NeanderChef: KC Style BBQ Ribs
Four days after I turned twelve years old, my idol, the player I tried and failed miserably to emulate in every side-yard game of football I ever played in, Joe Montana, was traded from the San Francisco 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs. Even at the age of twelve, I realized I had a knot in my stomach. The man who had delivered one Super Bowl after another to my Niners, arguably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game, was effectively getting dumped for a younger model. While I couldn’t have formulated the idea very well at age twelve, this lack of loyalty upset me greatly, and before the start of the NFL season in 1993, I decided that I was no longer a San Francisco 49ers fan. I was now a Kansas City Chiefs fan. And I have been ever since, growing up rooting for them, going to a game most years, and even raising my children to be fans as well.
It has been fifty years since the Chiefs were in the Super Bowl, and as a fan age thirty-eight, I can tell you that’s too long. But I’m not just a fan of the Chiefs, I’m a fan of the city, too. I’m a fan of the National WWI Museum, the Negro Leagues Museum, and others. I’m a fan of the jazz scene down there, and miss spending Saturday nights in Jardines, the Green Lady, and the Blue Room listening to Ida Macbeth, Angela Hagenbach, and other KC staples. I’m a fan of the running culture, and regularly run or pace Hospital Hill, Garmin, Rock the Parkway, and KC Marathon. I’m also a huge fan of Kansas City Barbecue. Other places have “barbecue” I know — Texas, Tennessee, I even had some Greek barbecue onetime. It’s all fine, yes, but in my heart, and in my kitchen, it’s Kansas City or nothing.
The thing that makes KC BBQ unique is the sauce. The sauce varies, but every place that does KC BBQ makes it, and I try to pick mine up when I’m in town. Woodyard, BB’s Lawnside, Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, KC Joe’s, Q39, and many others produce great sauces and rubs, and every time I’m in town I’ll pick some up. You can certainly do the same thing — or you can order online.
And so tomorrow, when I have a few friends over to join me, watching for the first time ever my team play in the Super Bowl with my children in their Chiefs shirts, I’m going to be cooking some food. I’ll post a blog about that in the near future, the food, the wine pairings, and the experience, but in the interim I wanted to share this recipe with you in case you, too, are planning to cook for Super Bowl LIV tomorrow and needed some inspiration. The recipe I’m going to share is my own, and as with all NeanderChef recipes, it is the product of trial and error. The other thing to know is that, traditionally, KC-style ribs would be smoked. If you go to Woodyard, or Gates, or others, you’ll see enormous brick smokers. This recipe is for those who lack the equipment — my little smoker won’t even hold a rack of ribs! That said, these turn out pretty tasty. I hope you enjoy them. Go Chiefs!
Prep time: One hour
Start to finish: Five hours
Cost per serving: $7.00
Special things you need:
Lots of aluminum foil and a baking sheet.
Likelihood you’ll fuck this up: Low, if you pay attention.
- Rack of ribs, maybe two if you’re hungry
- KC BBQ Sauce
- Rib rub or your preferred seasoning
- Meat tenderizer (optional, but a good idea)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Ok, knuckledraggers, here’s what to do:
First, assemble your ingredients. You need a baking sheet, some rubs or seasoning of your choosing (I use stuff I buy in KC or stuff my parents buy up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. You do you.) and some sauce. Important note on sauce: if it was made in Texas, your food will wind up tasting like excrement for obvious reasons. There are a million places you can get real KC barbecue sauce, including online. JackStack will actually overnight stuff I’ve been told. The sauce I used for this rack was from Rieger Distillery, and was made using their KC whiskey by KC Joe’s barbecue. It was great, but most KC sauces are great. Get the one you want, just be sure it’s from KC.
Next, and this is as important as the sauce, maybe even more so, you need to remove the silver skin. This is a heinous pain in the ass but you really need to do it so that the ribs cook evenly and the flavor gets into them. The silver skin is actually some kind of membrane that God put on ribs to discourage us from eating them, but fortunately we invented forks. Take a fork and pick at the silver skin until you get a little corner of it peeled up, big enough to pinch between your thumbnail and index finger. Then pull evenly — this is key. These can shred if you’re not careful at which point you’re in for about twenty minutes of cursing and considering throwing away three to five pounds of meat in a rage of fury and frustration. Get a corner, pinch tight, pull evenly. Eventually you can get it to peel off, as shown above. This is, by far, the most difficult thing you’re going to do for this recipe, and sometimes they come right off. If it doesn’t, stick with it. It’s worth it for great ribs!
