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Rib tickler

Lifestyle staff samples, dishes on barbecue ribs

Lifestyle staff samples, dishes on barbecue ribs

August 20, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

We're always looking for an excuse to eat on the company tab, and when we noticed that seasonal barbecue rib vendors were back, we deemed it fate.

Time to taste-test some ribs!

So, last week, the Lifestyle staff sat around with sticky fingers and notepads and chowed down on ribs from Redneck Ribs, Piquant Pigs Inc. and Shorty's Kitchen.

We decided to limit our tasting to these three outfits because they weren't in a restaurant, where you could order ribs year-round. Redneck Ribs and Piquant Pigs have trailers set up for the season, while Shorty's Kitchen is a mobile operation run out of a truck.

We had no clear-cut winner because, as we discovered, rib preferences can be pretty personal.

Two of us preferred Redneck's moist, somewhat sweet pork ribs that came with three sauces. Two of us preferred Piquant Pigs' peppery dry rub pork baby-back ribs. The fifth person declared it a tie between the two.

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We also wanted an outside perspective, so we called George Oliver, a Pickin' in the Panhandle barbecue judge and editor of B2B Outlook Magazine. He said ribs entered in Pickin' in the Panhandle BBQ & Bluegrass Festival (www.panhandlepickin.com) in Berkeley County, W.Va., are judged on taste and tenderness.

The meat should pull away from the bone when you bite into it, but should have some resistance so it doesn't just fall off the bone, Oliver said.

As for the taste, that's personal, said Oliver. He prefers a spicier sauce.

The two faces of Shorty's Kitchen

Shorty's rib sandwiches were bone-in ribs served on Wonder Bread, which didn't make much sense to us. The seasoning permeated the meat, but the meat was blackened and very dry. When I asked Shorty's owner Morris "Shorty" Anderson, of Hagerstown, about the ribs a few days later, he said his warmer had been set too high.

Another sample of his ribs - tasted by two staff members still at the office late on a Friday - proved to be quite tasty. The meat came off the bone, but not as easily as the other two.

Perhaps that's because Anderson doesn't cook his ribs as long as the other two operations. He said he cooks them 2 to 2 1/2 hours versus the four to five hours of cooking by Redneck Ribs and Piquant Pigs.

Anderson started his mobile operation this year and plans to keep it open year-round.

His rib recipe, which includes a dry rub and a thick homemade sauce, came from his father. Just as with the other barbecuers, his recipe is a secret.

Anderson uses a homemade smoker, then cooks the ribs on a charcoal burner, often using mesquite-flavored charcoal.

Smokin' goodness at Redneck Ribs

Like Anderson's, Redneck Ribs' recipe uses honey.

Before Terri and Jeff Fogle opened Redneck Ribs in 2006, they had a tasting party during which they asked about 100 close friends to evaluate a variety of rib recipes, including baby-back ribs, spareribs, St. Louis-style ribs, about six dry rubs and several sauces.

"Everybody liked the baby-backs and the sweeter taste," said Jeff Fogle, who lives near Smithsburg.

They even researched different woods to use for smoking.

They smoke their ribs for about five hours, using apple wood, wild cherry and some hickory. Hickory has been hard to come by, so they're using a lot of wild cherry, which gives a darker texture and nice flavor for the meat, Fogle said.

The ribs are quite tasty, and we thought even a little sweet, without any sauce. Redneck Ribs provides three homemade sauces, from tangy Doc's Kentucky to Spewing Venom.

As Lifestyle Assistant Editor Crystal Schelle said, Spewing Venom "has heat, but it's not hot." Even I, who do not prefer super spicy foods, didn't find my mouth on fire with spewing venom.

But that wasn't the sauce's goal. Fogle described Spewing Venom as having a "sustainable heat."

"You don't want to overpower the meat. That was our big concern," he said.

Peppery rub at Piquant Pigs

Phil Petry, proprietor of Piquant Pigs, uses propane to cook his ribs.

"When I first started in 2002, I was much closer to being a purist," Petry said.

He was anti-gas, preferring charcoal and wood. But he found it difficult to keep the temperature consistent for four to five hours using charcoal, so he switched to gas for its consistency. The ribs are not smoked.

Petry, of Hagerstown, also researched barbecue recipes, finding one from a Midwest barbecuer that he liked and tweaked to make his own, flavored strongly with black pepper. "I like sugar, so there's a lot of brown sugar in (the dry rub)."

Lifestyle page designer Amy Dulebohn preferred Piquant Pigs' peppery rub because it reminded her of the ponhaus her family used to make.

"It's nostalgic," she said. "Normally, I would like the sweeter stuff better."

Petry hasn't sold a homemade sauce this season, instead offering KC Masterpiece and Sweet Baby Ray's sauces to customers. In the past he has made sauces, including a South Carolina sweet-hot mustard-based sauce. We found the ribs quite good without any sauce.

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