Every summer, Katie’s Mom celebrates her birthday in mid July with a reunion of her side of the family that they call Family Weekend. With 7 sisters and a brother, Karen’s family is quite large. The weekend is a great celebration where all of the aunts, uncles and cousins gather at the Fleming’s cottage on Chandos Lake for a weekend of bonfires, baseball, sunshine, swimming, dogs, boat rides, fireworks, and a few drinks. Oh, an good food of course.
Traditionally, Karen and her sisters split up the food duties amongst themselves. This year, however, was different. Karen decided to delegate the food responsibilities on to the kids, giving the aunts a well deserved break from spending their weekend in the kitchen, allowing them to enjoy the sunshine on the dock.
Feeding an Army
I can’t imagine what it was like growing up in Karen’s house. Cooking for nine kids every day must have been a full time job in itself. I don’t know how her mother did it. When the kids were given food duty for Family Weekend, I told Katie immediately that I wanted to take on the Saturday dinner – the biggest meal of the weekend. I’ve contributed to the food at family weekend before – a mango salsa here and some jalapeño poppers there – but organizing, preparing and cooking dinner for 40 people? That’s a bit different. That’s like feeding an army. I was up for it.
Building the Menu
Together, Katie and I planned out the menu for the Saturday night dinner based on the theme of Southern BBQ. Quickly we determined that we would make chicken and ribs. Not long after that we determined our sides – potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans and corn. A good old fashioned southern meal. The weekend before Family Weekend, I had still yet to determine what exactly I was going to do with the ribs. I knew they would be the cornerstone of the meal. The chicken was easy. Six whole beer can chickens on the BBQ. Not only are they a crowd pleaser, but they are surprisingly easy to make. Rub them, mount them, BBQ them and done. They were honestly an afterthought on this meal. This meal was all about the ribs.
Jay & Al’s BBQ Joint, Down by the Lake
Let me introduce you to Al. Al is Katie’s little sister Rachel’s boyfriend. Al’s a solid guy. A true Windsor boy with an impressive beard, great sense of humour, solid taste in music and an awesome chef.
The weekend before family weekend Al I sat around the campfire on Chandos Lake and started to talk ribs. The conversation quickly spiralled out of control as the ideas started flying. A few hours later Al and I had a loose plan, and a name for our future BBQ restaurant. After hours on research, and dozens of emails back an forth the following week, Al and I had things planned out to a “T”. We we’re going to take Katie’s Dad John’s two standard barbecues and turn them into smokers for the inaugural rib cook-off of Jay & Al’s BBQ Joint, Down by the Lake.
Kansas City Smoked Ribs
With 12 racks of ribs to smoke, Al and I both planned on making our own rubs and sauces. He went with a Cajun rub and a sweet, tangy sauce. My choice was a Kansas City inspired rub and sauce. Like many states in the Southern US, Kansas is known for it’s BBQ. Each region is a bit different. Kansas is all about smoking your meat, low and slow, with a spicy rub and a sweet, thick, dark sauce. Here’s what I came up with.
The following will be enough for 4 racks of ribs.
Kansas City Rub
6 tbsp chili powder
4 tbsp smoked paprika
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
Kansas City Barbecue Sauce
6 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp mustard powder
4 tbsp vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups ketchup
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
It’s best to make your sauce in advance. Combine all f your ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Start preparing your ribs the night before. Remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs with a small sharp knife. Grab the membrane and gently but firmly peel it off ribs. Mix together your rub ingredients and press the mixture all over both sides of the ribs, making sure to coat every nook and cranny. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.Go to sleep and dream of ribs.
Turning a Barbecue Into A Smoker
Turning your BBQ into a smoker is quite simple. It requires the right tools, a little planning and a lot of patience. But oh man, is it worth it. Smoking is a long process, so be sure to get yourself started early in the day. We started at about 10:30 AM and we had everything ready to go for dinner by 8:00PM. Here’s how we did it:
- Start by getting yourself some wood chips. Al went to Canadian Tire and picked up some Pecan wood chips and some wood smoking chips made of Jack Daniels casks. These are what you will use to create smoke and add flavour to your meat. You’re going to want to soak your chips in a large bowl of water for 45 minutes before you start cooking.
- Once the chips are soaked, make your smoke pouches but wrapping 1-2 cups of chips in aluminum foil. using a fork, punch a series of holes in both sides of your pouch. The heat from your barbecue will cause the wet chips to start smoking, and the holes in the pouch will allow that smoke to billow out, which in turn flavours and cooks the meat.
- Turn your BBQ on high for about 15 minutes. Once hot, turn the burner on the far side of your grill to low, and turn off all your other burners. Place your smoking pouch directly on the burner and close your lid. Your chips should start to smoke after about 10 minutes or so. Try to maintain a temperature of about 240-250F. Keeping a low, steady temperature is extremely important to getting great results with your ribs.
- Place your ribs, bone side down, on the unlit parts of the grill. Close the grill and let the smoking begin. You’ll need to replace your smoke packs as they burn out, every 45 minutes to an hour. When smoking ribs, keep two key things in mind. First, always keep a good heavy flow of smoke going. When you notice the smoke has stopped, replace the pack ASAP. Second, maintain that constant, low temperature of about 240-250F.This is what our ribs looked like after 4 hours.
- Smoke your ribs, turning as necessary and replacing the smoke pouches on a consistent basis for about 8 hours. 15 minutes before the ribs are done, generously brush your ribs with the sauce and continue to cook.
- Remove your ribs from the grill and serve.
Over 8 hours later, we had done it. 12 racks of smoked ribs, 6 beer can chickens, potato salad, cole slaw, corn, and baked beans. Al and I made a good team. Always reassuring each other that we were doing the right thing, and getting the other guy a cold beer when he was empty.
Exhausted from the day of drinking beer and changing smoke packs on the back deck, we announced to the crowd that dinner was ready. As the group poured into the cottage to serve themselves, Al and I shared a cheers and a high five in celebration as we watched 40 people mow down on the feast we slaved all day to create. Lots of finger licking, plenty of BBQ sauce stained t-shirts, and many thanks for the day we had put in. But to us, it wasn’t work – it was fun.