A famous, French gastronome wrote, "The pig is but a giant dish which walks while waiting to be served." Here in America we're fond of saying, "We use everything but the oink." Or is it the 'squeal'? All this versatility is great, of course, but it can lead to some confusion for the home cook. Consider the cuts. There are hams at both ends. The shoulder is called the butt. And what's with all these ribs?
picnic & fresh ham
Well, funny I should ask because we've chosen the loin ribs, or baby backs, as base camp for a number of episodes dedicated to exploring the endless possibilities of pork. So stick around. This, not to mention these [indicats pigs], are definitely good eats.
GUESTS: Richard Metzger, Butcher
While I wouldn't exactly call it another white meat, pork does pale in comparison to both beef and lamb. The reason, as Mr. Spock would say, is logical.
You see, grazing animals like cattle and sheep eat grass. Grass contains iron. Iron produces myoglobin. Iron tints meat red. Pigs don't do grass. They're like us. They eat everything, corn mostly, and that's why they have whiter flesh.
grass -> iron ->
They're also pretty modern animals. They've changed with the times. They've kept up with popular demand. They've become leaner, cleaner, healthier on the hoof and on the plate. Yet still, when we meet head to snout at fine establishments like this, we have "a fayh-yuh to communicate." Which is why we are here visiting my good friend and butcher, Richard Metzger who is going to take us on a little tour of the porcine rib cage.
AB: How you doing, Richard?
RICHARD METZGER: All right. How are you?
AB: I'm doing fine. So, what's the deal?
RM: Well, basically this is a pork loin which is
the back of the pig.
|AB: Okay. Where are the ribs?
RM: If you take this thing and roll it over ...
AB: Just like rolling our pig over like that?
RM: Um, hm.
AB: Oh, okay.
RM: ... see basically on the inside.
AB: Tail. Head.
RM: That's right. And this one right here is the baby back rib.
AB: Okay, so the baby backs are the very first ones off of the spine, then.
RM: Yeah. Just the closest to the spine.
baby back rib
|RM: Those are your back
bone. Be right here. This right here is a spare rib.
AB: Oh, so that just buts up right against this.
RM: It just attaches right to this. Like that.
|AB: So one rib cage, three ribs,
mean you've got baby backs, spare ribs, what is this?
RM: This right here is the chest bone you take off off the spare rib right here ...
AB: Uh, huh.
RM: ... and that's what make it a Saint Louis cut rib.
St. Louis rib
AB: Why do they call them, Saint Louis cuts?
RM: I have no idea.
AB: Ever been to Saint Louis?
AB: Well, next time I go I'm going to ask them. So, culinarily speaking: spare ribs, baby backs. What's the difference in how you cook them and how they taste.
|RM: Well, the spare rib takes longer to cook because it's a little more tougher meat and thicker. It's got more meat on it ...
AB: More meat.
|RM: ... and the baby back is just a more tender piece of meat.
AB: So a little more forgiving, probably?
RM: Yeah. It doesn't take that long to cook.
baby back ribs
AB: Okay, let me make sure I've got this straight now just so that I'm
clear. When we look at the whole rib cage action there, if we were on the
inside of the pig it would all look like this.
RM: Um, hm.
AB: The spine would be up here. So the first cut is the baby back which goes off the loin. And then that would leave the whole spare rib. You cut off the bottom and you get the Saint Louis rib.
RM: Saint Louis rib.
AB: Now beyond this would be belly, bacon, right?
no. Actually the bacon, this is
sitting on top of it.
bacon goes here
AB: Ah, don't you just love pigs? Well, I'll tell you what,
going to go with four of these guys if you'd wrap them up for me.
RM: All right.
AB: Thanks a lot.
RM: Thank you.
You see, luckily I've got a butcher who is my friend and takes care of me. You know, if haven't made friends with your butcher, you really ought to think about it because friends don't let friends buy junk. Of course, these days quite a few markets are choosing to sell ribs in their original cryovac containers. This is how they are packaged by the packer. Now this is okay by me. Because not only is this more economical, but properly refrigerated it will keep two, three even four weeks. Now look for packs of either two ribs or four.
Now you'll notice when you shop for pork you're not going to find any quality grades: no select, no prime, no choice. They just don't go pork that way. If you want an explanation, just go ask a Fed.
