The Ribs of Summer: Cured Thai Style Pork Ribs
Summer is upon us. This year it is filled with relentless heat, bored children, and an overwhelming desire to smoke foods for hours on end.
There are few things better, culinarily speaking, than preparing, smoking, and consuming delicious meats and washing them down with your favorite beverage. It is even better when you can dazzle your friends and family with a twist on a classic.
In my introductory post here, I waxed extensively on my preference to prep my meat several hours to even days in advance to ensure the best flavor, seasoning, and texture. The recent 4th of July holiday was no exception. In addition to my standard barbecue rubbed ribs, I decided to mix things up a bit and cure several racks in an effort to replicate some Thai style pork ribs I had at a restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After acquiring enough racks of ribs to feed my guests, I set a few aside to cure for my highly unauthentic Thai style pork rib experiment. The next step in the preparation process was to remove the papery membrane on the back of each rack. Now, this isn’t entirely necessary, but that stuff won’t render out while cooking and at this point removal is part of my standard operating procedure.
The next step was determining the appropriate amount of salt to use to cure the ribs. When it comes to sausage making or dry brining larger cuts of meat like a whole chicken or a brisket, I tend to season aggressively between 1 and 1.5% of the final, trimmed weight of the meat. However, there is a larger ratio of bones to meat with ribs in comparison to most other cuts. I decided to halve the lower level of my brining ratio and went with .5% of the weight of each rack of ribs.
With the salt applied to the meatier side of the ribs, they spent the night uncovered on a wire rack over a parchment covered sheet pan in the refrigerator. The next day I took them out while my smoker was getting up to temperature, roughly 30-45 minutes.
I smoked the cured rib racks by themselves (no other rubs, seasonings, or sauces) for about two hours before I began layering a Thai style glaze on them, lightly coating them each hour over the remaining cooking time.
After testing for doneness at the five hour mark, I pulled the racks from the smoker and applied a fourth and final coat of glaze along with some coarsely chopped cilantro, finely chopped chives, red chiles, and chopped roasted peanuts for garnish.
I’ve made a lot of ribs and these were instantly my favorites. The following recipe for the Thai style glaze is enough to apply four thing coats to three racks of baby back ribs. These are the same proportions I used, however, I could have used more heat, so adjust to your tastes where necessary.
Cured Thai Style Pork Ribs
For the cure:
- 3 racks of your favorite style of ribs (I used baby back)
- Salt (.5% of the weight of each rack of ribs)
For the glaze:
- ¼ cup of honey
- ¼ cup Shaoxing wine (or Mirin, if you need to be gluten free)
- 2 tablespoons roasted red chile paste (I used Thai kitchen)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or Tamari, if you need to be gluten free)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon finely diced lemongrass
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (or grated with a fine grater)
- 1 inch chunk of fresh ginger, minced (or grated with a fine grater)
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- Coarsely chopped cilantro, to taste
- Chopped roasted peanuts, to taste
- Finely chopped chives or scallions, to taste
- Finely diced red chiles, to taste
- Remove the papery membrane covering the back fo the ribs. I use a paring knife to help it break free, then use a paper towel and my fingers to remove it. With a little patience it will come off in two or three large sheets using the paper towel for better grip.
- Flip racks over and place on a wire rack that is on top of a parchment paper or paper towel lined sheet pan.
- Apply salt evenly over the meatier side of the ribs, then store in your refrigerator uncovered overnight (but no more than 24 hours).
- Take the ribs out of the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before you plan on cooking them.
- Smoke (or grill on indirect heat; or bake wrapped in foil) at 250 degrees for about two hours
- While the ribs are in the first two hours of cooking, put all the glaze ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk until completely combined.
- After two hours of smoking (or grilling/baking), lightly brush the ribs with the glaze (if using an oven, open the foil wrapping and leave uncovered for the duration of the cook).
- Repeat after third and fourth hour of cooking to develop a nice mahogany colored shell
- When the ribs are done (you should be able to lift them in the middle of the rack while the ends remain on the grates of the grill and there will be a slight give to the meat, it shouldn’t completely be falling off the bone), remove them from the smoker (or grill, or oven) and apply the fourth and final coating of glaze along with any garnishes to taste