Monday, January 5, 2009

BBQ Ribs in a Cardboard Box

Have you heard about the Trout Caviar Sweepstakes? Everyone who posts a comment here about one (or more) of their local food finds or highlights of 2008 will be eligible for a drawing. The prize is a copy of The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook , which highlights our state's farmers, millers, cheesemakers, winemakers, pairing them with chefs who use their products. It's a beautiful book that celebrates our rich and evolving agricultural heritage and its impact on the culinary culture throughout the state. Entries will be open until we have enough entries to make it a drawing, or until the end of the month, whichever comes first.

I have no doubt whatsoever that it's this deep white winter we're, um, enjoying, that sends me right back to the longest days of last summer as I consider my local food highlights of 2008.

We never really put the grill away for the winter, but the pleasures of grilling and barbecue are surely best enjoyed on those mellow, lingering summer evenings. We've been doing our own home smoking for some time now, but I got a chance to expand my barbecue horizons last summer when Kim Ode asked me to take part in her "Edesia Cookbook Review", held each month at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Galleria in Edina.

Of the several books I considered, the one that most caught my imagination--and tastebuds--was a book by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnecliffe, Peace, Love, and Barbecue. Mike Mills is something of a legend on the competitive barbecue circuit. His team from Murphysboro, Illinois stunned the barbecue world in 1990 by winning World Champion in ribs and Grand World Champion overall at the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest, held each year in Memphis. What was so stunning about the "Apple City" team's victory was not just that it came in their first appearance at the "Super Bowl of Barbecue," but that they were Yankees! No "Northerners" had ever won at Memphis before. This was a serious blow to Southern pride--never mind that Murphysboro, at the far southern tip of Illinois, lies south of Louisville, Kentucky.

If you love barbecue, buy this book. It is equal parts memoir, folklore, history, ethnography, and cookbook. And the recipe for those world champion Apple City ribs produced the best ribs I've ever tasted--and I've long been a fan of Ted Cook's 19th Hole on 38th Street in south Minneapolis.

As great as those ribs were, cooked at home, the barbecue I enjoyed most this past year came about as the result of--dare I say it?--Yankee ingenuity. We picked up a rack of pork spare ribs at the Midtown Farmers' Market from Jill Marckel of Chase Brook Natural Meats, and we took them out to our land in Wisconsin. I planned to smoke them, but all we had for cooking facilities was a fire ring and grate. We needed something to contain the smoke and heat, and that's where the Yankee ingenuity came in.

We needed some kind of box, but all we had was cardboard; that would not do so well next to the fire. We had a roll of aluminum foil, and some duct tape (you just knew that duct tape would figure in here somewhere, didn't you?). And now that I'm remembering, we didn't even have enough cardboard for the whole box, so a couple of the sides were made from foil-wrapped newspaper.

The product of those materials, and the aforementioned Yankee ingenuity, was this:

The marinated, spice-rubbed ribs went inside, and in time--quite a lot of time--with a mopping of apple cider now and then, as the light faded from the valley, we sat down to this:

Applewood-smoked spare ribs, fire-roasted corn-on-the-cob, heirloom tomatoes from our garden.... If, like me, you're looking out today through frost-etched windows at another bitterly cold, snowy January day, well, I'm sorry. But, cheer up--summer will be here before you know it, and the best ribs you've ever eaten await.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw


Karen said...

I had my tonsils removed just before Christmas of 07, and after a couple weeks of eating nothing but Jello and mashed potatoes, I mustered the loudest whisper I could to beg my husband to get me some bacon! And so ended my 12 years of vegetarianism and began my love affair with bacon. I have since sampled many a slice from several local producers, but Chase Brook's bacon is the stuff that makes me want to secretly buy it, cook it up when I'm home alone and eat the whole dang package all myself! Though I suspect that wonderful but lingering "I cooked bacon recently" aroma would give me away.

My other fave had to be the pumpkins grown by my friend Peter, which we baked, roasted, mashed, made martinis with, you name it!

outdoorgriller said...

That box looks funny great work trying new things.I cook ribs differently and they always come out tender. If you want more recipes or if you want to take a look at the collection of tips I have for grilling you can visit

d said...

My favorite thing was my first year of eating from a CSA box, specifically harmony valley, and my first experience with ramps. I am eagerly waiting them in the spring and have the feeling this will be an annual event!

Trout Caviar said...

