Do we all get to the point in our lives where we look ourselves in the mirror and see that we’ve done all the things we’ve sworn we wouldn’t? I’m pretty sure that I am there.
I’ll never buy a truck. (Did it.)
I’ll never listen to country music. (Did it and liked some of it.)
I’ll never, ever, ever get an electric smoker. I mean, those things are basically cheating. Right?
BBQ is ultimately about heat control. It was one thing to spend time fiddling with a charcoal or gas fired smoker when we had zero kids or even when our eldest was really small and an amazing sleeper. I’d put him to bed and fire it up. My handy remote thermometer would tell me when it was time to put down my wine glass, pause my movie, and adjust settings on the rig.
With our first now a toddler and a second little one here, those days are long over and it has gotten harder to find time and energy to dedicate to hours and hours of singular focus on something like that. You start to make an energy expended vs. value gained calculation. That calculation told me it was time to automate. I needed something with a thermostat. In the interim, I’ve done a lot of oven and oven/grill-smoked hybrid BBQ with excellent success. You can see the results of those experiments with my Reverse-Smoked Oven Beef Brisket and Bacon Burnt Ends.
After nearly two decades of BBQ and other live fire cooking as a serious hobby, I think I’ve earned that. It lets me put my food focus on recipe and content creation and not on the tedious mechanics of tending a smoker all the time.
I put it right to the test, making pork back ribs with my Espresso Keto BBQ Rub. I’ve been using the full sugar rendition of that recipe for about ten years, but this was the first time I have used the keto version at full scale on ribs.
It’s a recipe that rewards exceptional heat control. At 225 degrees F, the coffee roasts a bit and the sugar in the rub caramelizes. At 250 degrees F, it starts to over-caramelize and the coffee in the rub starts to taste a little burnt. I felt like the erythritol in the keto version of the Espresso Keto BBQ Rub would behave similarly, so it would be a great measure of how well my new electric smoker would automate the process for me while giving me the control I desired.
…and they turned out perfectly. Other than the lack of a smoke ring due to the reduced combustion byproducts in the air around the meat, it was identical and perfect. The best part was that I didn’t have to babysit it the entire time, other than moving it undercover when it rained for the first time in a month here. Of course.
Espresso BBQ Pork Ribs
- 3 racks pork back ribs This will be about 9-10 lbs.
- 1 recipe Espresso Keto BBQ Rub
- smoker I used an electric smoker.
- smoking wood I am partial to mesquite in this recipe due to how well it stands up to the heavy coffee flavor.
Pre-heat your smoker according to your normal procedure.
Apply the rub very liberally to the ribs on both sides. This can be done the night before if you like.
Smoke the ribs according to your smoker's procedure for about 4 hours or until they are 185 degrees F between the thickest ribs.
Rest the ribs for a half hour after removal from the smoke. Do not tent them! One of the most amazing aspects is the crust. If you cover them at all, it will steam and get gummy.
The normal guidance for "when are ribs done" basically consists of tugging at ribs a bit and seeing if they want to release. I've really never liked this and think it yields a slightly overcooked rib. I don't want to overtoast the Espresso BBQ Rub coating, as well.
My Platonic ideal pork back rib is where it is starting to release but the whole rib will not release cleanly from the meat. Back rib meat is more prone to overcooking than a spare rib, where the rib tug method makes more sense.
I also do not advocate wrapping ribs in foil for this recipe. The rub creates a wonderful toasty crust when applied liberally and cooked at exactly 225 degrees. The cook is gentle enough to not make wrapping unnecessary and it would soften the bark on the ribs.