If life had gone differently, Cedric Harden might never have become a chef at all.
Skilled at baseball, he had dreams of playing professionally, dreams that were dashed when a rotator cuff injury sidelined him in his freshman year of college. Facing an uncertain future, Harden enrolled in culinary school; the rest, as they say, is history.
The sous chef at Urbanbelly and Belly Shack, Bill Kim's family of Chicago restaurants, Harden is a barbecue fanatic, with two grills at home and a penchant, in his words, for "low-, slow-cooking." For Sous Chef Series, he made us a rack of ribs flavored with lemongrass (click here to see the recipe); it requires two six-packs of beer: one for brining the ribs, the other to drink while they are cooking.
Click here to learn about Harden's favorite Chicago restaurant, what he'd eat for his last meal and how he really feels about the Bloomin' Onion, served at his onetime employer, Outback Steakhouse.
Barbecued Baby Back Ribs
Recipe adapted from Cedric Harden, Urbanbelly, Chicago
Yield: Serves 4 (plus 5¼ cups barbecue sauce)
Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (plus overnight brining)
Six 12-ounce cans or bottles of beer
6 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Four 1¾- to 2-pound slabs baby back pork ribs
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup red chile powder
¼ cup garlic powder
¼ cup onion powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground white pepper
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
8-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled (use the edge of a teaspoon to scrape off the skin) and sliced crosswise into thin rounds
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup curry powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layer removed and stalk finely chopped
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 cups (32 ounces) ketchup
¾ cup white vinegar
½ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
Sambal oelek, to taste
1. Brine the ribs: In a medium bowl, add 2 beers and whisk in the brown sugar, salt, cayenne and black pepper until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour the mixture into a roasting pan, add the remaining beers and the ribs. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
2. Make the dry rub: In a large bowl, whisk together the salt, chile and garlic powder, onion powder, black and white pepper, coriander, oregano and paprika. Add the brown sugar and stir until well combined. Remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Set the slabs of ribs on a cutting board and coat both sides of each rack evenly with the spices.
3. Using a charcoal or gas grill, prepare a two-level fire, setting one side to medium heat (if using a charcoal grill, bank all of the coals to one side of the kettle--you should be able to hold your hand five inches above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds; if using a gas grill, set one side to medium heat and leave the other side off). In a small bowl, add the oil and, using tongs, dip a few folded paper towels into the oil, then use the oiled paper towels to grease the grill grates. Set the ribs over the medium fire top side down and grill until nicely browned, about 20 minutes. Turn the ribs over and move to the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill (make sure the vent holes are open in the lid and the kettle) and cook until a paring knife easily slips into the meat between the ribs, about 45 minutes longer. Preheat the oven to 350°.
4. Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and garlic powder and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the lemongrass and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in the brown sugar; once it has all melted, stir in the ketchup, vinegar, water and soy sauce. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce is dark and thick and large, slow bubbles rise to the surface, about 30 minutes. Add sambal oelek to taste. Cool for 10 minutes, then purée in a blender until smooth.
5. Transfer the grilled ribs to a rimmed baking sheet. Baste with plenty of barbecue sauce and place in the oven until the sauce caramelizes, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, baste each slab with more barbecue sauce, place a slab on each plate and serve.