A series on things to make, eat and imbibe this summer.
My favorite summer moments involve impromptu gatherings, especially those where you find yourself hosting on relatively short notice. I know, it's tough being that popular! Whether because you have spontaneous friends, a grill, or a really great, fireworks-proximate roof deck, you may find yourself unexpectedly entertaining this summer. Sometimes these friends will bring beer; sometimes they'll just show up. No need to panic. Here's an excellent menu that easily feeds a group of six to eight without trotting out the tired cliche of burgers and dogs. (Fair warning: this will just encourage people to keep converging on your place when the weather turns warm. That's the price you pay for being that pretty. And serving ribs.)
Main: BBQ Baby Back Ribs
Sides: Grilled Green Beans with Garlic Scapes, Grilled Corn
Booze: Anchor Liberty Ale, Zinfandel, or Rose
BBQ Baby Back Ribs
2 or 3 racks baby back ribs
¼ cup paprika (equal mix of smoked Spanish paprika and sweet Hungarian paprika)
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp ground cumin
6 cloves garlic, minced
generous coating of your favorite rub, like The Special Shit
(This serves 6 to 8.)
Ribs are perfect party favors for summer gatherings, especially for the host. You can roughly estimate 6 or so ribs per person for portion control; they can be served in a pile with little fanfare; and they don't require utensils so clean up is as easy as tossing the bones. It may feel primal to cook your dinner over an open flame, but it's even more caveman to just eat meat off the bone with your bare hands.
I favor baby back ribs because they're meatier and less fatty than spareribs. Plus, they are easier to cook and eat without all that extraneous cartilage. Remove the membrane on the underside of each rack by cutting it away from a bone near the end and pulling it free from the entire rack, gripping it with a paper towel. Avoid the urge to wear it like Ned Pembry's face (although if you do, this might guarantee more ribs for you).
Combine the dry ingredients with the garlic in a small bowl and mix together with a fork to incorporate the rub nicely. Sprinkle generous spoonfuls of the rub on each side of the racks, massaging it lightly into the meat and evenly covering everything you can see. Do not lick fingers (yet).
I'm a dry rub kind of guy (hey now!), and generally feel that most BBQ sauces add little more than a mess. But if you must, I will allow that the NYT has a recipe for sweet-and-sour balsamic BBQ sauce which is pretty amazing when slathered on spareribs. Like, you sort of want to eat the sauce with a spoon when no one is looking. Their recipe yields a ton of sauce that you should freeze and trot out for grilling country-style ribs (or even pork chops).
Now here's a neat little trick that I learned (no, not the one with the cherry stem, although that's pretty cool too): for best results, roll each rack into a cylinder and pin the ends together with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Minimize the overlap as much as you can so that you don't end up with undercooked ribs at each end; you're looking for a circle, not a spiral. Place the racks on the grill surface in their cylindrical configuration, at the far end from your pile of charcoal for indirect heat. Standing on end, the ribs will baste themselves as they cook, yielding succulent, juicy ribs and reducing the chance of them drying out.
Let 'em roast for about 45 minutes before turning them 180 degrees and flipping them like an hourglass to even out the cooking and resume the basting. You'll want to see the meat pulling away from the ends of the bones slightly, but not so much that the rack starts to look dessicated. I like ribs to be toothy and meaty, not soggy and falling off the bone like at Chili's. It's more satisfying to pull the meat away from the bones with your teeth. It should resist slightly, but come off the bone cleanly.
Once they are cooked to your liking, remove the ribs from the grill and tent your meat wheels with tin foil for a few minutes to let the juices set. Carve them between the bones with a sharp knife. Feel free to sample along the way, blaming the dog for any missing ribs.
Grilled Green Beans with Garlic Scapes
I'm a fan of grilling almost every course of a meal during the summer, especially the veggies. Green beans are super easy to prepare and grill, and, as with asparagus, the outcome is outstanding. You can also eat them with your hands.
Trim the ends, toss lightly with olive oil and salt and pepper, and you're in business. I recently discovered garlic scapes, which you can add to just about anything. Where have these things been all of my life? Chop some garlic scapes to grill with the green beans, and instantly you get a flavor boost that is more subtle than straight garlic but with a zesty and substantial kick that you can't achieve with salt and pepper alone. You can cut back on the seasoning as a result, because the scapes contribute that much flavor.
Grilled corn is another side that is stupid easy to prepare, and I like to grill it right in the husk: no shucking, trimming, pre-buttering or foiling. Just throw the damned things on the grill, and let them roast as nature intended. Give them a few minutes until the husk starts charring, and rotate them a quarter turn. The husks prevent the corn from drying out while cooking, so it's hard to overdo it. Remove them from the grill, and shuck each ear down to the stalk end. You'll end up with a nice husky handle for the ear of corn, perfect for rolling it on a stick of butter before sprinkling with salt and fresh ground pepper or seasoned salt. I like to eat my corn in horizontal rows, but your mileage may vary (unless you're one of those oddballs who eats corn vertically).
Anchor Liberty Ale is one of my all-time favorite beers from one of my all-time favorite breweries (and distillery!). IPAs are awesome summer beers, and Liberty Ale is nice and hoppy and citrusy without being overpowering, going right along with the smoky paprikaness of the ribs. Pretty sure it's illegal to drink anything else on the 4th of July. I found a bodega in my neighborhood that carries 22oz. bottles, and you should too.
Just because it's summer doesn't mean you need to ditch the red wine. A juicy, spicy Zinfandel goes well with BBQ of any kind, day or night. Same goes for your richer roses. Lucky for you, one of my all-time favorite wineries offers both. Zinfandel has long been considered America's wine grape, even though somewhat recent discoveries have tied it to the Croatian Plavac Mali varietal (which also makes incredible wines). Hundred year-old vines dot hillsides all over Northern California, producing great Zins from Sonoma to Amador Counties. And while Zinfandel also has long been associated with the crappy White Zin in jug-handled bottles, we all know there's nothing wrong with rose, trend pieces be damned. Drier roses can't stand up to the zing of the ribs or garlic scapes, so try Gundlach Bundschu's Tempranillo Rose that's full of lush summer flavors like strawberry and raspberry and rhubarb without coming off jammy or sweet. Lovely picnic wine.
Previously: A Menu For Shrimp On The Grill and How To Make Beer Ice Cream
John Ore owns tongs and isn't afraid to use them.