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Anonymous Modernist 10452

Sous Vide ribs - When to smoke or grill?

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I've been experimenting with sous-vide ribs and have had some excellent results sous-viding direclty in brine for 24 hours and then finishing them off on the smoker for a couple of hours. Other times, not so much. I've started to catalog my experiments and would love some input on what works & why!

Experiment 1:

removed silver skin from slab of baby back pork ribs

cut in half, put in crock pot with chicken broth

sous vided at 140F for ~50hrs

sprinkled rub on ribs, put in smoker set to 180F (actual 180-220F) for 1 hr

basted ribs in "bulls-eye brown sugar and hickory" bbq sauce, allowed to smoke for 1 more hr

Experiment 1 verdict:

smoking the ribs dried out the meat, and did little to add any "smoke flavor" to them. It had a mushy, dry texture. There was no noticeable red ring around the meat (an indicator of smoked ribs vs boiled ones). I was originally planning to put the 2nd half rack on the hot gas grill also, as a 2nd experiment, but after tasting how dry the other ones were, I didn't bother. I'm a little disappointed that I didn't try taste testing the ribs earlier in the smoking process, as I'm guessing there's a "sweet spot" at which point the gooey mess that comes out of the SV gets the crispier edge.

Experiment 2:

remove silver skin from slab of baby back pork ribs

cut rack in half

sprinkled rub on ribs, put in smoker set to 225F (actual 225-250F) for 1 hr

Extracted one of the halves, sealed in plastic bag, put into the SV at 140F for 48hrs - more on these later

the other half remaining i allowed to smoke for 1 more hr before basting w/ bbq sauce

allowed to smoke 1 more hr (3 hrs total), basting every 20-30 min

I continually cut off single ribs after 3 hrs, 4 hrs, and 5hrs total to taste them, basting in between

For the ribs that were SV'd, i finished them off by basting w/ bbq sauce and cooking on the gas grill for about 2 min/side

Experiment 2 verdict:

For the ribs that were only smoked- as expected, they got more tender with more time. the ones after 3 hrs weren't very good (too tough) but the last remaining rib which cooked for 5 hrs total still had some moisture, but a flakier texture. a little effort is needed to get the meat to come off the bone, but it does come off cleanly. taste was very smoky.

For the ribs that were also SV'd- these ribs were very tender, and came off the bone with zero effort. the texture was a little too soft throughout, especially on the outside which we normally expect to be crispier. the taste was very good, and a little smoky, but not enough to convince me it was bbq.

Experiment 3:

i think the next time i'm going to try the same method with the SV, but instead of the gas grill, use the smoker at 350F to finish them off...maybe try a rib every 30 min or so to see if/when they get dried out beyond the point of being good to eat...

Thoughts on Experiment 3? Does anyone have any good experiences or advice to share in general?

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I've done the recipe a couple of time and my favorite results are from smoking first, then sous vide and finally putting the BBQ rub for finishing/reheating on the grill.

A couple of hint that I can give you looking at the way you cooked them. First thing is that if you want a smoke ring to need to smoke the meat first because once the meat hit 140 the proteins are denatured and you won't get smoke ring. It's just a look thing, it won't change anything, that's not the source of your problems. The main problem is that you probably smoke at a too high temperature. It's a perfect temperature for traditionnal smoke ribs but since you're cooking them sous vide if you go over the temperature that you use to cook them sous vide you will lose much of the effect. Also salting them before the sous vide step make you cure the meat and change the texture to be firmer and less juicy. So try smoking them at a lower temperature first and then cooking them sous vide with no seasonning. You can then finish them later any way you want.

Good luck and give us some feedback


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In Modernist Cuisine, we suggest smoking ribs at 65°C / 150°F for 7 hours, and then cooking them at 60°C for 48 hours. Finish the ribs with a blowtorch, or brown them conventionally (e.g., on a grill or under a broiler).

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For what it's worth, I too have been experimenting with cooking pork ribs sous vide as an alternative to using just the smoker. I've recently tried preparing the ribs two way with fairly good results.

