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BBQ Rib Tips and Tricks

I Have a Rib Tip For You...

One of things I love most about Chicago is the food. Not the fancy food, but the joints, the dives, and the hidden gems. One of my favorite stories to tell is about a barbecue joint on the southside of Chicago called Lem’s. It is still there today, operating in a very tough neighborhood on east 75th. When I say very tough, I mean it. When you order at Lem’s you don’t hand your money to the cashier, you lay it in a small opening in the 2 inch thick bulletproof glass that the cashier then rotates inward. A few minutes later your order and change rotates out. As you can probably imagine, it can be a kind of intimidating scene.

Photo by Nick Murway for Eater Chicago

My good friend Tony and I would hit up Lem’s 50% of time after a round of golf whenever we played in the south suburbs. The other 50%, we would head to a fried fish spot, but that’s a story for another day. Tony was a rib guy and I was a rib tip guy (with a side of fried gizzards!).

For years that was the way it was. We’d stop, get our ‘cue, and head to our respective homes to chow down. All those years I kept telling him he was missing out. The ribs were solid, but rib tips were just meatier and, in my opinion, much better. But typical Tony, he was set in his ways and there was no changing his mind. Then one day I got home from a Lem’s run after dropping him off and opened my bag to find that I had ribs, not rib tips. I immediately dialed him up and he picked up and didn’t even say hello. Instead he said, “don’t you even think about coming back.” He’s been a rib tip man ever since!

So, this 4th of July or anytime you’re thinking about smoking up some ribs, I highly recommend that you opt for spare ribs over baby backs or St. Louis cut, and rib tips are the reason why.

Technically, spare ribs and St. Louis cut ribs are the same, but the St. Louis cut is sold with the rib tip (sternum) and flap removed. A recent price comp of the two shows St. Louis cut ribs are priced more than a dollar per pound higher then spare ribs. It takes all of about 2 minutes to remove the tips and flap, so buying St. Louis cut ribs could easily be viewed as having a barbecue meal stolen from you and that’s a major food crime!

Steps for removing rib tips:

First, slice off the flap. To do that, locate the last bone, which is the smallest, and cut the flap off with a parallel slice about a ½ inch away from that bone.

Second, slice off the sternum. To do that, locate the edge of the bones and make a perpendicular cut following the shape of the rib rack.

Voila! Now you have a St. Louis cut rack of ribs and rib tips (including the flap). Couldn’t be any easier! Optionally, you can do some additional trimming to pretty the rack up a bit, and you can remove the membrane from the back, but I usually just move on to the next steps.

From here it’s all about applying flavor and smoking the meat. For the rack, I recommend a light seasoning of Salt & Pepper Tableside Seasoning followed by a thin coating of ‘Cue Glue and finished with a generous coating of your favorite Savory Spice rib rub.

If you’re thinking about using our new Sweet Jerk Barbecue Sauce (and you should) try seasoning it with our Bajan Seasoning. It’s not a typical rib rub but it’s a great pairing with the sauce!

For the rib tips, I recommend seasoning them with a ¼ tsp of kosher salt per pound of meat about an hour or two before you plan on smoking them to create a simple dry brine. Right before you’re ready to put them on the smoker, give them a generous coating of your favorite rub. I recommend trying our Memphis BBQ Rub and finishing the tips with Sweet Jerk Barbecue Sauce or for a more traditional flavor, our Midwestern Sweet BBQ Sauce.

When it comes to smoking the rack, allow 6-7 hours when cooking between 225-250 degrees fahrenheit. I use the flex test to know when they’re done. It’s a simple and effective way to know when ribs are perfectly cooked. Using a pair of tongs, pick the rack up in center. They are done when the rack flexes downward enough that the center starts to just split the meat on the surface.

The rib tips will cook much faster than the rack. Keep a close eye on them because at the same cooking temp (225-250 degrees fahrenheit) they can easily be done in 60 - 90 minutes (flaps will cook quicker because of their smaller size). You’re looking for an internal temp of 170 degrees fahrenheit.

Whatever you cook up this Independence Day, have a safe and fun holiday with your family and friends. I know Janet and I will LIVE LIFE FULL this holiday, because that’s the best way to live!

Enjoy,
Mike

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