FEDERAL AGENT: Although consumer cuts are not quality graded all fresh pork products sold in the United States are inspected for wholesomeness by state or federal agencies. Whole carcasses, however, do receive grades of either one, two, three or four depending upon overall meat yield. Since these ratings relate only to whole animals and bear no relationship to consumer, cuts they are of no concern to you. This grading process, however, is paid for voluntarily by the packer rather than with your greatly appreciated tax dollars.
Not real FDA Agents
Hernando de Soto brought 13 pigs to
Florida in 1525.
Today only China has a greater swine population.
Jeff Randall, Wild Horse Saloon
Stan Blaxton & Eddie Moreland,
Myron Mixon, Jack's Old South Barbeque
Ask any porcine professional and they'll tell you the key to rib
flavor is in a miraculous
mixture of salt, pepper, herbs and spices called a dry rub. Add a little smoke and
divine device called a barbeque.
The road to barbeque Mecca has led this pork pilgrim deep into the belly of Georgia. It his here at the annual Big Pig Jig where we hope to rub shoulders with seventh level dry rub rib masters, loosen up their lips with some beer and steal all their secrets.
AB: Rubs are really kind of, uh, I guess the secret to this barbeque, huh?
JEFF RANDALL: Yeah, it is a secret.
AB: That's your rub there, I guess.
AB: You want to tell me what's in your rub there, Jeff?
JR: [gives that "eat-death" look]
AB: I guess the secret is in your rub, huh?
STAN BLAXTON & EDDIE MORELAND: [nod heads]
AB: Yeah? Um, you want to tell me what's in it?
SB & EM: [shake heads]
AB: What's your secret?
MYRON MIXON: The key to it is the rub right here.
AB: Ah, the magic dust. So, um, you going to tell me what's in your rub, Myron?
MM: I'd either have to kill you later or marry you one. Looks like you're already married.
So, what did we learn? Well, we learned that pro barbequers besides being impervious to bribery by beer are unsharing and, well, slightly paranoid when it comes to their rub voodoo. Well, I say we've got science and science kicks voodoo's butt any ole day of the week. We'll make our own darn rub.
We're going with what we call an eight, three, one plus one rub. And what we're talking about here is parts. Eight parts of light brown sugar, three parts of kosher salt and one part of chili powder. Plus one which we'll get to shortly.
8 3 1 + 1
8 parts light brown sugar
Now, it doesn't matter if we're dealing with grams or tons or
bushels. It doesn't matter as
long as it is the correct number of parts. So we can use anything to measure
instance the lid off this well placed box of bamboo forks. I have no idea what
that is but it's perfect.
Now it's important when you scoop this stuff [light brown sugar] that you kind of pack it down because as you can see it gets a lot of air underneath it. So just pack it down and count to eight. One. Two. Eight. Eight parts light brown sugar. Moving down the line we've got three parts of kosher salt. One part of chili powder.
Unlike powdered chiles, chili powder also contains herbs and spices.
Now, seal up nice and tight in a Mason jar or some other jar that you've washed and shake to combine. Now right now, this is kind of like a no frills automobile. It's a rub, but it's basic, you know. It's the chassis, wheels, roof, that's about it. As far as the add-ons go, you know, CD player, wire, wheel covers, seat warmers, that kind of thing, well, that's the plus one part of the equation. And that is completely up to you. You could use just about anything. You could use another part of chili powder if you wanted to.
We like to mix things up a little. As a matter of fact, we've discovered there are six things that we like to mix up into that one part. Starting with black pepper. Now these are just small amounts that are going to add up to the one part. Cayenne. Jalapeņo seasoning* which is really just dried and ground jalapeņos with some other seasons added. A little Old Bay, a personal favorite of mine. Rubbed or dried thyme for an herbal note. And that leaves us with just enough room for onion powder. There we go. That's one part.
Now, that goes on top and again we cover and shake. Now sealed up tight in this jar if you keep it away from heat or really bright light like sun light, this will last until bell-bottoms come back again. And, oh, note a Good Eats refinement, here, one lid for sealing and underneath one for shaking. Cool, huh?
