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Mezcal-Rubbed Ribs on the Grill, for a Memorable Barbecue

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Mezcal Magic Baby Back Ribs

We turn to Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison for three recipes with a difference for that Memorial Day barbecue. Mexican mezcal is available at most liquor stores (it’s the one that has — or used to have — the worm in the bottle). It has its own smoky flavor, but the Jamisons say use tequila if you must. Its flavor is somewhat more refined, but the Chile Rub Rojo that also goes on these slabs of ribs is decidedly less so. Serve with a Black-eyed Peas and Smoked Ham Macaroni Salad. Which is just about all the smoke you can get in two hearty dishes. Add a savory Colby Cheese and Cornbread Pudding to take away some of the burn.

Mezcal Magic Baby Back Ribs

1/4 cup mezcal or tequila
Four 1 and 1/4-pound slabs pork baby back ribs, the thin membrane on the lower side stripped off

Chile Rub Rojo

1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt or other coarse salt
2 tablespoons ground chipotle powder
2 tablespoons ground mild to medium-hot dried red chile, such as New Mexican, ancho or pasilla, or a combination
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Mexican Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons bacon drippings or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cup ketchup
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons mezcal or tequila
1 cup water
1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, with any whole chiles minced
1/4 orange juice
3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or other coarse salt

At least 6 hours and up to 24 hours before you plan to grill, bake the ribs. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Drizzle the mezcal over the ribs and rub it in thoroughly. Combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl and coat the ribs liberally with the spice mixture.

Wrap the ribs tightly in two layers of foil and bake for 1 hour. Cool the ribs, opening the foil to speed the process. Re-wrap the ribs in the foil and refrigerate them for at least 4 1/2 hours.

For the sauce: Melt the bacon drippings in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ketchup and 1 cup of the mezcal, reserving the remaining 2 tablespoons. Stir in the rest of the sauce ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced to the consistency of thin ketchup. Just before removing the sauce from the heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of the mezcal. Reserve the sauce at room temperature if you plan to grill the ribs within the hour, otherwise refrigerate it. If it gets too thick, thin with a little water.

Fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium. Remove ribs from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Grill ribs uncovered over medium heat for 25-30 minutes, turning every 8-10 minutes. Base the ribs with sauce in the last 5 minutes of cooking. The ribs are done when very tender with a surface that’s crisp in some spots and gooey with sauce in others. Serve ribs hot with more sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Born to Grill” by Cheryl Alters and Bill Jamison


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