Barbecue is a regional thing. There can be several different barbecue cooking styles within any particular region too. Some barbecue cooking styles are never marketed at restaurants and they remain in the realm of backyard BBQ chefs.
Today's Alabama BBQ recipe is closely related to the method used to cook North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ. Vinegar basting is of the oldest traditional American barbecue styles. The old saying "the simpler, the better" applies to this style of BBQ. I decided to use the Alabama name for today's BBQ, because this style popular in that neck of the woods.
The basting sauce is basically the same for both the North Carolina and Alabama open pit BBQ recipes. The thin basting sauce is acidic and it tenderizes the meat as it slowly roasts over an open pit BBQ. The basting sauce is made with vinegar, butter, mustard and hot red peppers. This thin BBQ sauce is designed to be generously mopped on the meat on a regular basis. The end result is tender BBQ pork that is thoroughly saturated with classic deep south BBQ flavor.
An Open Pit BBQ is basically a 4 1/2 foot tall brick and mortar fire pit that has thick steel grates on top. The width and length can vary, but most commercial Open Pits are about 8' x 5'. Indoor Open Pits are equipped with a brick chimney. Outdoor Open Pits have no chimney or cover.
I tended an Open Pit BBQ in a restaurant as a pro chef for about one year, so I know how to get the most out of this contraption. A large wood fire of 3 parts white oak and 1 part hickory is lit in the middle of the brick walled pit. The fire burns till the wood turns into charred embers, then the coals are spread out.
Usually one side of the pit is a hot spot, where fresh split logs are added throughout the day. The other side is where the embers are spread. By shoveling the embers deeper or shallower in the Open Pit, the temperature can be controlled. For pork and chicken, a steady moderate heat is best. If a 30 gallon pot of beans need to be cooked, the pot is placed over the side of the pit where open flames from the wood are burning super hot.
Yes, you will sweat and toil when working a big Open Pit BBQ! This is especially true if it is a hot and humid day in July, like down by the Everglades where I used to tend an Open Pit BBQ. The Everglades July temperature was usually 98º with 92% humidity. Throw in the heat generated from the Open Pit and that adds up to a heat index of over 135º. Where there is smoke, flames and sweat, there is good Open Pit BBQ!
Alabama Thin Vinegar Basting BBQ Sauce:
This recipe yields enough for 1 large rack of ribs.
This sauce is very thin and it is diluted with water, as it should be, because this sauce is meant to be mopped on the meat as often as possible. A BBQ basting mop is necessary for this recipe.
The sauce does not look like much of anything great and the sauce does not taste great if you taste it with a spoon. This sauce is designed to baste spare ribs quite often as they slowly roast. The end result is what counts. When done cooking, the rib will be saturated with a great thin vinegar, mustard and hot pepper flavor. The butter in the BBQ basting sauce will keep the meat very moist and tender after hours of slow roasting on an Open Pit.
Step 1: Place 3 cups of water in large sauce pot.
Add 4 ounces of unsalted butter.
Add 3/4 cup of cider vinegar.
Add 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce.
Add 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard or 1 1/2 tablespoons of English Dry Mustard.
Add 5 to 6 tablespoons of North Carolina style Crushed Hot Red Peppers In Vinegar.
*This is a North Carolina table condiment. The hot pepper infused vinegar is sprinkled on food and the peppers remain in the bottle. The crushed hot peppers in the bottle are often used in recipes. If you cannot find this kind of pepper sauce, then a good substitute is Korean style coarse ground red serrano chili pepper sauce or paste.
Add 1/4 cup of Louisiana style cayenne pepper sauce.
Add 1/4 cup of sugar.
Add 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
Add 1 teaspoon of onion powder.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
Add sea salt to taste.
Step 2: Place the pot over low heat.
Stir the ingredients together, till the butter melts and partially emulsifies with the vinegar basting sauce.
Keep the basting sauce warm on a very low heat spot on the Open Pit or chargrill.
Alabama Style BBQ Ribs:
This recipe yields 1 rack of ribs.
• The ribs can be slow roasted in a 275ºF oven if you need to cook indoors.
• For an Open Pit 1 part hickory and 3 parts white oak is the best. Wait till the split wood burns to embers.
• For a chargrill, choose a good unprocessed bag of charcoal that produces a light smoke.
• Shift the embers evenly to create a moderately slow roasting heat range.
• If you run low on basting sauce, make more! This recipe requires plenty.
Step 1: Place a rack of pork spare ribs in a roasting pan.
Baste the raw ribs. Let the ribs marinate till the embers are ready.
Step 2: Take the rib section out of the pan and place it on the grill grates.
Slow roast the ribs over the low heat embers.
Flip the ribs occasionally and baste the ribs with the thin BBQ sauce on a regular basis. (About once every 5 minutes.)
Step 3: *The finished ribs should have a light orange color with flecks of hot red pepper. The ribs should be minimally caramelized from the slow roasting Open Pit BBQ method and because of the constant basting.
When the ribs are done barbecuing, grab the end of 1 rib on the end of rib rack and twist it. The meat should pull away from the bone and the meat should be tender enough to tear and shred. The meat should not be so tender that is literally falls off of the bones on its own, like most amateur BBQ cooks suggest!
Finishing the Alabama BBQ Spare Ribs:
*For indoor cooking, heat a cast iron ribbed griddle to a medium medium high temperature.
Step 1: Shift the embers in the chargrill or Open Pit BBQ to create medium/medium high temperature hot spot.
Step 2: Place the slow roasted rack of BBQ ribs on a cutting board.
Carefully and gently slice the meat between the bones with a very sharp knife to separate each rib.
Step 3: Place the individual ribs on the grill hot spot.
Mark the ribs with grill marks, while basting the ribs with the last bit of the thin BBQ basting sauce. Allow the ribs to lightly caramelize on the edges.
Step 4: Baste the ribs one last time.
Place the Alabama BBQ Spare Ribs on a plate.
Serve with your favorite barbecue sides, like corn on the cob, baked beans, potato salad, onion rings or cole slaw.
*The Alabama BBQ Ribs in the photos were served with Neon Potato Salad and White Truffle Oil Chive Cucumber Salad.
If you like North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ, then you will like the flavor of Alabama BBQ Ribs. This is some awesome Open Pit BBQ!