Cookbook author and cooking teacher Rick Rodgers’s immediate family isn’t too large (he has two brothers, also excellent cooks), but his extended family is very big. His great-grandmother had nine children, and his maternal grandmother had seven, so, many relatives show up for the family reunions that occur on an irregular basis. “We often use my mom’s birthday as a reason for us all to get together—last year it was thirty-five hungry people. Spareribs are the favorite main course. My method grew out of a necessity to serve everyone.” Rick says that he prefers big,meaty spareribs to baby backs because he can get more servings from the spareribs. He also recommends having many filling side dishes as a way to keep everyone’s plate filled and to cut down on the work required by the person attending the grill.
A Rodgers family backyard party is usually a potluck affair. “We don’t stray too much from the standard fare because these recipes have become icons and represent our family history. My brother Doug makes Caesar salad, my brother Greg makes the beans, my sister-in-law Linda brings a Mexican dip, and one of my cousins can be relied on to provide our family’s famous recipe for potato salad. Two things are always served: garlic bread and chips with back-of-the-box onion dip. Retro? Yep. But it isn’t a party at Mom’s house without them.”
A great-quality artisanal root beer makes the best-tasting sauce, so don’t settle for less.
The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. The rub can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. The ribs can be rubbed, wrapped, and refrigerated for up to 1 day. The ribs can be cooked, cooled, stacked, wrapped in fresh aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 8 hours before browning. Brown and sauce the ribs just before serving.
One or two charcoal or gas grills; heavy-duty aluminum foil, preferably extra wide; extra-long kitchen tongs; ice chest for keeping the sauced ribs warm (optional).
BIG BATCH NOTES
An average (22-inch) charcoal grill will accommodate no more that 6 or 7 pounds of ribs. Keep the first batch of browned and glazed ribs hot in a cooler (without ice) while you finish the second batch.
Follow the Rodgers family lead and offer the best picnic food, such as chips and dip and coleslaw, macaroni salad, potato salad, or maybe a broccoli salad. A recipe for the family’s favorite baked beans is found below. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the brownies, perhaps à la mode with a warm chocolate sauce. Ribs are a sticky finger food, so pass around plenty of napkins—and maybe water bowls, too—before dessert so everyone can clean up.
INGREDIENTS: Single Batch | Double Batch
Feed Your People by Leslie Jonath with 18 Reasons
Make the sauce: In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion(s) and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in half of the root beer, increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, and boil until the root beer is reduced to a thick syrup, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the remaining root beer, the ketchup, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, and Sriracha and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Make the rub: In a small bowl, whisk together the paprika, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, mixing well. Prepare the ribs: Remove the membrane from the bony side of each rib slab. To do this, slip a small, sharp knife under the membrane at one corner on the bone side of the ribs to loosen an inch or so of the membrane. Using a paper towel for traction, pull the membrane away from the ribs. This may take a couple of tries to remove most of the membrane. Trim off any extraneous surface fat, as well.
Season the ribs all over with the rub. Wrap each slab in heavy-duty aluminum foil, creating a package. Wrap the package again, with a flat side of the foil covering the first folded seam, which will help keep the juices trapped in the foil as you cook and flip the ribs.
Grill the ribs: Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. If using a charcoal grill, let a chimney filled with about 6 pounds charcoal briquettes burn until it is just covered with white ash. Pour the coals out onto the grate and spread them in an even layer. Let the coals burn down for 5 to 10 minutes. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill with all burners on. Turn half of the burners off and adjust the heat to medium-high (400°F to 450°F).
If making a double batch, cook the ribs in two batches. Place the rib packets, seam side up, on the grill. Cover the grill and cook until the meat has shrunk and exposed about 1/2 inch from the rib bone ends (open a packet to look), about 1-1/4 hours. (For a charcoal grill, after 45 minutes, add about twelve briquettes to the coals to help maintain the temperature.) During cooking, carefully turn the packets two or three times with long tongs, taking care not to pierce the foil and release the juices (which would cause flare-ups).
Remove the packets from the grill and let them cool for about 30 minutes. Unwrap the ribs, discarding the fat and juices. Let the ribs cool for another 30 minutes until tepid.
Prepare the grill again for direct cooking over medium-high heat to brown and sauce the ribs. For a charcoal grill, spread the ashed-over coals in an even layer and let them burn for about 20 minutes so they aren’t too hot. Sprinkle the wood chips over the coals. (If making a double batch and grilling in two batches, you will need 1 cup chips for each batch.) For a gas grill, preheat the grill on high, then adjust the heat to medium-high (400°F to 450°F). Wrap the chips in an aluminum foil packet and tear open the top of the packet. (If making a double batch and grilling in two batches, you will need to wrap each cup of chips in a separate foil packet.) Place the packet directly on the ignited heat source and heat until the chips are smoking. (If you have a smoker box, omit the foil packet and put the chips in the box.)
Place the now-tepid unwrapped ribs on the grill. Cover the grill and cook, turning the ribs occasionally, until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. Continue grilling, occasionally brushing with the sauce and keeping the lid closed, until the ribs are glazed, about 10 minutes more.
Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Cut between the bones and serve the ribs with any remaining sauce.
BACON AND BOURBON BEANS
Makes 8 to 12 servings
You can make the beans a day in advance, then cool, cover, and refrigerate them. To reheat, stir in 1 cup hot water, cover, and place in a preheated 350°F oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes to glaze the top.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and cool, leaving the fat in the pot. Crumble the bacon.
Add the onion, jalapeño, and garlic to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pinto, white, black, and kidney beans, followed by the barbecue sauce, ketchup, bourbon, and crumbled bacon. Bring to a boil.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, stir, and continue baking until the cooking liquid has thickened, about 15 minutes. Serve the beans directly from the pot.
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Reprinted with permission from Feed Your People: Big-Batch, Big-Hearted Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around by Leslie Jonath and 18 Reasons, copyright (c) 2018. Published by powerHouse Books. Recipe credit: Rick Rodgers; photography credit: Molly DeCourdreaux.