That's a fascinating story, Karen. I wonder what it is about salty, smoky, fatty pork that's so irrestistible. It must appeal to some primordial taste memory, the clan huddled in the cave mouth, as the wooly mammoth haunch roasts on the fire! At the same time, pumpkins and squash are great, too. I own three cookbooks devoted to those very excellent vegetables. My current favorite is a little French book called "Potirons, Potimarrons, Je Vous Aime!" Which translates as, "Pumpkins, Pumpkins That Taste Like Chestnuts, I Love You!" No kidding.

Even funnier than that, though, is your video of your dog Bruno trying on his new birthday duds. Anyone in need of a good laugh, visit the blog site Karen has listed at the bottom of her note, and check out the December 18 entry, "Of Tonsils & Doggie Snow Boots." Priceless.

Mr. Griller: I'm not sure what you mean when you say my box looks "funny"--I feel it's a feat of design genius that puts Frank Gehry in the shade! The possibilities of newspaper-and-aluminum-foil construction have not been adequately explored, at all. Seriously, though, that claptrap contraption worked really well. Good food doesn't require fancy equipment, obviously; an open mind and an adventurous spirit are far more important. Thanks for writing, and happy grilling.

And mr. d: Nice to hear from you again, too. Great to hear that your first CSA experience was so positive. The growth of CSAs has been a godsend for small local producers. Folks in this area have been wonderful about rallying around our farmers, and everyone benefits. And the ramps--yes, so humble, so delicious, so welcome after the long winter. I hope you'll get a chance to forage some of your own this year. Contact me as spring comes around, and I'll give you some tips, if you like.

All best~ Brett

Anonymous said...

As usual you Trouts made me hungry yet again.
Being a barbeque post, I have to share one of my endeavours with you.

Over the last four years myself, and three other partners have developed "One Light Charcoal". I would really appreciate your feedback on it / the concept. Check out:

It is available in Whole Foods market stores, select HEB stores, and Wall Mart this year.

Our goal with this one-use charcoal bag was to rid the world of lighter fluid and provide a convenient and clean, quick fire.

Any feedback would be welcome.

...And Karen I am so happy you have rediscovered bacon again.


Trout Caviar said...

Hi ESP: The One Light Charcoal looks like a nifty product, and I certainly applaud your efforts to reduce the use of that nasty lighter fluid. Also great that you're using real chunk charcoal in two of the versions. So my only question: With the oak and mesquite, and then the natural briquets, why offer the regular briquets, which I've always heard contain a lot of not-so-green components?

Good luck with your venture.
Best~ Brett

Amy Mills Tunnicliffe said...

Thanks so much for the kind words about Peace, Love, and Barbecue! Would love to welcome you to 17th Street sometime! Love your blog! Lots of good and entertaining info here!
Amy Mills Tunnicliffe
Peace, Love, and Barbecue

Fred P said...

My story has more to do with how food has the ability to bring strangers together, although I do have a food find which I will divulge in a bit. Many years ago my dear sister who has since departed this earth, dated a man -- let's call him Bob. This past summer I was hob-nobbing one fine evening, and heard my name being called out. It was Bob, who obviously remembered and recognized me, although I did not remember him. He introduced himself, told his story, and we reminisced fondly over my sister and parted by exchanging contact information. Fast forward to about 4 months later, my wife Kim, and I were invited to Bob's home for dinner. It turns out Bob's Victorian style home is only several doors down the street from where Kim was born and raised. Not bad since Kim had always wanted to see the inside of this home. Bob also invited a few others, including his sister-in-law, married to Bob's brother, who sadly passed away a number of years ago. By far the best part of the evening was the wonderful food -- two roasted ducks, home made spätzle and bread, a pork roast, a decent amount of good wine and the forming of delightful new friendships. It was an amazing evening of story telling, laughing, crying and sharing. The sister-in-law and Bob have since become friends of ours. More dinners are to ensue, and life has become a little richer as a result of our commune with Bob and his table.

My food find for '08? Big, fat, sweet, ugly (really quite beautiful) carrots from a Minnesota transitional grower sold at the Mississippi Market. They still had them stockpiled as of yesterday's date, 1/15/09, and have been carefully stored since they've been pulled from the ground. Really delicious.

Trout Caviar said...

Fred, my friend, I think you got right to the point there. Thanks for that excellent story.

I will look for those carrots, as our own stash is starting to run low. I need to remember, in stocking our root cellar, that when that's all the fresh veg you have, you go through it really fast--no running out to the garden for a handful of beans or a few leaves of chard. I also noticed that Mississippi Market has these plastic bags of mixed root vegetables, from Harmony Valley Farm, I think--turnips, carrots, beets, etc.--which they bill as soup fixin's, but which obviously could be used in many ways. So still some local veg available in the markets, and spring is right around the corner!

Cheers~ Brett