By Noelle Carter / Los Angeles Times
THE other day I just couldn’t shake the thought of slow-smoking some ribs. I was in the mood for Memphis-style baby backs, the meat fall-off-the-bone tender, a simple dry rub tantalizingly complicated with deep hickory notes, the flavors drawn out with a tart vinegar-Dijon mop.
There’s a primal wonder to smoked food—that such depth of flavor can come from a simple technique. And then, of course, there’s the lure of the sunny afternoon spent in a lawn chair with a cold beer while you’re waiting, patiently, for the Weber to work its magic.
But then it started raining.
The audacity of winter. Even in Southern California, we have our seasons. I took a good long look at my kettle grill through the kitchen window as it rained, but those ribs wouldn’t stop dancing through my head, like a song that just wouldn’t let go.
Of course, not all smoking needs to be done outdoors, and I was not going to let the weather get in my way. Before long I was rummaging through the cupboard, looking for my large roasting pan. I grabbed a cooling rack, some heavy foil and a baking tin for a makeshift drip container and soon I was ready to smoke. Right in the kitchen. Right on the stove top. Rain or no rain. Stove-top smoking is certainly not a new concept: Scatter some wood chips in a roasting pan, put the meat on a rack to sit above it. Loosely cover the pan and heat. Watch for the chips to start smoking and cover tight, then smoke to desired doneness. Voila.
There’s nothing complicated about stove-top smoking and I’d even argue that it’s probably easier to master than smoking outdoors. You don’t have to mess with charcoal or vents, deal with chambers or manage chips or pellets for hours on end.
On the stove top, you regulate the heat by adjusting the burner knob. It’s easy to set-up (make a smoker from kitchen odds and ends as I did, or buy a commercially made one). And though you’ll smell the smoke, most of it should be contained within the pan (you may get a faint wisp, but nothing to set off the fire alarm).
But like everything, stove-top smoking does have its limitations. First is size: Since the smokers have to be small enough to fit on the stove, you may not have the surface area you get with a regular smoker.
Further, because the smoke is tightly contained, stove-top smokers can impart flavor quickly, so you’ll need to keep a careful eye on them to make sure food doesn’t come out smelling like a campfire.
And, of course, you may miss the glory of getting a sunburn as you wait for that brisket to finish.
Note: This recipe calls for a commercial stove-top smoker; a heavy-duty roasting pan with a rack and lid can be substituted. This recipe uses small hardwood hickory chips; the chips are available at select cooking stores and are widely available online.
Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes plus overnight marinating time. The recipe serves four.
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp celery salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp New Mexico chile powder
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp garlic powder
2 bsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 rack (2 to 2 1/2 pounds) baby back ribs
Small hardwood hickory chips
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
In a medium bowl, whisk together the kosher salt, celery salt, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, New Mexico chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, sweet paprika and brown sugar. This makes about 1 cup dry rub, more than you’ll need for the ribs. Place the rub in an airtight container and store in a cool place away from direct sunlight; it will keep for about 2 months before the flavor starts to fade.
Peel the silverskin from the rib rack (the membrane on the underside of the rack). Rinse the rack under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.
Drizzle a small handful of rub evenly over each side of the rack to give it a good coating; the surface of the ribs should be tacky, and the rub should adhere easily. Pat on the rub to make sure the ribs are entirely covered, and gently shake to remove any excess. Place the ribs on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate overnight. The next day, prepare the smoker: Spread about 3 tablespoons wood chips in the center of the base of the smoker, directly over the burner. Place the drip pan (if using) over the chips, and a rack on top of the drip pan. Place the ribs in the center of the rack and cover with the lid, leaving the smoker open only a couple of inches. (Halve the rack if the whole rack won’t fit, and smoke half at a time.) Heat the smoker over medium heat just until you see smoke escaping through the opening. Close the smoker entirely and gently smoke for 1 hour. Depending on your stove, you may want to reduce the heat to medium-low so the ribs do not cook too quickly, or they will be tough.
Shortly before the ribs are done smoking, heat the oven to 250 degrees. In a measuring cup, combine the vinegar, water and Dijon mustard, along with 2 tablespoons of the rub and whisk together to form a “mop.” Place the smoked ribs in a baking dish and drizzle with the mop (pour over half the mop if smoking in two batches). Cover the ribs tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the meat is tender (you will know they’re done when you bend the rack and the meat easily pulls away from the bone), about 1 hour more. For a crackly surface, uncover the baking dish and place the ribs under the broiler just until the surface crisps.
If smoking the rack in two batches: While the first half-rack bakes in the oven, smoke the second rack in the same manner as the first, using new wood chips (the first batch of wood chips should be reduced mostly to ash and can be washed down the sink; if they’re too big, cool them completely before throwing away). Bake the second rack after smoking.
Serve the ribs warm.
Each serving: 468 calories; 28 g protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 34 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 134 mg cholesterol; 5 grams sugar; 1,015 mg sodium.
Image credits: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times