Spare Rib Bark

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John O

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What's the secret to creating bark on spare ribs? Does it require sugar in the rub? Everything else is great...smoke ring, tender, taste. Just can't seem to get right. Thanks for your thoughts.

One of my favorite parts of BBQ is crispy, spicy, fatty, crunchy bark. To achieve this, I use a rub with a bit of heat and apply it with a heavy hand. I also give the meat a squirt of “Tart Wash” (recipe follows, from page 115 in “Low & Slow”)—a mix of oil, cranberry juice and rub—which reinforces the rub and enhances the crustiness of the bark.

I generally do not use sugar in a rub. I'm not a fan of sweet barbecue, and sugar in particular has no place in a beginner’s rub because too many things can go wrong with it. Example? Sugar becomes tacky at 300°F and acts like flypaper—making soot and ash from the charcoal stick to the meat. And sugar starts to burn at 340°F. Although the ideal low and slow temperature is well below 300°F, it’s not uncommon for the temperature in a cooker to spike, particularly when you’re still honing your technique.

If you like a sweeter barbecue, save the sugar for the sauce or glaze you paint on the meat at the end of the cook.

Compared to other barbecue guys, I also tend to smoke at a slightly higher temperature—in the 250*F to 275*F range—which contributes to bark production. Prior to applying rub, I lightly coat the meat with yellow mustard with helps the rub adhere to the meat. And, if I’m in a particularly bark-y mood I reapply rub half-way during the cook.


Tart Wash


2 ?3 cup cranberry juice
1?3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Rudimentary Rub

Pour the cranberry juice, olive oil, and rub into a plastic condiment squirt bottle. Shake vigorously until the rub is dissolved and the mixture is blended (like a vinaigrette), about 1 minute.
Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The olive oil in the wash will thicken when it is cold.
Allow the wash to come to room temperature before using, and shake it vigorously to reblend.
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