There I was, standing in the meat section of the local NOMS retailer when I heard my name. It was strange because it was coming from the end of the counter, past the pork shoulders and spare ribs. It was coming from a section that I mostly ignored because I didn’t know what lived there. Sometimes there are just those ingredients that are like that creepy, old guy at the end of the cul-de-sac. They look funny. You don’t have much experience with them. And mostly, you avoid them in case they’re weirder than is comfortable.
What I found at the end of the meat case that day was one of those ingredients. I was that kid who made friends with the old fellow down the street, however. Whether it’s an adventurous spirit, pure curiosity or an unwillingness to let the creep factor get the better of me, I answered the call when the Country Style Pork Ribs spoke to me. The real question at that point was…. how did they even know my name?! I’m thankful they did because, like that old fellow down the street, I feel like I’ve made a new friend.
When I got this perfectly packaged pork prize home, I hit the interwebs to find out what in the world I should do with it. The first thing I did was look up what exactly a Country Style Pork Rib is. There are actually two ways to get this cut of meat; or rather, two places on the hog to get the meat for these “ribs”. Neither of those places actually involve the animal’s ribs. In fact, you can often find country style pork ribs that are sold completely boneless. The meat just happens to be like rib meat because it comes from close to the same area, so that’s how it got it’s name.
The two places this particular cut is taken from are:
- Near the end of the tenderloin. These tend to have less fat on them because it’s tenderloin meat. Occasionally, you will find these with a piece of rib bone still attached.
- Shoulder steaks. This cut is more common because it comes from a larger area of the animal. Butchers trim this piece off of the Boston Butt, so it has the same flavor profile. You can also cook it in very similar to how you may cook a butt.
You will find that both cuts are similar in texture, are well-marbled, have great flavor and are versatile enough for a variety of cooking methods. I could go into a lot more detail about these cuts of meat and their various applications, but that’s a-whole-nother post for our Ingredient Spotlight section.
Once I had a handle on the anatomy of the thing, I went about getting YouTube Certified in ways to cook it. Then I read over several recipes. It turns out, everyone has an opinion about how to dish this particular cut of beast; which is weird because people usually aren’t so opinionated (I don’t have a “tongue in cheek” font, so you’ll have to pretend that last statement was written with one).
Using the Dr. Frankenstein school of philosophy, I cobbled together a treatment for these ribs that is surely the best possible way to cook them. That, of course, is my opinion, and if you ask me, it ought to be yours too.
When you cook meat in general, it’s always best to let it sit out for an hour and at least approach room temperature. Don’t let it sit out for more than a couple hours, though, or you may find yourself approaching the ER after you eat it. Anyway, since I smoked these, it was a perfect time for some prep work. Now, pay attention while I talk about those steps in the next three, conveniently sub-headed paragraphs.
Fire it Up
Depending on your smoker, you may want a little more or less lead time here. I smoke in a Traeger Texas Elite 34, which I’m pretty sure is a divine creation sent to me directly from Heaven’s gate. While there is a lot of debate about the viability and authenticity of pellet grills, there are some heavy hitting pit masters out there who swear by them. I wouldn’t call myself a pit master (maybe a pit apprentice at best) but I swear by mine too. Watch for a review of this product under the Kitchen Tools section of the blog.
Pro Tip: If you buy one of these, get it from Amazon and have it delivered. This bad boy is a hoss, weighing in at 150lbs! Just click on the image to the left or the link a few lines above and purchase away.
With a pellet grill like this one, all you have to do is make sure the hopper is full of pellets and turn it on to the smoke setting for about 5 minutes. When you start seeing smoke, you can set it to your desired temperature. In this case, set it to 225 degrees.
A note on pellets:
You can get pellets at most sporting goods stores and I’ve seen them in Wal Mart. Or you can just get them on Amazon and have them delivered! I used Hickory for these ribs because that wood is king for ribs. Oak and Mesquite are great too for some flavor variations. Some people may tell you that apple, cherry, maple or pecan woods smoke great with these, but in my opinion, those woods are too expensive and hard to come by to use them on a cut that won’t really draw in much of their flavors. It’s just not going to be on the smoker long enough.
Check out a few of the pellet options they have on Amazon.
Ready the Rub
There are no special instructions here. Simply mix all the herbs and spices together in a bowl. Check out the spice mixture I used in the recipe below.
Pro tip: After I mix all the herbs and spices in a bowl, I give the mixture a whirl in a coffee grinder that I keep just for spices. By breaking the spices down into a finer texture, they disperse across the meat more evenly. They also have an easier time absorbing deeper into the muscle fibers. Smaller granules are able to work their way into all the tiny creases, pores and crevices; not so fun if you’re on the beach, but it’s great if you’re seasoning up some country style pork ribs! Don’t take my word for it. Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you.
These actually work well with just about any BBQ sauce. I like a mustard sauce for them so that’s the recipe that I’ve included at the end of this post, but these are amazing with a sweeter sauce. I have a Bourbon Apple Butter BBQ Sauce recipe that I will post soon. That sauce is always good on pork, so I know they would kick these smoked country style ribs up a couple notches!
