The Coffee Brined Rib, Why Not?

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It seems the world is on its head these days.  People are being paid to hurl insults at rallies and others are openly talking about a revolution.  One is rude and unethical and the other is treason.  Both may be illegal. Up is down and down is sideways.  Let’s shuffle off to realm of food.

I’ve been playing with a coffee brine for my ribs.  I’ve seen recipes that say to soak your ribs in coffee for several hours prior to smoking.  Nope too simple.   I have done this twice and I think I have a good feel for what works.

A brine is a salt water solution that imparts a great amount flavor to meat while keeping it moist.  I almost always brine my chicken breasts.  A brined, smoked and grilled pork chop is to die for.  But I haven’t brined my ribs often.  Brining pork, especially ribs takes time.   A short marinate or brine is just that, short on flavor.  I have brined my ribs for 36 and 72 hours.  I will stay with Alice Waters’ recommendation to brine chicken 24 hours and pork 3 days.  I’m pretty sure there is never a time NOT to take her recommendation.  There was a remarkable difference going the full 3 days.  Don’t skip on time.

I hear you; you don’t like coffee, blah, blah, blah.  Ok then.  Move on, this isn’t for you.  But if you stay, you’ll have some mighty fine eats.  I promise.

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I cut the racks of ribs in half, because my brine buckets won’t really handle the length of a full rack (that’s what she said).  I prefer to remove the silver skin from the ribs, you might not.  It’s a matter of personal taste.  I also rinse of the ribs prior to brining to remove excess blood and stuff. There is always stuff.

Coffee Brine
1 pot of hot coffee (Philz’ Jacob’s Wonderbar)
1 cup kosher salt
1.25 cup sugar
1 tsp Cumin
8 Allspice berries, crushed
10 Juniper berries, crushed
6 whole Cloves
10-20 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
1 bunch of thyme
3 Bay Leaves
1 TBS Honey (add after the coffee to help disolve it)
1 TBS ground pepper or 10 – 15 whole pepper corns.  I like the ground better for more heat
1 TBS Fermented Pepper sauce (recipe on my blog) you could use some tabasco or other hot sauce
Water to cover, Ice to chill

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I like Jacob’s Wonderbar for this as it has a very rich flavor and chocolate tones.  I set up all my ingredients in my brining tub, while the coffee is brewing.  I have a 12 cup pot and I make it strong.   Pour in the coffee and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar.  I like to let everything steep for 30 or 40 minutes after the salt and sugar are dissolved.

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The brine should be cool.  At this point I add some ice and cool water to roughly double the volume of liquid.  I add in the ribs slowly as not to make a mess; this is no cannonball pool party.  At this point I add more water so the liquid covers the ribs by 1/8”.  I put a plate on top to keep them submerged.  The brine goes in the fridge for 3 days, so if like me, you are smoking on Sunday, I start the brine on Thursday so I get 3 days plus a bit, instead of less than 3 days.

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About 2 hours before the ribs go on the smoker, I take them out of the brine.  I remove any bits that are stuck to them (like the cloves) and rinse them off.   I let them drain in a colander for about an hour.  Then I rub them heavily with my rub on all sides and loosely cover them with saran as they come to room temp.

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Lee’s Coffee Rub
0.5 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
0.25 Cup Smoked or Hot Paprika
1 TBS Coarse (Salad Grind) Black Pepper
1.5 tsp Chili Powder (I like the New Mexico chili powder specialty sellers like Berkeley Bowl or Whole Spice or the Chili Powder from Rancho Gordo)
1 TBS Granulated Garlic
1 TBS Onion Powder
1/4 – ½ tsp Chipotle Powder)
1 TBS Kosher Salt
1 tsp Ground Oregano (I crush dried Mexican Oregano)
1 TBS unsweetened Cocoa Powder (I like Scharffenberger)
¼ cup whole coffee beans, ground semi-fine.

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Ground coffee. Not the full amount in the rub

Mix the brown sugar with the paprika, until fully incorporated.  I prefer a manual whisk to my stand mixer.  Then add the ingredients 1 at time, mixing fully at each step.  Most of the salt in this recipe comes from the brine.

I get the fire started and smoke as I normally do.  I try to keep the fire at 225, using mostly oak, with some apple and cherry mixed in.  I rotate the ribs every few hours for even cooking as I’m cooking on two levels, one slightly hotter because heat rises.  I don’t use a water pan.

I do spare ribs for approximately 5.5 hours and baby backs for 4.5.  I think that’s because my heat spikes a few times throughout the cook.  It’s a manual process filled with human imperfections.

I often spritz my ribs every other time (every 45-60 minutes) I stoke the fire after the first hour.  My spritz is approximately 4oz apple juice, 2oz apple cider vinegar and 1TBS liquid margarine (seriously). Mix it up and spray liberally during the cook.  This keeps the rub from burning and helps create a nice color.  Totally not necessary, but it does make the ribs a bit prettier and tastier.

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I generally serve my ribs dry, with a sauce on the side.  In this case, the saltiness of the brine in the smaller ribs plays well with the sweetness of the sauce.  I coat the ribs 3 times in the last hour or so, letting each layer caramelize for 15-20 minutes.

Lee’s Coffee BBQ Sauce
2 Cups Ketchup
0.25 Cup Molasses (I like the heavier Brer Rabbit, you might need more with other brands)
3 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Juice from 0.5 Fresh Lemon (or more if you like the tang)
1/4 tsp Tabasco® Brand Hot Sauce
3/8 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 TBS Honey
1/4 tsp Cayenne (Red Pepper)
4-6 Cloves Minced Fresh Garlic
1 TBS Coarse Black Pepper (the pepper adds heat over time as the sauce sits, you may want less)
0.5 Cup Strong Coffee (again, using Philz’ Jacob’s Wonderbar)

Add everything to a pot over low heat. Stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Let the ribs sit for 15 minutes or so prior to cutting.  Enjoy.

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