BBQ Deconstructed, Part I: Mojo Ribs and Jerk Chicken.

A proper BBQ involves hours of slow cooking hunks of meat over a charcoal fire, smoking and basting, brining and marinating. In Florida, in the summer, it also means sweating and suffering in front of a 250° grill in the 95° sunshine. Sometimes I will half-ass it and just throw something on the grill with little thought or effort. But more often I live by the motto that anything worth doing is worth doing the hard way. If you are going to spend 8 hours smoking a pork shoulder, why not spend four hours squeezing limes, mashing garlic in a pestle and mortar, and hand-grinding coriander seeds?  And as it has been a productive year thus far I thought I would document BBQ the hard way, with enough pictures to convince you it is worthwhile.

Mojo Ribs.

I don’t cook ribs too often so this was a bit of an experiment. I do make and cook with mojo quite often so I focused on that part of the process and let the ribs take care of themselves for the most part. Mojo is great on just about any kind of meat (not to mention yuca or potatoes) but is especially sublime on pork. So I figured I couldn’t go wrong marinating some pork spareribs in mojo and smoking them on the grill.

Mojo is a traditional Cuban sauce/marinade which is made from sour orange juice and garlic, and whatever other else you want to add to it. Cumin, olive oil, red pepper, vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano seem to be popular choices. But as long as you have the sour orange and garlic you can call it mojo. In fact, since sour oranges are a bit tricky to find outside of Miami or Cuba most mojos are made from orange juice and lime or grapefruit juice. I went with what I could find at the farmers’ market, which turned out to be Valencia oranges and limes. Yes, they sell orange juice and lime juice and minced garlic at the supermarket. And yes you can make mojo by adding minced garlic to bottled orange juice and bottled lime juice. But that wouldn’t make much of a blog post. So if you feel like doing it the hard way, get yourself some oranges and limes and heads of garlic and clear your schedule.

You will need about 2 cups of orange juice to one cup of lime juice. This comes out to about 4 oranges and 16 limes. Get yourself a citrus juicing apparatus or cut the oranges and limes into quarters and start squeezing.

If you have an electric version, unplug it. Sweat is the secret ingredient.

If you have an electric version, unplug it. Sweat is the secret ingredient.

You can use one of these juicers on the limes as well, but it will wear you out more than just cutting them an squeezing them. You aren’t worried about pulp so use whatever method works best to liberate the juice from the fruit.

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Once you have your juice, pour it into a pan and add your seasonings. I went with salt, cumin, black pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes. Do not add olive oil since the pork will have plenty of fat. Wait until after the sauce is cooled to add vinegar so that it doesn’t boil off. Simmer gently for like a half hour until it has reduced by about one half.

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While the juice is simmering, mince or mash you garlic. Use as much garlic as you like. Pork can take a lot of garlic. If you are making a marinade for chicken or a sauce for yuca you would want to go easy (but not too easy) on the garlic. I used this much.

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That is about eight heads of garlic and it was a bit much. The meat tasted great but the smell was a little overwhelming for the uninitiated. Still came out great but I would dial it back next time. Again you can mince it if you like chopping garlic, but mashing it is a better way to free up all those fragrant essential oils or whatever. In my house, mashing means you grab the pilon and get to work:

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Yes, it is a lot more work than a blender or food processor. But also much more intimate. I also mashed some shallots since I happened to have some handy. Once the juice is done simmering, but still hot, add the garlic and 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (optional). Now you have mojo.

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I prefer to rub meat down with a dry seasoning prior to adding a wet marinade like mojo, so that the meat has a little time to absorb the salt and seasoning before soaking in the marinade. For ribs you only need a very basic rub. Combine a packet or two of sazon with some adobo and oregano, then sprinkle liberally on the ribs and give them a good rub down. Then throw them in a zip lock bag and throw them in the refrigerator until the mojo is ready.

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Once the mojo is ready, let it cool down and then add it to the bags with the ribs. Massage it in good and then let it marinate for at least a few hours. I usually marinate it overnight since that means you can do all the prep work the day before and only have to worry about the cooking the next day.

Heat your smoker to 250° and smoke for 4-5 hours or until the ribs are ready to fall off the bone, Chop them up and serve.

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Jerk Chicken.

You can’t go wrong with some properly smoked pork ribs, and you won’t get too many complaints if that is the only meat you serve. But if you are going to have a BBQ it is sort of bad form to not have some kind of chicken on offer. My stand by is Jerk Chicken. Not necessarily “the hard way” since there is a bottled sauce involved but this jerk chicken will knock your socks off regardless.

First, buy a whole chicken and cut it up into pieces. Cut each breast in half and separate the wings from the thighs. Smaller pieces are better. You can use just thighs and breasts or leg quarters if you want, But whatever you use, they better have bones and skin.

Some jerk recipes use a wet rub, others use a dry rub. Both are authentic and have their benefits. I prefer to apply a dry rub to the chicken, let it sit for 30-45 minutes, then cover with a wet rub and marinate overnight. You can buy a “Jerk Rub” from the supermarket, but I swear by my own homemade rub. It is simple and easy to make (of course you should buy whole allspice berries and crack them in your pilon, and make your own scotch bonnet pepper powder, but for now we will assume you just buy powdered spices).

Jerk Rub (makes enough for several batches of jerk chicken)

4 tbsp allspice
1 tbsp ground thyme
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1-2 crushed scotch bonnets
(or 1 tbsp red pepper flakes)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves

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Apply the rub liberally to the chicken. Cover every square inch, just don’t cake it on there and you can’t really overseason it. Rub it in good and allow to sit for 30-45 minutes. The salt in the rub will pull moisture from the chicken, which will be absorbed by the sugar and cinnamon in the rub and create a nice paste that will re-absorb into the chicken. Since I haven’t mastered any wet rub recipes, I use a store bought jerk marinade. Pour on some Walkerswood Jerk Marinade on the chicken and rub it all over. You can’t overdo this part either, but the more you use, the spicier it will be. Use just enough to coat each piece. About a third of a bottle is plenty.  Store in the fridge overnight to marinate.

Jerk Chicken

Grill the chicken directly over a medium-low fire (preferably charcoal), turning frequently and keeping covered to ensure the meat cooks through. The outside of the chicken should burn somewhat and grease fires should be a constant nuisance. That is ok. It tastes better with some char to it. If it burns too much, however, you will lose a lot of the flavor. There is a bit of an art to it, but you will get the hang of it after a few tries.

If you need some side dishes to complement your ribs and chicken, well first of all ask you guests to bring some potato salad, since you spent two days in the kitchen working on the meat. But if you have enough energy left to hand-grate a block of cheese, then my macaroni and cheese recipe (with which I have recently achieved perfection) goes great with BBQ. I will wait to share the recipe for that one until part 2. But here is a mouth-watering preview. Which does not even begin to do it justice.

Mac n Cheese

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