Chef Paul's Sweet and Smoky Ribs

Chow on 02.05.10
Contributor bio | twitter

I met Steve Wilson on Twitter a few weeks ago, and I don't even remember what our conversation was about. All I saw was the word "grill" in his twitter name and I was sold. Grilling Companion is a beautifully designed new site that provides valuable grilling, barbeque and smoking tips, recipes, product reviews. When I had the chance to interview BBQ Pitmasters Chef Paul - I immediately emailed Steve and asked if he'd like the honor of testing Paul's recipe and conducting the phone interview. Of course, he was thrilled. And as a bonus, Steve's also a photographer, so I hope you enjoy the fantastic step by step photos that he's provided!. ~jaden


If you watch the show BBQ Pitmasters, you probably know him as the “rookie” that looks more like a rock star than a barbecue cook.  If you saw the first episode, you may know him as the unlucky guy that broke down on his way to the first competition and then fell asleep in the middle of the night while his pit went cold.  Or maybe you know him as the guy that Johnny Trigg took under his wing to try and help  end the string of defeats he was tallying up at competitions.  What you may not know is that Chef Paul Petersen is actually a classically trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.  Oh, and yes, he was a drummer in a rock band back in the day, but these days he is on a different kind of cross-country tour following the professional barbecue circuit in pursuit of a Grand Champion trophy. 

I had the opportunity to recreate one of Chef Paul's awesome rib recipes, as well as speak with him over the phone to learn more about his interesting background.  Here is a transcript of what he had to say, followed by the recipe for his sweet and smokey ribs. 

Steve: How does a chef from the Culinary Institute of America end up on the competitive BBQ circuit?

Chef Paul: Barbecue has always been a passion of mine.  When I was leaving NYC I was joking with my peers and said “if I can't find a job in Austin, I'll go compete on the BBQ circuit”.  I never thought I'd have a problem finding a job and even passed on a great opportunity to stay in New York and open a new restaurant in the city.  I made it back to Austin and still didn't have a job after 2 months back, so I bought a BBQ pit on a trailer and started catering.  A short time later I did my first competition and got completely destroyed, but it rekindled my passion for BBQ and soon after I opened my own restaurant and got Texas Smokehouse BBQ down to a science.

Steve: Do you think your training at the CIA gives you an advantage in competition?

Chef Paul: I think it does because I can adapt and learn techniques quickly, like I did with Johnny Trigg.  What he did floored me.  I went into competition with my Texas Smokehouse BBQ guns blazing, not having a clue that that isn't what the judges want to taste.  Johnny shined the light on what the judges were actually looking for.  So since I am trained in cooking techniques, I could concentrate on that “one bite barbecue” flavor profile that the judges are looking for, which is completely different than what I would eat.

Steve: Speaking of Johnny, there is a rumor that he carries a gun in his boot.  During your apprenticeship, did he make you clean his gun?

Chef Paul: <laughing> Of course he did!  Johnny is a great guy and he didn't have to do what he did for me, it was intense.  He treats me like family now and we got really close, Texas boys and all.

Steve: I have to ask you about another interesting guy on the show.  Does Myron really cuss that much in person?

Chef Paul: <laughs> He does, he cusses a lot.  Myron is a cool guy though.

Steve: I've got one more really important question.  Who gets more and better groupies, a drummer in a rock band or a BBQ grand champion?

Chef Paul:  Um, definitely a rock drummer but I don't know yet, we'll see!  <laughs> It's getting pretty wild on my Facebook page. 

Steve:  Oh yeah?  Are they showing up at the restaurant yet?

Chef Paul: Oh, every night.  At first it was around one table a week and now it's like 5 or 6 tables a night.  People just coming in to say they've seen the show and they love it, it's really cool.

Steve: That's great, congratulations on the show.  Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Chef Paul:  No problem, thanks Steve.

Chef Paul's Sweet and Smoky Ribs (from Chef Paul's new interactive cookbook, Keeper of the Flame)

Ribs and Rub
    •    3 racks baby back pork ribs (about 7 pounds)
    •   2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably hickory), soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained
    •    1/4 cup sweet paprika
    •    1 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
    •    2 tablespoons light brown sugar
    •    1 tablespoon salt
    •    1 1/2 tablespoons dried chipotle chile powder
    •    1 teaspoons cayenne pepper
    •    1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
    •    1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
    •    1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Mop Sauce
    •    1 cup coarsely chopped onion
    •    1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic (2 cloves)
    •    1 1/4 cups ketchup
    •    1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
    •    1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
    •    2 tablespoons light brown sugar
    •    2 teaspoons salt
    •    1 teaspoons black pepper

1.    Prepare the ribs by removing the thin, papery skin from the back of each rack of ribs by pulling it off in a sheet with your fingers, using the corner of a kitchen towel to gain a secure grip, or with pliers.
Remove skin from ribs

2.    Combine the paprika, black pepper, brown sugar, salt, chipotle powder, cayenne, garlic powder, dry mustard, and cumin in a small bowl and whisk to mix.

Wisk together rub ingredients

3.    Rub two thirds of this mixture over the ribs on both sides and  transfer the ribs to a roasting pan. Cover the pan and let the ribs cure in the refrigerator, for 4 to 8 hours.

cover the ribs with the rub

4.    Combine all of the mop sauce ingredients in a 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. 

simmer mop sauce

5.    Transfer sauce to a food processor and purée until smooth.

 puree mop sauce in food processor

6.    Prepare the grill for indirect grilling. 
Charcoal grill - place a drip pan under the grill grates and pile all of the coals to one side of the grill. 
Gas grill - place the drip pan under the grill grate, put your wood chips (or chunks) in the grill's smoker box (or create a smoke pouch with aluminum foil) and then light half of the grill's burners to high. 

Indoor oven – preheat oven to 325 degrees.  To roast the ribs in the oven, find a pan long enough for the ribs, along with a rack that fits over the top (to keep the ribs above the bottom of the pan).  Alternatively, the pan can be placed on a lower rack, using the upper oven rack for the ribs.  Fill the pan with about 1 inch of water.   

heat coals for indirect grilling

7.    Once the grill or oven is ready, place the ribs on the grate (or oven rack) over the pan on the unlit side of the grill.  If using charcoal, toss the wood chips onto the coals. 

toss on the wood chips

8.    Cover the grill (or close the oven) and smoke/grill the ribs for 1 hour.

9.    After an hour, brush the ribs with the mop sauce and add 10 or 12 lit coals to the grill if using charcoal.

brush the ribs with the mop sauce

10.    Cover the grill and continue to cook the ribs until almost done, about 45 minutes to an hour. The ribs are done when the meat has become tender and shrunken back from the ends of the bones.

meat pulling away from the bone

11.    With around 15 minutes remaining, sprinkle the ribs with the remaining rub and cover to finish cooking.
sprinkle ribs with remaining rub