Breeze-blown American flags and colorful clusters of fireworks may be the most common symbols associated with the 4th of July, but in my house, the holiday (like pretty much every other one and pretty much every day, come to think of it) has a serious food focus. I know I’m not alone here. Plenty of Americans—and, I’d wager, most Southerners—show their national pride by chowing down and filling up.
Lots of Independence Day celebrations stay close to the family favorites served year after year: hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, watermelon, some type of berry dessert with Cool Whip arranged to resemble the stars and bars. (A red, white, and blue dish is absolutely essential.) If by now, you’ve not put some good thought into your menu for the day, I might call you downright unpatriotic.
Barbecue is another popular option, and while some settle for store-bought ’cue, true fanatics make their own. Among those devoted to the art and craft (yes, it is an art) of choosing, seasoning, cooking, and saucing some part of a pig, most rely on their own tried and tested recipes and methods and are wary of anything new. If your 4th of July tradition includes barbecue, and even if you fall into the above “I know what I’m doing” camp, branch out a bit and try my take on ribs.
The sides are up to you, but may I suggest corn on the cob (Silver Queen if you can get it) ripened to starchy sweetness? Boil it up quick (with a few drops of liquid crab boil for a sneaky heat) or soak its husks and steam it tender on the grill. Either way, serve it with a compound butter for added oomph.
BABY BACK RIBS
You probably already have a favorite way to do your BBQ, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Right. But then again, this rub and sauce combo is definitely worth a try. And ribs cooked low and slow in the oven are better than you’d expect. Of course feel free to cook yours in your smoker or on your grill if that’s how you usually do it. The portions can be multiplied to feed a hungry crowd.
1 slab of baby back ribs
spice rub (see recipe below)
Honey Moppin’ Sauce (see recipe below)
Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees. Remove the sliver skin from the back side of your slab (or slabs) of ribs by sliding a small, sharp knife under one edge and then pulling back slowly. Rub both sides of the ribs with your spice rub and then double wrap in aluminum foil and place, meat side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Put enough rub on to create a thin layer all over both sides, but don’t build it up to a crust. (If you have rub left over, put it in a zip top bag and save it for later. It should last for a month or so.)
Cook for 2 1/2 hours. Remove the ribs from the oven and use a brush to “mop” them with warm Honey Moppin’ Sauce while they’re still hot. Do this several times.
This makes enough to cover 1 slab of ribs. Double or triple the recipe for more.
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons dried onion
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon celery seeds
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and then rub all over your ribs.
HONEY MOPPIN’ SAUCE
Makes enough sauce for one slab of ribs. Double, triple, or quadruple it if needed.
1/2 a large shallot or a whole small one
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 hot pepper, sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup raw honey (local is best!)
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and cook slowly over low to medium heat. Reserve half the sauce to serve in small dishes for individual dipping.
Use the remaining sauce to “mop” the warm ribs after they’ve come out of the oven.
Slather this better-than-plain butter on hot corn or anything else you like. It’s great on cornbread too. And feel free to sub any fresh herb like basil or cilantro for the chives.
1 stick of butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh chives, snipped
1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all ingredients and scoop out on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Use the paper to form the butter into a log shape and then twist the both ends to secure. Place it in the fridge to firm back up (or the freezer if you need it firm, fast). It will keep in your fridge for about two weeks; just slice off a round whenever you need one.