Now lay each slab out on its own big piece of heavy duty aluminum foil
and make sure
that the shiny side is down. That will make the heat come in just a little bit slower
which is good. Now, lay on the rub and don't be prissy about it. Contact is
critical. Now despite
the name, rubbing is not actually necessary. But a little of patting along the way will make
that plenty of contact is being made. There. Push on and flip. Now this
other side doesn't
matter quite as much so don't go overboard. It's mostly the convex side that we're
Why aluminum foil? Well, because we can basically shape the "pan" to fit the food which is a good thing. And of course, you don't have to wash it. I love that. So, bring it right up in the middle and just fold it over once and then push down. We don't want to do any fancy crimping because we've got to get back into these to add some liquid latter. There.
Now these are going to go right into the refrigerator for at least one hour before cooking. You could do this, well, the night before and it would be even better.
refrigerate 1 hour - MINIMUM
Now, wash those porky hands.
Any raw meat can be the bearer of
Microbial bad news,
so wash hot, soapy, and often.
"Big Bill", the largest hog on record, reached 9 feet and 2,500 pounds in 1933.
[working under the sink] The sensuous unctuousness that compels us to lick our fingers when rib eating, comes from a power deep within the ribs themselves. Gelatin. Now all animal muscle is made up of bunches of fibers held together in place by various connective tissue. Now some cuts like tenderloin don't do much work so they don't have a lot of connective tissue. But other cuts including our ribs that either work a lot or have a lot of bone, do have a lot of connective tissue.
You might want to turn away. [the camera pans away as we see a lot of flashing light. AB pulls out a metal power conduit with many wires hanging out] Huh. Okay. Okay. Now let's jut pretend for a minute that this is bundle of muscle fibers, right? These exposed wires are the actual meat fibers themselves.
don't try this at home
Now they are all surrounded by connective tissues just like these wires are surrounded by insulation. But they're not all alike. See, some of these tissues don't do much but draw up and get chewy when cooked. We'll call those gristle. But others, say these red guys here, well, they're coated in a protein called collagen. And under the right circumstances, collagen dissolves into gelatin, the stuff that makes ribs so finger lickin' good and brings body to homemade stocks. It even helps gelatin dishes to set. As a matter of fact Jell-O is originally named after gelatin.
|Now, how does this amazing transformation occur? Well, it all has to do with a long, low, moist and covered cooking method called braising.||
long cook time
|Unlike stewing where meat literally cooks completely submerged in liquid, braising utilizes just enough liquid to keep the food moist while it cooks. Now, collagen being a protein couldn't care what liquid it dissolves in. But since we plan to take this braising liquid later on and reduce it into a sauce, it would be a very good thing to have a balance of acidity, salinity and sweetness.||
|So, into a microwavable container will go for moisture and acidity 1 cup of white wine. Bolster that with two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. If you don't have white wine vinegar it's okay. Just use any vinegar that you've got.||
|Two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce. That takes care of the salty.||
|Now for the sweet, a tablespoon of honey. And I never measure this stuff. I just figure that each squeeze is a teaspoon. So, three squeezes. One. Two. Three. Three teaspoons makes a tablespoon.||
|Now really last but not least, two smashed and chopped cloves of garlic. You don't have to be pretty with it. You don't have to be fancy with it. Now, why garlic? Hey, garlic don't need no reason. [smashes the garlic with marble sample] There we go. And look, it's pre-chopped for us. So if you smash right you don't have to do anything else. Just scoop that right in and lid it up. We're going to put this in the microwave for one minute. Meanwhile we will prep the ribs.||
2 gloves garlic
Minutes up and everything is melted up. Sugars have dissolved nicely. So all we've got to do is introduce this to the ribs. Now we don't have to unwrap everything. Just open up one end of the crimp and kind of turn it into a funnel. It looks like a couple of big, silver, wide-mouth bass. Make sure that the opening is over the tray in case you do any spilling which I usually do. And half the liquid goes into this side and half the liquid goes into this side. And just give the tray a little bit of a tilt just to kind of distribute everything down there ... hear it gurgle, gurgle ... then crimp up the ends.
Next stop for these bad boys is a 225 degree oven for two and a half hours. Now aggressive oven management is required here. So cook by your instruments, namely the oven thermometer. You see, if it gets too hot in here the meat is going to dry out in spite of all that liquid. In that case, no amount of dissolved gelatin in the world will bring that lip-smacking goodness back. When it comes to ribs, speed kills. So do not attempt to pick up the pace on this. Your patience will be rewarded.