I began by portioning the ribs into 3 bone sections, then equilibrium brining the ribs in a 2% salt/1.5% sugar solution for a couple of days. Then I massaged them with a dry rub. For the rub I followed Emeril Lagasse's formula for "Essence" but cut way down on salt since I was brining the meat. In both cases, after cooking, the ribs went into an ice bath and were then frozen until I got around to finishing them later.

The first batch I smoked for two hours using a Traeger pellet grill set to 'Smoke." The temperature in the Traeger varies between 145F and 165F at that setting. After smoking, I vacuum sealed the ribs, then placed them in the 'fridge overnight before cooking them in a 143F water bath for 48 hours. In that time the fat rendered out thus basting the ribs. For finishing I returned the ribs to a 140F water bath and applied the sauce after they came out of the bag. After cooking the ribs were very tender and flavorful, but I am unsure that I like the texture.

The second batch I vacuum sealed after applying the rub, then placed them in the 'fridge to marinate overnight. (Marinating in this way may just be a superstition on my part.) The following day - following Douglas Baldwin's advice - I placed the ribs in at 155F water bath for 24 hours. The transformation in 24 hours was surprising. Much more fat had been rendered. Squeezing the meat through the bag, it felt more firm than the slower cooked batch.

I froze most of the ribs, but I placed one 2-bone portion in the refrigerator. The next day I placed it and a frozen 4-bone portion in the Traeger. I placed a temperature probe in the refrigerated ribs so I could track the internal temperature to get an idea on the timing. With the pellet grill set to smoke it took one hour to bring the ribs from 38F to 108F and then the temperature stalled. I took them out and tasted them. They were just fine, if you like your ribs served around room temperature.

In that hour the frozen ribs thawed out enough to stick the temperature probe into the thickest part . But it only took a further 35 minutes for the internal temp to come up to that same 108F. So I took the ribs off the grill, anointed two with barbeque sauce and two with a Bourbon Glaze I made following Jason Logsdon's recipe, and took them over to the neighbors to get their opinion. (They're from the St. Louis/Memphis metroplex, so they know what real barbecue tastes like.) The neighbors pronounced the Bourbon Glazed ribs "The best we've ever had." I was flattered but not fooled.

These ribs are not like real barbeque. Something magical happens when fatty pig meat is left cooking over a smoldering wood fire for 6 - 8 hours, and cooking in a water bath is not the same. However, having said that, it sure is convenient. And a lot cleaner. Biting into a rib cooked sous vide, you get the full flavor of the pork and the spice rub, and the meat comes away from the bone cleanly. Best of all, it's not dripping with grease so you don't have to take a shower or send your shirt to the laundry after you've eaten. Sous vide ribs would be outstanding as finger food at a cocktail party. Add having small portions ready to go in the freezer means you can have ribs when you want them without all the rigmarole of preparing the meat, rubbing it with spices, or getting out the smoker each time.

So what's next? Two further experiments come to mind. The first is to begin by smoking the ribs, cooking them in a 155F water bath (I think that was the better choice), and then, when you feel like ribs, reviving them in a water bath before finishing them on a hot gas grill. The second is to revive unsmoked ribs in a water bath and then smoke them for 1 hour before service.

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I'm not a big fan of long sous-vide cook times for babybacks myself, I find it makes the meat a little too mushy. What it usually do for baby back is :

- Trim (silverskin, extra fat)

- Brine for 1-2h (simple salt(7%) sugar(3%) brine) (rinse them throughly after)

- Dry rub

- Smoke for 1-2h at low temp (could even be cold smoke)

- Sous-vide for 6-8h at 170F. (at 6h the meat requires a little pull to come off the bone, at 8h it starts to fall off a lot more easily)

- Finish on the grill at high temp with sauce. Or cool and refrigerate until you need them (i'll usually reheat for about 30-45mins in a 130F bath, but I suspect you could just reheat them on the grill just fine)

Brine and smoke are optionnal, I just find brining keeps the meat a little moistier.

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