If my next door neighbors didn’t hate me already, they hate me now. For the past two weeks I’ve been working on converting the charcoal grill on my tiny apartment balcony into a full-fledged smoker, and whenever the wind blows, it pushes all the smoke right through their living room window.
Every time I test out a new type of wood, or try and change up the ratio of coals to chips, they slam their windows just loud enough for me to hear. I don’t give a shit. There aren’t enough passive aggressive neighbors in the world to get me sacrifice a fully smoke-ringed rack of spare ribs.
To maximize flavor, you should let your dry rub sit on the ribs overnight. Start off by removing the silver skin membrane on the underside of the bones, then rub your meat down with mustard on both sides. That’s going to give the spices something to hold onto during their many-hour journey.
For the dry rub, leave your dogma at the door. As long as you start off with a solid base of brown sugar, kosher salt, and black pepper, you can’t go wrong. I added in some smoked paprika, chipotle powder, onion powder, and cinnamon just to stir things up a bit. Massage your rub into the mustard-covered meat, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it chill in the fridge for at least 5 or 6 hours. Use this time to contemplate your meat/life goals. They should both be lofty.
Converting any run-of-the mill charcoal grill into a smoker is surprisingly easy, but it takes some experimentation and tinkering. My first batch of smoked chicken wings was so smoky they were barely edible (that trial pissed my neighbors off the most). But I got it down now.
Sequester your lit coals on one side of the grill and lay an empty baking dish next to them. That’s going to act as a drip pan and prevent any and all unwanted flare-ups. Then take 7 or 8 chunks of pecan wood—chips tend to burn out too quickly—that have been soaking in water for at least an hour, and lay them over the coals. You can use any wood you want, but pecan has a milder flavor than the big-name woods like mesquite and hickory. Don’t buy the hype—they can turn acrid really quickly.
Put the top grate of your grill on top of the wood and drip pan. Fill a second baking dish with cool water, and place that directly above the wood, which should be smoking heavily by now. The water acts as a sort of temperature buffer: You want your makeshift smoker to stay at around 250 degrees.
Then, throw on your dry rubbed ribs in the space over the drip pan, close your lid, open the vent, and let the smoke bleed into your douchebag neighbor’s apartment for four hours, flipping the ribs half-way through. Slather on the BBQ sauce of your choice, because this is America, and not having to choose between dry rub and sauce is your birthright.
Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer