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Spare Ribs with Blueberry Barbecue Sauce

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Rina Jordan

I use two techniques to cook ribs for ultimate tenderness and flavor. First the ribs are baked low and slow in the oven, where much of the fat melts away and is discarded. Then they are crisped. smoked, and flavored on the plank before serving. The Blueberry Barbecue Sauce gives them a sweet and spicy kick and is a delicious twist on traditional barbecue sauce. The results are wonderfully sticky ribs.

Soaking the Plank

Start by using a clean, untreated piece of wood. Most of the wood planks sold in stores are 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Be sure to choose a plank that allows at least a 1-inch border around the food you are preparing. No matter the size, plan on soaking your plank for at least one hour, and up to twenty-four hours. This important step adds moisture that helps the wood to resist burning, which prolongs the use of your plank.

Place the plank in a kitchen sink, cooler, glass or ceramic baking dish, or any container large enough to fit it for soaking.

Soak the plank in water, or if you feel like being creative, try adding some white wine, beer, salt, or apple, berry, or citrus juice to the water.

Keep the plank submerged with something heavy, like a brick, so it stays weighted down during soaking.

Preheating the Plank

Preheating the plank before grilling is an important step. With woods like maple, oak, cherry, and alder, the plank will often begin to warp when placed over heat (cedar does not usually warp). Preheating the plank will control the warping, kill any bacteria on the cooking surface, and impart a more intense flavor to the food.

Before preheating the plank, have a spray bottle with water handy to smolder any flames if flare-ups occur.

For a gas grill, preheat your grill to medium-high, or about 400 degrees F. For a charcoal grill, prepare your grill for indirect cooking: Fill a chimney starter (charcoal chimney) to the top with charcoal. Light the charcoal and let it burn until half of the coals are glowing. Spread the coals onto half of the bottom of the grill, leaving the other side without coals (this is called the “indirect method”). Place the grill lid on top and fully open the top and bottom vents. If your grill does not have a thermometer, place a grill thermometer through one of the vent openings and let it sit for 5 minutes to get an accurate reading. If the grill gets too hot, close the vents partially and let the temperature adjust. Continue making adjustments to the vent openings until the grill reaches a consistent temperature of 400 degrees F.

For optimum smoke and wood flavor, place the plank 8 to 12 inches above the flame and close the grill lid. I prefer to place a plank on the warming rack of my gas grill for preheating and grilling. It takes a little longer to get it lightly toasted and get some smoke going (8 to 10 minutes), but it reduces the number of flare-ups so that you will get more uses out of the plank. If the plank is placed closer to the flame, you should see some light smoke after 3 to 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the grill if the plank is closer to the flame.

Once you see some light wisps of gray smoke emanating from the grill, open the grill lid and flip the plank over. If the plank has not bowed, you are ready to begin grilling. If warping occurs, close the lid again and continue preheating another minute or two until the plank flattens out. Continue flipping and heating the plank one or two more times until warping is controlled.

Makes4 to 6 servings

Cooking Methodgrilling

CostModerate

Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, game day

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentgrill

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturemeaty, savory, sweet

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 slab pork spare ribs (3 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. Soak the plank for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

  2. In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, salt, and pepper. Rub the ribs all over with the seasoning mixture. Place on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

  3. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, jalapeno, garlic powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper and saute until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the blueberries, molasses, chili sauce, and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

  4. Transfer the sauce to a blender and puree until smooth. Be careful while blending the sauce, as it needs room for steam to escape; remove or open the center part of the blender lid and cover it with a damp towel while blending. The sauce can be prepared and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.

  5. When you are ready to cook the ribs, bring them to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place the ribs in a baking pan, cover them with foil, and bake until tender, about 1 1/2, hours. Once the ribs are cool enough to handle, remove them from the pan and generously brush each side of the ribs with 1/2 cup of the sauce.

  6. Prepare the plank for grilling according to the instructions (see Notes). Place the ribs on the toasted side of the plank. Close the lid and grill for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the ribs are crisp and lightly charred. Remove the ribs from the heat and brush with another 1/4 cup of the sauce. Cut the ribs apart and serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.

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