Fire-Roasted Corn with Smokey-Paprika Butter
The Cook’s Ribs
If someone asked me to capture the end-of-summer in three words, the three words would be tomatoes, corn and ribs! So, it should come as no surprise that my favorite “end-of-summer” menu features these three ingredients. Often times, the best tomatoes appear in the market in September. They have been soaking up the heat of the summer and are sweet and tart, not watery like some early summer tomatoes.
This is a menu to make and to savor when time is on your side—when you have nothing pressing and nothing better to do than spend the day in the backyard barbecuing The Cook’s Ribs.
Because the ribs need the luxury of time, the rest of the menu is quick and easy. The Tumbled Tomatoes are best made the day before you serve them because the longer they sit in the fridge, the better the salt and herb crust gets. They are at their best when the crust is completely dry on the outside skin of the tomatoes. I wash cherry tomatoes with cold water and grind a mixture of sea salt, dehydrated garlic and herbes de Provence over them as I tumble them—hence the name—in a bowl. The trick is to make the herb mixture and place it in it’s own salt grinder. Grinding a fine layer of the seasoning over the tomatoes allows the mixture to dry easily and form the essential flavor crust on the outside of the tomato.
In the summer, I buy the heirloom cherry tomatoes so that my bowl of tumbled tomatoes is a rainbow of color and shapes. If you can’t find them, the recipe is equally good made with any grape or cherry tomato. These tomatoes are addictive! But, hey, it’s a healthy addiction! They might look plain but they pack a flavor punch and every time I serve them, I am asked for the recipe. In fact, I suggest you make twice what you think you need because no one can eat just oneJ. And, this is one recipe that I make all year long with the readily available and very flavorful grape tomatoes.
While you are in the kitchen tumbling the tomatoes, it’s the perfect time to whip up the Smoked Paprika Butter for the Fire-Roasted Corn. This three ingredient compound butter is a perfect example of how a little effort can up your eating ante. We all put butter on our corn, and it is good. Add a little smoked paprika and garlic salt to the butter and it is GREAT! The butter can be mashed and mixed together the day before and stored in the fridge until ready to use. You can make a roll for slicing out of the butter; store it in a small bowl or if you are ambitious, shape it in a butter or candy mold. Anyway you serve it, once it melts on the fire-roasted corn, it will make the dish.
But the real reason for this menu is the ribs. You’ll start the night before, seasoning the ribs and placing them in the refrigerator. Early the next day, you’ll build your charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Yes, you can make these on a gas grill! I do it all the time with a smoker box and real wood chips. I like using apple or hickory wood but you can use what ever wood you like except for mesquite, which is too acrid for the long, slow smoking time. Once the chips are smoking, make sure the fire is low, between 250° -225° F. The ribs will take about 6 hours to make—this is the original slow food and sooooo worth it. You can make baby-back ribs in 1/3 of the time, and they are good, but these are really special.
I learned to make these ribs when I was a member of the Memphis in May competition barbecue team, Swine and Dine. The two head “cooks” made these ribs for themselves—thus the name. Once they’d feed their team with hundreds of racks of ribs, they’d sit back, pop a cold one and keep cooking “The Cooks’ Ribs,” until the magic of a marinade “bath,” honey and 2 more hours produced mind-blowingly great ‘cue. The ribs are smoked slowly and “bathed” in a hot marinade every hour to build up layers of flavor and create the most intense barbecued “bark” of any ribs that I have ever eaten. The outside “bark” will be very dark, almost black, and will be sweet and savory, slightly chewy with perfectly tender-to-the-bone, smoke-ring pink meat on the inside. It’s well worth the time, and well worth the wait!
About 2 hours before you eat, the racks of ribs are drizzled with honey and sprinkled with a little more rub before being wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil for the final journey to rib nirvana. This step is crucial as my barbecue buddy, Gary Pantlik, one of the former Swine and Dine head cooks says about competition barbecue, “If you aren’t wrappin,’ you’re either lyin’ or losin!”
