Tasting Notes: Grill Green

Willie Nash took this beautiful photo.

Organic options mean you can have your charbroiled ribs —and eat them, too.

Organic options mean you can have your charbroiled ribs —and eat them, too.

On the surface, there is something slightly incongruous about the organic lifestyle and a good, sticky plate of barbecued ribs. It is not surprising, given the fact that the foods we grew up with around the grill—commercial meats, overprocessed barbecue sauces and prepackaged, preservative-laden side dishes—do not fit into the modern ideal of a healthy, environmentally conscious eater.

But this is more a function of modern farming and food processing than barbecue itself. After all, barbecue has been around ever since our caveman ancestors picked up a club, discovered fire and put the first piece of woolly mammoth over an open flame. Back then, preservatives and industrial agriculture weren’t an issue. And they don’t have to be one today either; with the burgeoning selection of sensible and healthy organic food choices, you can barbecue like a champ and still be true to your organic sensibilities.

Obviously, the first question when it comes to organic barbecue is the meat itself. But what is “organic” meat? Simply put, organic meat is exactly the same meat as non-organic meat in terms of cut and consistency, although there is some argument that meat produced without chemical enhancement also tastes better. The difference is in the treatment of the animal prior to slaughter. Proper organic meat comes from farms that take care of the environment their cattle and livestock are raised on, meaning the animals are free of antibiotics and added hormones, and are not fed genetically modified feed. They should be treated humanely, often being left to graze freely (free range), and should generally come from farms that contain fewer chemicals than the standard industrial ranch.

You will typically pay 15 to 50 percent more at your local butcher or specialty food store for organically raised beef, pork, lamb or chicken, but I think spending a little bit extra to support sustainable agriculture is a food dollar well-spent.

Classic Kansas City Barbecued Organic Ribs

Kansas City, Mo. is a place where American barbecue styles melded together. The combination of transplanted Southerners and Texans and more beef than you can shake a stick at (it is the Midwest, after all) produced a barbecue culture of its own. Both KC Masterpiece and Bull’s Eye bottled sauces came out of Kansas City, which is testimony to its appeal. The style of classic Kansas City sauce varies according to which part of the city you’re from. Generally, it is a thick, tomato-laden, tangy and sweet sauce. While elsewhere the dry rub rules supreme.

This recipe is the best of both worlds: You have a great classic dry rub and a fantastic sauce for dipping. It calls for beef, but you can substitute whatever kind of ribs you like.

I prefer to dry-rub the ribs first, baste some barbecue sauce on for the last 20 minutes of cooking, and then use the sauce for dipping while eating.

However, feel free to thin down the (thick) sauce with a bit of water or “mop” or brush ribs during cooking.


2 large racks of organic beef ribs, or 3 large racks of organic baby back ribs
2 large zip-top freezer storage bags

For Dry Rub (makes 2 cups)
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup celery salt
3 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For Classic Barbecue Sauce (makes about 4 cups)

1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon mild curry powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups organic ketchup
3/4 cup dark unsulphered molasses
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Make dry rub at least one day before barbecuing. Mix all ingredients together. Store in a covered jar. (Mix can keep for up to one year if stored properly.) Set aside.

Make classic sauce by mixing dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Combine well. Add ketchup, molasses, vinegar and Tabasco sauce. Transfer mixture to a saucepan and heat over medium flame until warm, stirring frequently, until all ingredients melt to form a smooth sauce. Cool and set aside. Sauce may be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated.

Season ribs by sprinkling evenly with dry rub. Place ribs in zip-top bags and refrigerate overnight.

To barbecue, set grill temperature at roughly 250° F and place ribs on racks. Cook the ribs with the lid closed. For added flavor, add some water-soaked mesquite or other hardwood chips to the flame. Cook the ribs for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat has shrunk back well from the bone.

Roughly 15 minutes before the ribs are done, add a generous coating of the barbecue sauce. Serve with the remaining sauce and ice-cold beer.

* We suggest using organic ingredients if possible.

[This article was originally publisher in Canvas Magazine, June 24, 2007 ]


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