic and not a natural product …but I intend to try the rub as is…I have never had an adverse reaction to it…though I have been in the company of others that did experience problems

You’re guidance on the finishing is perfect. My notes are now complete. It will be very interesting to see how well I can control the temp in the smoker and on the grill.

Thanks so much for your invaluable assistance. I’ll post the results at some point next week.

The best

Ross

The smoking ribs recipe/link that is embedded here works perfectly. I typically sous vide first (24 hrs); throw into an ice bath and then smoke whenever convenient. Have a rack that’s been sous vide in freezer right now (cooked 2 weeks ago); will probably smoke & eat this weekend.

Have used same protocol for brisket too.

Btw - from my previous post - 1 hour on smoker

Hi,

I don’t see an embedded link?

Thanks,

Ross

Ross, check the source of your understanding that MSG is not a natural product. Human’s have been consuming it since about 5,500 BC (in cheese) because it occurs naturally in many foods. Most commercial MSG is fermented from wheat gluten which is about as natural a process there is. It’s like making yogurt.

In the scientific literature there have benn numerous double-blind clinical studies that refute the MSG-is-bad common beliefs. Participants with a history of sensitivity to MSG reported an unfavourable reaction to a placebo and not to MSG. That said, there can be a reaction by asthmatics who consume a substantial amount of just MSG. Who does that?

Need more evidence? MSG is produced in our gut as part of the digestion process of proteins. It’s very difficult to avoid MSG.

Don’t worry, - and make those ribs happy.

Here you go