Sunday, 26 August 2012

Roscoe's Root Beer Ribs

I've always wanted to be my own pit master. I love all smoked food, from sausages to 'sausage' cheese (that fabulous, processed Austrian stuff, that tastes a little bit like licking a railing). Finally, after years of being either sans garden or sans a barbecue with a lid, I finally had both.

Anyone remotely familiar with American barbecue will know that it's very far from our, cremated on the outside and bloody in the middle, burger and drumsticks. While British grilling is a fun way to get food poisoning and sunstroke at the same time, American barbecue is food that has been cooked by hot smoke over an indirect heat, often for many hours. 

Make no mistake, this is serious business. Barbecue competitions are a chance for large groups of grown men to gather together round a pit of flames for the weekend, often staying up all night to tend the fire, while partying and drinking their way through huge coolers of beer. Reputations are won and lost on the bark on your brisket or the rub on your ribs.

Up to now my only experience of this mythical beast had been watching the Food Network or reading my collection of obscure US Barbecue books (including Peace, Love and BarbecueHoly Smoke and Smokestack Lightning). Trips to the States had seen me staying well above the Mason-Dixon line, so I knew the only way to truly experience this smoked meat goodness for myself was to try it at home.

Turning your own barbecue into a smoker is a pretty easy, but rather extended process. Give yourself a full afternoon to cook your ribs, and if possible, choose a day when your neighbours aren't planning to attempt to enjoy their smoke free garden.

To start you'll need a barbecue with a lid. I always line the bottom with foil (makes cleaning easier). You only want charcoal under half of your grill space (the meat shouldn't be cooked over direct heat) so I divided the space under the grill with two clean house bricks. On the side your meat will be smoking place a metal pan (disposable foil ones are ideal) half full of water This will help produce a little bit of steam and stop the meat drying out.

To produce the smoke you will need some charcoal (I got my coals burning using a chimney starter) and some wood chips. You can usually pick these chips up from good garden centres, often in a variety of different types that will flavour your food in different ways. I used applewood, a mild wood with a natural sweetness. You could also use cherry, Hickory (a very full-flavoured smoke), maple or oak. The chips need to be soaked in cold water for at least an hour before you want to use them.

Once the coals are white hot tip them onto half the barbecue (leave a couple of coals in the chimney to start the next lot of charcoal burning) then add a handful of soaked wood chips. Place the grill on top of the barbecue then place your meat (ribs bone side down) or fish onto the side above the pan of water. Place the lid on the barbecue, close the vents and leave to smoke. Now you're barbecuing!

Check the temperature as the meat is smoking (I use a probe thermometer, pushed through the top vent). The key to good barbecue is low and slow; ideally you need to hold the temperature somewhere around 120c-150c for perfectly smoked ribs. If the temperature is rising too much open the lid and add some more soaked wood. If it is too low try opening the vents, or, if that doesn't work, try adding a few more coals. Regardless of the temperature you will need to rotate the meat and check the coals roughly every half an hour as you smoke your meat.

The time your barbecue will take to cook will vary, obviously, depending on what your cooking. Salmon or trout may only require an hour or two to get nicely smoky while still remaining moist, while a large piece of brisket can take a good twelve hours until its ready to eat. Ribs will take somewhere in between. Baby backs, like the ones I cooked, should take about six hours. I tested them by holding them up at one end and seeing when the meat started to gently pull away from the bone.

When the meat was cooked to my liking I brushed on plenty of home made barbecue sauce and placed the ribs over a direct heat for five or ten minutes on each side to form a good glaze, before wrapping them in foil and  putting them back on the other side of the grill to rest.

Half an hour later and they were ready to serve with some fresh coleslaw, more beer, more barbecue sauce and plenty of napkins.

The name of the recipe is both a play on my surname and a homage to Roscoe's Root beer and Ribs, a 'cue joint in, an area not known for their barbecue, Rochester MN. This was a I place stumbled across when rather randomly googling the interweb a little while back. (I have never actually visited, so can't vouch for it's authenticity, but it's certainly got a good name) Root beer, ribs, root beer and ribs. It seemed like a marriage made in heaven.

Roscoe's Root Beer Ribs

For the ribs
However many racks of baby back ribs you want to eat/will fit on your barbecue (between 500g/750g each)

Spice rub
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground

Root beer barbecue sauce
1 can root beer (use cola or Dr Pepper if you prefer)
1 1/2 cups of tomato ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
2 dried chillies
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 heaped tsp of English mustard

Prepare the racks by removing the silver membrane from the bone side of the ribs. This will allow the rub and smoke to penetrate the meat better. 
To do this slide the point of a knife underneath the membrane and pull it off in one piece (holding the ribs with a clean tea towel should help you to grip them).
Mix all the rub ingredients together. Take the trimmed ribs and cover both side liberally with the rub. Cover and allow to marinade for a few hours or overnight. (You can store any leftover rub in a airtight container for next time).
Barbecue as above. Alternatively cook in a preheated 180c oven for an hour or so, or until the ribs are tender (cover with foil if they start to colour too much before they are cooked through).

To make the sauce place all ingredients in a saucepan and gently whisk together to combine. Bring to the boil, then lower heat to a simmer and reduce gently for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Mop on the ribs as above or serve with burgers, chips or chicken.


  1. Lovely post! Looks delicious. If you're ever in the Rochester, MN area we would love to see you at our classic Roscoe's Root Beer and Ribs location on 4th St. South! - From Nate, Team Roscoe's

  2. Nate, thanks for your kind words. If I ever get the chance to visit Minnesota I'll be sure to call in at Roscoe's to try some namesake ribs!