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
½ teaspoon dehydrated garlic
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
Mix herbs, put in a salt grinder or pulverize slightly in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have either, just skip that step.
Wash tomatoes in cold water and remove all excess water, but do not dry. Tumble/toss tomatoes with herbs until it is evenly mixed. Refrigerate uncovered until all water is evaporated from the skin of the tomatoes, tossing tomatoes in bowl occasionally until herb and salt mixture has formed a crust on the tomatoes.
Fire-Roasted Corn with Smoked-Paprika Butter
Grilling Method: Direct/Medium Heat
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-½ teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon garlic salt
6 ears corn, husked
In a small mixing bowl, mash together the butter, paprika and garlic salt. Refrigerate until ready to use. You can make a log of compound butter, or place in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let soften before serving.
Brush the ears of corn lightly all over with olive oil. Place directly on the cooking grate over Direct Medium heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until the kernels are lightly browned and blistered all over, 8 to 10 minutes.
While still hot, spread the Smoked-Paprika Butter evenly over all ears of corn. Season with a pinch of sea salt and squirt with lime just before eating.
The Cooks’ Ribs
Grilling Method: Indirect/Low Heat
4-24 slabs of baby back ribs, about 2 pounds each
½ gallon Wicker’s (vinegar-based marinade) or Lexington-style Vinegar Sauce (see below)
4 cups (2 bottles) favorite Italian dressing, such as Newman’s Own
1 ½ cups Willingham’s WHAM dry rub or Classic BBQ Rub (see below), divided (link to BBQProshop.com)
1 8-ounce jar of clover honey
The Overnight “Prep”
Prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back and generously rub them down. Once rubbed, take each slab and cut in half. Bag them and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to cook, remove ribs from refrigerator and allow them to reach room temperature. Light the grill and get the temperature up to 250ºF degrees.
This recipe replaces basting with bathing. In a large disposable aluminum loaf pan, mix the Wicker’s, and the Italian dressing with about ¼ cup of rub. Place the pan on the grill to keep warm.
Once the grill has reached 250ºF degrees, place all the ribs on the grill in a rib rack and let the smokin’ begin! The temperature will drop a bit, but that’s OK. Maintain a temperature of 225ºF degrees. After an hour has passed, the ribs will be ready for their first bath. Using a sturdy pair of locking chef tongs, submerge each slab in the “bath.” Give them all a good dousing and return them to the heat. Repeat this process each hour until the ribs have been on the grill for 3-4 hours.
At this point, take each half-slab and give it one last “bath”. Place on aluminum foil for wrapping. Drizzle honey on slab and finish off with one last dash of dry rub. Repeat process for each slab. Stack 3 to 4 slabs on top of each other per foil package and wrap tightly. After all the ribs have been wrapped, place them back on the grill for 1 ½ more hours. Let them continue to slowly cook in the foil packages on indirect low heat, about 225º F. These ribs will take a total of 4 ½- 5-½ hours to cook. Remove foil packages from grill as needed and serve.
Serves between 8 and 48, depending on appetite and number of racks cooked.
Lexington-Style BBQ Sauce—you will need to double this recipe for The Cook’s Ribs
2 cups cider vinegar
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
½-1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (the more, the hotter the sauce)
1/2 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper
Mix all ingredients together and let sit 10 minutes. Add to chopped barbecue when hot to season the meat and keep it from drying out.
Classic BBQ Rub—you will need to double this recipe for The Cook’s Ribs
This rub has all the classic barbecue notes: salt, spice, sweet and smoky. It is particularly great on ribs but works with pork chops and tenderloin, chicken and even catfish for a beautifully authentic low ‘n slow barbecued flavor.
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Sugar in the Raw
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic
½ tablespoon cayenne pepper
Combine paprika, salt, sugar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, pepper, dehydrated onion and garlic, and cayenne in bowl; mix well. For a smoother rub, puree ingredients in a spice grinder until well combined and all pieces are uniform (the rub will be very fine and tan in color).
Extra rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months.