Honey-Cured Ham Ribs

Combine the briny, smoky, umami flavours of country ham with the crusty, gnaw-off-the-bone pleasure of barbecued baby backs and you wind up with ham ribs. I wish I could say I thought of it, but I got the idea from a man utterly obsessed with pork, smoke, and fire: Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston, Texas. Curing the ribs in ham brine prior to smoking produces a gorgeous colour, uncommon succulence (in the way most brine-cured meats are succulent), and an astonishing honey-ham flavour.

Yield: Serves 2 or 3; can be multiplied as desired

Method: Hot-smoking

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours drying

Brining time: 3 to 4 days

Smoking time: 4 to 5 hours

Fuel: Oak and pecan wood—enough for 5 hours of smoking (see chart on page 6)

Gear: A jumbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag (optional); a large aluminum foil pan

Shop: You’ll need one ingredient that may be out of your comfort zone: pink curing salt, also known as Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1. (It contains 93.75 per cent salt and 6.25 per cent sodium nitrite.) Buy it at a good meat market or order it online from Amazon.

What else: “If you’re expecting ribs that fall off the bone, you’ve come to the wrong place,” Shepherd says, a gentle reminder that ribs—even after smoking for 5 hours—should have a little chew to them. That’s why God gave you teeth. Pork chops and pork collar (cut from the neck) are also delicious cured and smoked in this fashion.

INGREDIENTS

1 rack spareribs (3 to 4 pounds)

¾ cup coarse salt (sea or kosher)

¾ cup honey

1½ teaspoons pink curing salt (Prague Powder No. 1 or Insta Cure No. 1)

1½ cups hot water

1½ cups cold water

8 whole cloves

3 bay leaves

mustard seed caviar, for serving (optional)

  1. Arrange the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet or cutting board. Remove the thin papery membrane from the back of each rack of ribs (see instructions below). Cut the rack in half widthwise between the middle bones. Place the ribs in a jumbo heavy-duty resealable plastic bag or nonreactive baking dish just large enough to hold them.
  2. Make the brine: Place the coarse salt, honey, pink curing salt, and hot water in a large bowl and whisk until the honey and salts are dissolved. Whisk in the cold water and add the cloves and bay leaves. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Pour the brine over the ribs, squeeze out the air, seal the bag, and place in an aluminum foil pan or roasting pan (to contain any leaks), or cover the baking dish with plastic wrap. Brine the ribs in the refrigerator for 3 days (for half racks) or 4 days (for whole racks), turning them over twice daily so they cure evenly.
  4. Drain the ribs well, discarding the brine, and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange the ribs on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and let dry in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  5. Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225° to 250°F. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.
  6. Place the ribs directly on the rack in the smoker, bone side down. Smoke 4 to 5 hours, adding wood as needed. When done, the ribs will be tender enough to pull apart with your fingers and the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by about  ½ inch.
  7. You can serve the ribs hot off the smoker, cut into individual ribs. Serve with Mustard Seed Caviar, if desired. That’s how I serve them, because patience is not part of my genetic makeup.

How to remove the membrane

To remove the papery membrane on the inside of the rib, loosen it from a middle bone with an instant-read thermometer (wiggle the end of the probe under the membrane at the bone). Grab the membrane with a paper towel or dishcloth (it’s slippery) and gently pull it off. If the membrane isn’t obvious, it was probably removed by the butcher.

Excerpted from Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing). Copyright ©2016. Photographs by Matthew Benson.

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About the Author

Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen

By: Liz Bruckner Ask Steven Raichlen, world-renowned grilling and smoking authority, the keys to his career longevity, and he shortlists two contributing factors: passion and zeal. A French literature major in college, the bestselling author and host of Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke; Primal Grill and Le Maitre Du Grill, won a Thomas J Watson Foundation […]

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