Raichlen’s Revelation? Or…..Raichlen’s Oven Ribs

by R.B. Quinn


Cheater BBQ Oven Ribs are Fantastic!

Raichlen’s oven ribs are cheater ribs.  Oven ribs are fantastic. Even Steven Raichlen agrees….has the book-slinging Barb-e-guru run out of Reinvented Rib Recipes?

In Ribs Without Smoke (New York Times April 6, 2011) Steven Raichlen offers the barbecue denouement we’ve been pushing since we wrote Cheater BBQ in 2008: ribs cooked in an oven are fantastic.  Why is he doing this?  He has to.  The two Johnson and Wales dudes who opened Animal in Los Angeles say they are fantastic.  And they have the hipster food dude body art to back it up.

Raichlen writes: “They began experimenting with an alternative technique to true barbecue: seasoning the rib with herbs and grapeseed oil, wrapping them in foil and roasting them low and slow in the oven.  The process made the meat supernaturally tender but not quite soft, with the deep, sonorous flavors a Southern pitmaster would achieve with a half-day’s cooking in a wood-burning pit.”

Are you kidding?  “Deep, sonorous flavors” from a lowly oven?  How did those juicy adjectives escape us?  We read it aloud, twice.  Frankly, we knew he’d have to come clean sooner or later.  Probably been staring at that copy of Cheater BBQ on his shelf for a couple years now, hoping and praying for a way to keep cranking out BBQ books without having to face some inevitable truths, one of which is this: when cooking barbecue, the meat doesn’t care what fuels the fire.  Smoke aside, a low oven and some aluminum foil and the ability to go away and leave it be are all anyone, anywhere needs to knock out stellar ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and chicken.

Smoke is optional and not at all necessary.  But the stuff in a bottle is a home run hit. And shame on Raichlen for calling it artificial smoke.  Read on. Our busy left brains love to complicate the simple and what’s more simple than slow cooking a tough cut of meat?  Nothing.  Chopping a cabbage into slaw is actually more challenging.  Raichlen’s cover story showcases plenty of cheffy barbecue performances that prove the point. Michael Mina brines his Kurobuta pork short ribs in cider vinegar and carrot juice before cooking them sous vide at 160 degrees for a day and a half.  Tim Cushman at O Ya in Boston spends 48 hours on his back ribs.  For part of that two day process they wallow in a black tea, yuzu juice, brown sugar brine.  Yuzu juice?  If you say so.

Not surprisingly, Raichlen maintains his anti-liquid smoke stance, incorrectly calling it “artificial” and blaming it for a “lost generation of rib eaters” (what?).  Right to the last line of the piece (“[w]hen I hunger for heresy, I’ll simply cook ribs in the oven”) he is unwavering: to Raichlen, “true” barbecue only comes from a pit (manned preferably by a big dude in suspenders, a team logo on his red shirt, a mustache, and a “secret” sauce or dry rub in a bottle marked “XXX”).  He didn’t say that last part, but you get the point.  And it’s all good as Raichlen’s barbecue empire entourage counts on him to do so. We love outdoor pit barbecue.  We love it so much that we had to figure out a way for more people to enjoy barbecue on their own without all the rules and equipment requirements and unreal expectations.  You can revel in the myth and mystery of barbecue if you have the time, but if you’d rather just make great barbecue at home you just need an oven or a slow cooker, some foil, some rub, some smoke, and a $12 copy of Cheater BBQ.

 Cheater spares, oven cooked, broiler caramelized, fall off the bone perfect.

Final thought.  Raichlen has us wondering.  Will the admissions office at Raichlen’s Barbecue University move “commitment to diversity” higher up the action list?  Might we see a private labeled liquid smoke sporting the image of sun glassed Steve with the tongs and the wedding ring one day soon?

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