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Ribs — in any style — are a favorite cooking on the barbecue.

The finger lickin' American delicacy of barbecue can be credited to an abundance of the humble pig.

In pre-Civil War times, pigs were a low-maintenance and convenient food staple in the South. Southerners ate about five pounds of pork for every pound of beef. Pigs could be put out to root in the forest and caught when food supplies were low. These semi-wild pigs were tougher and stringier than modern pigs and long, slow cooking methods were required to transform the meat into sweet, tender morsels. Pig slaughtering became a time for celebration and neighbors would be invited to share in the feast, hence the birth of the traditional Southern barbecue.

In the nineteenth century, barbecue was common fare at church events and private parties. Politicians found that hosting barbecues was an easy way for different classes to mix and a relatively inexpensive way to lobby for votes.

Barbecue is cooked by indirect heat, meaning the heat source is not directly under the meat. The process is 'slow and low' - the meat is cooked for a long period of time at lower heat.

Four distinct styles of barbecue are recognized in the United States: North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas City and Texas barbecue. Do you recognize the style of barbecue you enjoy?

North Carolina Style:

In the Carolinas, the specialty is pulled pork sandwiches. Using pork shoulder, often called Boston butt, and a rub of paprika, salt, sugar and other seasonings, the meat is barbecued over oak or hickory for six to eight hours or until it is tender enough to pull with your fingers into shreds. The pulling by hand is important, as the shredded meat will soak up the sauce like a sponge. For this reason the meat is rarely sliced.

The meat is 'mopped' frequently during the cooking phase in a vinegar based mop sauce to keep the meat moist.

The actual sauce differs by region. In the northeast part of North Carolina, the sauce is thin and clear, made of distilled white or cider vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes and sugar. In western North Carolina, they will add ketchup or tomato sauce to make a peppery tart red sauce. An interesting deviation to a yellow sauce is seen in southern North Carolina and South Carolina. The sauce is made of vinegar, a sweetener such as sugar, honey or molasses and yellow mustard.

The pulled pork is served on a bun accompanied with cole slaw.

Memphis Style:

Pork shoulder is also popular in Memphis; however, it is slow smoked and served thinly sliced instead of pulled. Another favorite, dry ribs, are racks of baby back or spareribs thickly crusted with dry rub mixture then smoke cooked and sprinkled with more rub before serving. Sauce is not usually used.

Kansas City Style:

Kansas City barbecuers are responsible for coining new words to describe the fine points of rib cookery. These terms include rib tips (the burnt edges of spareribs) long ends (lean fore-sections of a rack of spareribs), short ends (the shorter, fatter and meatier hind sections) and baby back ribs (which are cut from the sections closest to the backbone).

Barbecue sauce plays a more prominent role in Kansas City cuisine. They like sauces thick and sweet - ketchup or tomato sauce are the base to which brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, vinegar, onion, garlic, hot red pepper flakes, liquid smoke and even apple juice are added.

Texas Style:

It's all about beef in Texas, with brisket being their signature dish. The briskets are cooked over oak, hickory or mesquite for lengths of up to 18 hours. The slow smoking gives the meat a pinkish red tinge, which is a natural reaction to the lengthy smoking.

No rubs or mops are used and the meat is sliced rather than chopped or shredded. Traditionally, this succulent meat is served on slices of cheap, soft white bread.

Texan barbecue sauce is thin and tart, and you can taste the Mexican influence in its combination of tomatoes, chili powder and vinegar.

Do you recognize your favorite barbecue style? Experiment with all four American styles this summer. If you want a guide on barbecuing in the United States or around the world, borrow a copy of 'The Barbecue Bible' by Steven Raichlen from the library. I guarantee you'll get more out of your grill after you read it.

Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!

Memphis Style Ribs

Serves 6

2 cups wood chips (preferably hickory) soaked for one hour in cold water to cover then drained

6 racks pork ribs (4 to 6 pounds baby back ribs or 6 to 8 pounds spareribs)

¼ cup paprika

1 ½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons celery salt

1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder

1 ½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin

Remove the thin, papery skin from the back of each rack of ribs by pulling it off in a sheet with your fingers, using the corner of a kitchen towel to gain a secure grip or with pliers. Combine the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Rub two thirds of this mixture over the ribs on both sides, and then transfer the ribs to a roasting pan. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for four to eight hours.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling. If using a charcoal grill, light coals and when red hot, use tongs to place them in two piles at opposite sides of the grill. Place a foil drip pan between the piles. Let the coals burn until they are covered with a thin layer of gray ash. When ready to cook, toss half the soaked wood chips on the briquets before adding the food to the grill.

Place the food on the grill over the drip pan and close the lid. You will need to add 10 to 12 fresh briquets to each pile after an hour of cooking.

If using a gas barbecue, it may have a smoker box. If not, place the soaked wood chips in a metal pie pan directly over one of the burners. Preheat to high until the smoke billows, then lower the heat to the desired temperature, 350° F. Turn one side off entirely; place your ribs on this side to cook indirectly.

Oil the grill grate. Arrange the ribs on the hot grate over the drip pan. Cover the grill and smoke-cook the ribs for one hour.

When the ribs have cooked for an hour, if using a charcoal grill, toss the remaining wood chips on the fire and the other briquets as needed. Continue cooking the ribs until tender and almost done, ½ to one hour longer for baby back ribs, somewhat longer for spareribs.

The ribs are done when the meat is very tender and has shrunk back from the ends of the bones. Fifteen minutes before the end, season ribs with the remaining rub, sprinkling it on.

To serve, cut the racks in half, or for a plate-burying effect, just leave them whole.

From 'The Barbecue Bible' by Steven Raichlen

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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