The book said that my Weber Kettle Grill could do anything, and I believed it. The first time I ever saw a Weber was upstate, when folk singer Jack Hardy threw an entire leg of lamb over apple wood coals. I’d worked with his brother Jeff, who was a Wall Street souse chef, to stud the leg with garlic and rosemary. Both men are gone now, Jeff in the World Trade Center disaster, and Jack to lung cancer probably brought on by working in the pit at Ground Zero, but their legacy lives on in their songs and their cooking.
When I finally got my hands on a slightly rusty, used Weber kettle grill, I knew I’d struck gold. The first thing I did with it was to clean out the old ash, opened the bottom holes to let air in, and loaded it with a pile of aged cherry wood. I lit my fire so easily, so tenderly, and within minutes it was roaring. Webers roar and breathe as the wood is consumed, creating an audible whoosh that can be heard over the crackling of the fire. That’s the air being drawn up from below, a sign that your fire has enough air. So I knew that my grill worked, but what would I cook on it?
I tried wings, and steaks, and tons of burgers, I’ve used all different briquettes, woods, and techniques. Everything came out just fine. Then came the ribs. I researched the method: slow even coals, low temperature, cooking for at least 5 hours. I used a dry rub of paprika, jerk seasoning, garlic powder, and adobo. Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly. I added a few briquettes every hour or so, I turned the meat lovingly, I even added a small aluminum foil tray of water and wood chips to smoke my ribs, and catch the drippings so that they wouldn’t cause flare-ups. But the meat didn’t get tender. What was I doing wrong?
I brought the meat in and wrapped it in tinfoil, and put it in the oven, set at 250 degrees f as required. Then I waited. It took a further hour to get the meat to tenderize. I found that most rib connoisseurs have a different method: the 1-2-2, or the five-hour method. It involves any combination of smoking and roasting. One hour on the grill, two in the oven (wrapped in tin foil) and then two back on the grill is the commonest solution. Why is that? I’m guessing that the grill’s heat can be a little too inconsistent. If you work with gas, this might be different, but over coals it’s a touchy subject. It also depends upon the size of the rack that you’re cooking. Most first-time rib grillers should start with babybacks, which are smaller and easier to cook. I started with a full rack, which was heavier than anticipated, and needed longer to cook.
For the tenderest ribs, use the 5-hour formula, 1-2-2, in any combination. Start in the oven or start on the grill, but be sure to wrap them in tin foil in the middle to conserve the juices. Dry rub your ribs, and add barbecue sauce only in the last 20 minutes of cooking. Be prepared, however, to add an additional hour for big racks. If you follow this method, your ribs will turn out tender every time.