Get your aprons out, American-style barbecue is well and truly a food trend this year. So much so, one of the United States’ most famous barbecue masters, Tuffy Stone, has hit our shores for Sydney’s Meatstock Music and Meat Festival this February 13 and 14. As a judge on reality show BBQ Pitmasters and owner of his own smokehouse restaurant chain Q Barbecue, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows more about cooking meat over a fire than Tuffy.
We asked Tuffy to reveal some of his barbecue intel, plus his ultimate recipe for sweet, spicy and smoky ‘Competition Ribs’.
Everything starts with your fire
One very important tip when you’re the barbecue chef is to cook meats until they are succulent and tender. With American Barbecues, meats are cooked for hours with charcoal or wood, so make sure you run a clean fire – treat smoke like salt and pepper. A poorly fun fire will put a bitter flavour on meats (and nobody wants that).
It’s not as simple as following a recipe
Competition barbecue is unlike many other types of competitions. You don’t get to see the efforts or dishes produced by the other competitors, and while you get scores from the judges on how well they thought your food was, you don’t get detailed specifics. This can make it difficult at times to figure out what changes need to be made to be more successful.
I was a cross country runner in high school and if I wanted to win a race, I had to run faster than the other guys in the race, whom I can see. In competition barbecue , it’s not like that. You have to be able to evaluate every cook or contest, tweaking your meats each time to make improvements. Sometimes these will be big improvements or subtle changes, but over time your barbeque becomes better and better.
Barbecue as meditation
With so many things going on in my life, I use competitions as an opportunity to get in the zone and completely focus on one thing, the perfect cook. When I can completely switch into cook-focus mode and hit my marks, it’s very satisfying. Plus, there is something very Zen for me in cooking with a fire.
Tuffy Stone’s Competition Ribs
For the rub and ribs:
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sweet paprika
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. cayenne
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
2 racks St. Louis-cut pork spareribs (about 1.4kg each)
For the sauce:
3 cups ketchup
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup distilled white vinegar
2 tbsp. molasses
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. cayenne
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup water
½ cup honey
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ cup apple juice
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup light brown sugar
1. Make the rub: Mix sugar, paprika, chili, onion and garlic powders, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Apply generous coat of rub to the ribs and let sit for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Whisk together ketchup, sugar, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire, chili powder, paprika, onion and garlic powders, cayenne, pepper, and ¾ cup water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Keep stirring until thickened (approx. 20 minutes).
3. Remove from heat, measure 1 cup into a bowl, and stir in ¼ cup honey and the apple cider vinegar; then set aside. (Reserve remaining sauce for another use.) Pour apple juice into a spray bottle; set aside.
3. Prepare your cooker or grill:
If using a grill, set it up 2 zone method so that you have both a direct and indirect cooking area. This can be achieved by turning off one of the burners on a gas grill or by putting lit coals on only one half of the bottom of a charcoal grill. If using a grill, cook on the side of the grill that doesn’t have hot coal or on the side that the burner is off.
4. Place ribs, meat side up, on grill grate. Maintaining a temperature of 135°C (if using a kettle grill or bullet smoker, replenish fire with unlit coals, as needed, to maintain temperature; see instructions), cook, spraying with juice every 30 minutes, for 2 hours.
5. Remove ribs from grill; transfer to 2 large stacked sheets of foil. Drizzle butter, honey, and sugar evenly over both sides of ribs; position ribs meat side down and close foil around ribs. Return to grill and cook for 2 hours or until tender. This can be checked with a skewer or a meat thermometer (internal temperature will be around 95°C).
6. Carefully uncover ribs and discard foil. Return ribs to grill and cook, basting with sauce after 30 minutes, until the tip of a small knife slips easily in and out of the meat, about 1 hour.
7. Serve with remaining sauce. Brush a coat of sauce on both sides of the ribs and return to the grill/cooker. Cook for 15 minutes to set the sauce. Serve with remaining sauce on the side.