Lay the ribs out, concave side pointing skyward (bone side up) on a bed of aluminum foil large enough to completely wrap around the ribs. This is set atop a baking pan.
Season both sides of the ribs with meat tenderizer and whatever rub you’re using. Also get some salt on there, pepper too if you want. Season to taste, knowing that some of this will be absorbed into the meat. Massage it in very well to both sides and the edges. Don’t forget to rub it into the bone side; there’s more meat down there than you think.
Put some sauce, not too much, on both sides, and distribute it evenly using your fingers. Once cooked, you’ll apply more sauce or let people put it on the side and dip as they please.
Wrap up the whole shebang in tinfoil. Be sure it’s entirely covered on the top and bottom. Most importantly: the bones of the ribs must be pointing down toward the pan, the meaty part of the rib arched upward.
Toss these bad boys in the oven at 225 for the next four hours. The low heat gently cooks better than high heat faster, so be sure you budget enough time to do this. Two hours and 450 is a disaster. Don’t even try it.
After four hours, the ribs will come out moist and fall-off-the-bone-y. If you were doing competition, you don’t want them quiiiiiiite this succulent, but if you were doing competition, you’d be using an industrial smoker and you wouldn’t be reading some jackass’s wine blog for a rib recipe, right? This is how I like ’em. You can adjust to suit your preferences. Be sure, also, to keep sauce around. You can apply it yourself upon removal, but I prefer to let my guests put on the amount of sauce they want. Turn on the Chiefs game and enjoy!
For a rib pairing, I like Zinfandel (see yesterday’s post on the difference between Zin and Primitivo). Zins are bigger, a bit jammy at times, slightly hot, and need something bold to pair well with. They often stand alone, but if we’re going with food, barbecue is the right kind of food. Here are some suggestions, based on budget and QPR (Quality Price Ratio).
Weeknight Wine: Cline, in Sonoma, makes a really nice Zin in the $10-12 range that I’d recommend. It’s not a massive, jammy type of wine, but that’s really ok, and it’s food-friendly, well-made, and reasonably priced for sure.
Weekend Wine: I’m a big fan of Jed Steele, and his Shooting Star label offers a lot of value for under $20. From Lake County, the wines are well-made and fruit-forward. The 2017 vintage came in at 15.2% ABV which means it needs something big — like barbecue, to pair with it. A good match.
Date Night Wine: Dave Phinney’s Eight Years In The Desert is a killer Zin from a guy who got famous in part by making Zin (he founded the Prisoner Wine Company). It costs around $45. I often describe Dave’s wines as hyperbolic; this one is expressive, packed with dark fruits, some spices, pepper, vanilla. It’s a flavorful, fun experience with a label that is interesting enough to help carry the conversation if need be. The story of the name of this wine is also worth talking about, but I’ll let you look it up.
Special Occasion: Vermeil Zinfandel is one of my all-time favorites. You can buy this online from VermeilWines.com for $56 + shipping. It’s excellent, and it’s what I’ll be pairing my ribs with tomorrow for the first Chiefs Super Bowl since I was negative twelve years old. Coach Dick Vermeil won a Super Bowl with the then-St. Louis Rams twenty years ago, and coached my Chiefs for a spell in the post-Montana era, which is when I fell in love with him for his combination of passion, emotion, and intellect. Originally from Calistoga in the Napa Valley where his tasting room is now, wine is part of Vermeil’s heritage, and it shows. This is a special bottle, a wine worthy of the Super Bowl or whatever your special occasion may be. I’m excited to open it.
Well, there we are folks. You’ve wasted another twenty minutes of your life reading my mad mumblings and unprofessional culinary notations. I hope it was worth it. Whatever you eat and drink tomorrow for the Super Bowl, enjoy it, and go Chiefs!