Come Together, Right Now…
Oil the Meat
Go ahead and sing that header; you know you want to, you crazy Beatles fan. This is the point in the party where you give the now room temperature ribs a light drizzle of olive oil.
Using gloves, I massaged the oil into the meat to give it a thin coat.
Then sprinkle the dry rub over the top, sides, and bottom of the meat.
I went ahead and gave it another massage for three reasons; to make sure the seasonings work their way into the meat and to ensure a thorough, even dispersion of flavor. Lastly, I just like to show it a little extra love because food always tastes better when you include that ingredient!
Note on the Rub: The amount of spice rub you use depends entirely on your preference. I caution against using too much, though, because the rub recipe I’m including with this post can get overwhelming if you overdo it. These ribs have so much flavor of their on, and take on such a nice smokey flavor, they really don’t need a lot of extra help. Also, you’re going to be adding a bit more flavor in just a bit with some BBQ sauce.
Time to put the smoke in your “Smoked Country Style Pork Ribs”
Now oiled and spiced, it’s time to get the ribs onto the smoker. I put these directly on the grill grating in the smoker without spraying said grill with any type of lubricant. While I didn’t have any problems with my ribs sticking, some people swear by the pre meat application of vegetable oil or similarly edible anti-stick substance to their grill. This is where you need to know the tools you’re using and be prepared. If you know you need it, then use it. If you’re not sure, you’re not going to hurt anything by applying it.
Pro Tip: If you’re using oil in a spray can, be careful spraying it on or near an open flame. You and your eyebrows have been warned.
This is Where the Baste Drops
I guess you could call this the ‘dub step’. It’s the step where you apply the BBQ sauce; whether it’s the sauce you made earlier or something else (store bought is fine – we don’t judge!) It’s definitely the step where you will add some funk to the final flavor. About an hour into the smoke, I brushed the top and sides of the ribs with the mustard sauce, flipped them and brushed the bottoms. I repeated this step after another hour and once more at the very end of the cook. While I reserved what was left of the sauce to dip the ribs in at dinner, we found that it wasn’t needed.
Pull ‘Em, Rest ‘Em, Eat ‘Em
The header says it all, but you’re still reading, so you’re probably hoping for more detail. Pork is safe to eat at 145 degrees F, but country style pork ribs need a bit more time in the heat to reach that tender texture you want with a low and slow cooking method like smoking. At 2 hours into the smoke, start checking these with whatever thermal measurement gadget you prefer. I like using a digital internal thermometer for easy and speed. The temperature you want for these is 195 degrees, though you can pull them at 190 and the carry over heat will push them up the rest of the way.
I can see by the look on your face that you’re worried the meat will dry out at that temperature, so here’s the deal. The reason you want to go this high with the temperature is because country style pork ribs have a good bit of connective tissue and collagen, which don’t begin to melt until about 180 degrees. When collagen melts, it turns into a gelatin which is able to absorb up to ten times its weight in water. This will keep your ribs nice and moist. Go ahead and tong your, now delectable, ribs onto your favorite carrying device and head on into the house.
I enjoy burning the hide off the roof of my mouth, so I typically NOM stuff right off the grill. However, I recommend giving your ribs about 10 minutes to rest before serving. It gives the temperature a chance to finish rising. In that time, the meat fibers get their chance to reabsorb juices and you get your chance to grab the towels and the beer. You’re going to be needing them!
You’ll find that these are pull apart tender! You’re welcome to gnaw the meat right off the bone, though, if there is one. If you’re one of those dainty sorts, you could use a knife, but let’s be honest, it’s only for show. I don’t think you can eat good BBQ of any kind and worry about what you look like doing it. If the meat is good enough, it’ll make you forget all that social grace nonsense anyway. And these are definitely good enough for that!
- 4-6 lbs country style pork ribs
- ¼ cup Olive Oil - Extra virgin is fine, but not required - use the cheaper stuff
- Approx ½ Cup Dry Rub
- Approx 1 cup BBQ Sauce
- Hickory Wood Chips/Pellets (oak, mesquite or soft woods optional)
- *****DRY RUB INGREDIENTS*****
- 1½ tsp paprika
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- *****MUSTARD BBQ SAUCE INGREDIENTS*****
- 2 cups yellow mustard
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbs horseradish sauce
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- Set meat out approximately 1 hour to reach room temperature
- Prep smoker with hickory wood and bring temperature up to 225 degrees
- Mix up the Rub in a bowl by combing the ingredients in the rub recipe above and giving them a thorough stir. Optional: grind them in a spice/coffee grinder for 10 seconds
- Mix up the Sauce in a separate bowl by whisking together all sauce ingredients until well combined
- Drizzle ribs with olive oil just to coat and massage it in so that all surface area of the meat is covered with a thin layer of oil
- Sprinkle ribs with dry rub, making sure to cover top, bottom and sides. Give it a good coat without going overboard.
- Massage dry rub into the meat, ensuring thorough coverage
- Put ribs on the smoker until internal temperature reaches 195 degrees (approx 3 hours)
- Apply BBQ sauce approximately 1 time per hour
- Cooking time will vary depending on your type of smoker, how often you open the lid, and the weather