Making Sense!

Summer in New Jersey is a barrage on the senses.  The feel of slowly dripping sweat running down the spine of your back during a humid night.  The rising and falling chorus of cicadas hiding in the trees.   The blinking light of fireflies at the corner of your eye.  The cries of unseen children playing manhunt around the neighborhood.  The scent of a full honeysuckle patch, ready to be plucked and sucked.  The familiar tune of the ice cream truck sending kids running into the house, only to return a minute later, screen door slamming shut behind them.  Fresh Jersey corn and tomatoes from your favorite farm stand.  It is these nostalgic sounds, feelings, and tastes that help define what it means to be from New Jersey, and they resurface every summer, reminding us of why we live here.

The food of summer should also bombard our senses.   And none can do this more than barbeque.   Between the lingering aroma of smoke, the sweet and tangy of the sauce, and the gentle pull of the meat from the bone, no other food offers itself up to add to your collection of summer memories than slow cooked, smoked meat.  And we need not limit it to the main course, but rather add to that collection from the various side dishes that we surround it with.  Potato salad, baked beans, corn bread, cole slaw, collard greens, corn on the cob… the possibilities are endless.    But finding that perfect combination to round off the gathering between family and friends can make those memories last even longer and increase the appreciation of all things “Jersey”.

One dish that always seems to be a hit and doesn’t take all day to prepare is ribs.  Going to the butcher or grocery store, you will have to decide between baby backs or spare ribs.  Baby backs are the part of the ribs toward the top or back of the pig, near the loin.  They generally tend to be shorter, and a little more lean and tender.  Because the ribs are close together, much of the meat is on the top of the bone, cut from the loin.  Spare ribs come from the bottom or front of the pig and are longer with a little more fat, which helps give them flavor.  To break down the fat and make them tender, they may have to be cooked for a longer period of time.  Spare ribs are further apart from each other with the meat in between each bone.    Before cooking, make sure to rip off the membrane on the back of the ribs, which will allow smoke to reach the back and make eating them a lot more enjoyable.

The flavor of the ribs can come from a variety of sources.  Of course there is the flavor from the meat itself.  Then the addition of the smoke.   But two of the largest influences come from you.  Before cooking, cover the ribs liberally with a dry rub, or mixture of your favorite spices.   There are a number of pre-packaged rubs in stores or on the net, but nothing beats making your own.   The types and amounts of spices depend on your particular sense of balance between sweet and spicy.    If you aren’t completely satisfied with the way that it came out, take note of what you did, and cook up another rack or two next weekend.    The last influence will be the sauce that you spread on at the end of the cooking process.  Remember that sugar burns at 265 degrees, so you have to be really careful when going too high, or finishing it off on a grill.  Because smoking temperature tends to be from 225-250 degrees, there is not much of a concern, but small flare ups can occur and can bring the temperature up for short bursts.    Purists will tell you that a finishing sauce is not necessary, but you don’t have to invite them over if you like barbeque sauce and don’t want to hear their lecture.  Regardless, if you use sauce, make sure that it complements the other flavors and doesn’t overpower them.

In New Jersey, we tend to want to forget the winters and remember the summers.   Every year, there are opportunities to add to our personal sensory database in order to connect to memories long since forgotten, or better yet, add new ones.   Food is something that we can appreciate, share and pass on, adding to those things that we love about New Jersey.


Barbeque Pork Ribs


1-2 racks of pork baby back or spare ribs

1 cup of dry spice rub

1 cup of barbeque sauce

Dry Spice Rub

4 tablespoons of dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons of salt

2 tablespoons of paprika

2 tablespoons of garlic powder

2 tablespoons of ground mustard

1 tablespoon of black pepper

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

½ tablespoon of cayenne pepper

½ tablespoon of thyme

Barbeque Sauce

2 cups of ketchup

½ cup of apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of molasses

2 cloves of roasted garlic

1 tablespoon of black pepper

½ tablespoon of Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons of cherry syrup

1.       Get the smoker going until it reaches a steady 225-240 degrees.

2.       In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for spice rub and stir until well blended.   Put into a shaker if available.  Set aside.

3.       Mix ingredients together for the barbeque sauce in a medium pot.  Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

4.       Remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs using a paring knife

5.       Shake the rub onto both sides of the ribs until well coated.

6.       Place the ribs on the rack of the smoker and cook for approximately 2 hours.  Wrap in foil and place back in the smoker for another

2 hours.  Open foil, brush with barbeque sauce and replace foil.  Cook for another ½ hour or until internal meat temperature reaches 145 degrees (USDA Recommended).  Allow meat to rest for 10 minutes.


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