225° for 2 1/2 hours
[Alton is reading "The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy" by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin]
Well, the timer says the braise is done. But there's really only one way to know for sure and that's to look and feel. So, slide out your rack and just open up one end of one of the pouches. Now you can do this with paper towels but I'm trying to sacrifice myself for science here. There.
Now just grab one end, lift up and then reach for one of the ... ouch ... one of the ribs further back. Just grab it and give it a twist. Now if you feel the bone just rotating in the socket that means that the collagen has started to dissolve around the bone. And that means that these ribs are done.
grab and twist
So I'm going to get my saucier out but you can use any wide pan
and just lay ... [the rib foil is still hot]
lay the packet right in the middle of the pan like that and take your kitchen shears and
snip a hole in the foil. It's like opening a nice barrel of wine. It will
drain right out.
Now all in all I'd say we've got about a cup and a half of liquid back out of this. And those are fine liquid assets indeed. Because after about five maybe ten minutes on high heat, this is going to convert down to a beautiful rich glaze that's going to have a lot of clinging power. It's going to stick to the ribs better than any barbeque sauce you could ever buy.
Commercial barbecue sauces make
because they contain so much sugar, which burns easily.
Ten minutes later and a humble braising liquid is reduced down to a
barbeque sauce that's
suitable for bottling and selling for six bucks a shot. Of course that would probably
special licenses and permits so we'll just stick to this. Get this off of the heat,
by the way. Because when it gets to this consistency, the next step is burn and it happens very quick.
So, let's go ahead and open up the ribs but do not remove them from the foil. The foil is actually going to help us get them colored once they are under the broiler. Now grab your nearest basting brush—this is the only way—and literally paint the glaze right on to the meat. Just like that. It's literally like painting a house. You really don't want to get a super thick layer on there or it will definitely burn.
This goes under the broiler. But I'm not about to tell you how long. The reason is I don't want you to walk away from this even for a minute. Because in as little as 30 seconds that sugar is going to start to bubble on top that's in the glaze. It's going to start to caramelize. And in as little as a minute, it's going to be brown. Ten more seconds and it will be black. So keep a very close eye on it.
Card carrying bone-chewers may want to
broil the concave side of their ribs too.
During the 18th century, scrap-munching
to the beauty of Paris, by acting as garbage men.
Now, there are a lot of rib shacks out there that would probably
just plop this right
on the plate as is. They buy these huge plates and just lay them out. It's
impressive but it's
kind of tricky to eat. So what I like to do is to separate everything into two rib
also makes it a lot easier to glaze but that's getting ahead of myself. So just look
the bones, turn it bump side up and just slice right in between the bones about every two.
Put a little bit of the hot glaze right in the bottom of a stainless steel bowl, biggest one you've got and just add the ribs and toss them in with the sauce. Just lay them all out and kind of toss around just to make sure that everything is evenly coated. That way everyone will guaranteed of the correct proportion of meat to sauce in every lovin' bite. There we go. That's it.
Now, usually when I dine on ribs I do it right in the kitchen. Why? Well, there are drapes in the dining room, if you get my drift. So, plate goes down and I see absolutely no reason to put anything on it but ribs.
Now, for you devote pit-men out there I would like you to note that never in this program have we referred to these luscious ribs as "barbeque" because they are not. Barbeque requires smoke. And of course, we did not use smoke.
But you have to admit even
without striking a single match you can turn out a delicious slab of ribs in your
kitchen. All you have to do is follow the rib
protocol. That means giving them a rub,
giving them a rest in the refrigerator, braising them slowly then reducing the braising
liquid to a glaze and then glazing the ribs and then broiling them finally.
I'm Alton Brown. This is Good Eats. So is this. And you might want to look away again.
†It appears he meant episodes involving pigs such as Chops Ahoy, Scrap Iron Chef-Bacon Challenge, Ham I Am, and the like.
*Actually, at the time these scenes were shot, Metzger's Meat Market was
Highway 92 in Woodstock, GA which is adjacent to Marietta but not in it. In May,
the small strip mall it was located in was gutted in a fire. (I know this
because my neighborhood abuts the mall) According to their
service, M. M. M. is currently (July, 2000) looking for a new location.
Follow-up: As of today (Dec., 2002), Metzger's is still not in business and does not appear they will return.
**Jalapeņo seasoning is a mixture that's available at many markets across the U.S. If you can't find it, use half of the called for amount of ground jalapeno. (AB, FN Forum, Post 41.1)
Last Edited on 06/07/2013