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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Smoked Meatloaf

Lee makes meatloaf.  Thrilling, right?  Well hell, it looks great.

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I’m a big fan of Jeff Phillip’s smoking meat newsletter and his cook book. While I can’t give you his rub and sauce recipes, if you spend time on the smoker, the $20 he charges is well worth it.  As is his cook book. He published his revised meatloaf recipe and I ran with it.  I’ll shameless steal his basic recipe and reshape it into something barely recognizable.

Before we start, remember that recipes are frameworks. I am never precise unless I’m baking.  These are approximations of what I did.  When I tell the butcher “about a pound” anything from 1-1.5 pounds is acceptable.  Yes, things like chili’s and bread come in whole units and yes I can count smart ass. J

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 lb ground chuck (80/20)
  • 1.25 lb ground pork
  • 1.25 lb ground Italian sausage
  • 1 Pasilla (poblano) Pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 Anaheim Chile seeded and diced
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 of a very large sweet onion diced (1 large onion)
  • 8 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced fine
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 TBS Lee’s Homemade Hot Pepper Sauce
  • 2 TBS Bacon Fat (or olive oil)
  • 4 slices of Multigrain bread
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. herbs de Provence (WHAT?!?)
  • ½ cup+ BBQ Rub
  • 1 cup+ BBQ Sauce
  • 1 TBS butter.
  • Bread crumbs (if needed)

Sauté the onion in the bacon fat over medium high.  Remember, bacon fat makes everything better. (I contemplated chopping up some bacon into the meat, but chose not to.)  Add the salt to help draw out some moisture. When the onions are soft, not yet translucent, add the peppers and chili.  When the Peppers are almost done, add the butter.  Butter is like bacon fat from cows.  I added several grinds of pepper here.  After a minute, add the garlic and stir well.  After 2 minutes remove from the heat.

Rip up the bread and place it in a bowl.  Add the milk and let it soak in to the bread.  Stir this every few moments to break up the bread and let the milk absorb evenly.  Pretty soon you’ll have mush.  When you reach the mush stage, add the eggs and 1 tsp. of the herbs de Provence.  Beat mercilessly and set aside.

I started the smoker at this point.  I used a mix of Oak and Cherry (because Hickory doesn’t grow in California).  It takes about an hour to get to a constant temp. I aimed for 240.  Started cooking at 250 and dropped to 225 at times, because I’m far from perfect.

In a gargantuan bowl (because I like leftovers and this makes fantastic sandwiches), add the meats, the cooled veggies and 1 tsp. of the herbs de Provence.  I like to gently break the meat at this point into small pecan sized chucks, tossing with the veggies.  It is very loose at this point, but very well mixed.

Add ¼ cup of the rub and ¼ cup of the BBQ sauce to the meat.  And the Pepper sauce. Add in the milk, bread and egg delight.  Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Mix it good.

I thought mine was too soft (that’s what she said) to hold shape, so I added about ½ cup of really good bread crumbs.  It is much easier to add texture to make it firm than it is to add liquid.  Just saying.

I formed a loaf and put in in a smoker rack.  Cover the loaf with a nice crust of rub.  And it’s off to the smoker for approximately 4 hours.



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An instant read thermometer is my best friend.  That, and an accurate temp in the smoker.  When the meat got to 150, I coated the loaf in BBQ sauce to caramelize and moved it to the top rack.  I pulled the meat loaf at 160 and let it rest 15 minutes before cutting.  I served with some smoked beans and roasted garlic potatoes.  Yum.

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Another Recipe

Today while watching football I spent the day cooking a pot of beans, filled with delicious goodness.  I know many of you read my blog for the snark and humor.  I am realizing my food writing, especially when it comes to my cooking, is relatively snark free.  I will try to find my deep dark snark later this week.

In related news, the Urban Legends 2009 Malbec is a wonderful wine for drinking and cooking, a steal at $29.  Ok, I am a member there.

My Bean Recipe