Food + Drink

Recipe: Johnny Trigg’s Spareribs from Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook

Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook documents both the veteran Texas pitmasters that made tender smoked brisket, juicy sausage links and succulent beef ribs famous, as well as a new generation of young pitmasters that have created a modern style of Texas barbecue.

Born in 1938, Johnny Trigg graduated from North Texas State University and then spent most of his life in the insurance industry. He started entering barbecue competitions in 1990, and the cook-off circuit became his retirement hobby. He and his Smokin’ Triggers team won the Grand Champion title at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 2000 and 2003. He appeared several times on BBQ Pitmasters, winning the television show’s Grand Champion title in season three. Johnny Trigg has some sage advice for backyard barbecuers: Use lump charcoal, not briquettes, which contain fillers. And throw away your old spices every six months and buy some fresh stuff.

Johnny Trigg’s rib wrap is sheer genius. He spreads margarine, brown sugar, hot-pepper sauce, and honey on aluminum foil in the shape of the rack of ribs, and then lays the rack, meat-side down, on the mixture, wraps the foil around the rack, and returns the ribs to the smoker. Trigg starts with what he calls “squeeze butter” (actually Parkay Squeeze). Although squeezable margarine may be the secret ingredient of winning competitors, feel free to substitute softened butter. Don’t bother to measure the ingredients precisely, as the bigger the rack of ribs, the more margarine, brown sugar, and honey you will need. What’s important is to cover a large enough area of the foil to coat the whole rack.

Johnny Trigg’s Spareribs

From Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook by Robb Walsh

Serves 3 to 4

1 rack 4 and up pork spareribs (5 to 6 pounds)
1 cup dry rub of your choice
¼ to ½ cup squeezable margarine or softened butter
¼ to ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp hot-pepper sauce, or to taste
¼ to ½ cup honey
About 1½ cups barbecue sauce or glaze of your choice

Trim the rib rack St. Louis style and remove the membrane. Sprinkle the meat side of the ribs with the dry rub, pressing it into the meat, and let the rack sit at room temperature for around 45 minutes.

Set up your smoker for indirect heat with a water pan. Use wood chips, chunks, or logs, and keep up a good level of smoke. Maintain a temperature between 225° and 275°F. Cut a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil large enough to wrap the ribs completely. Spread the margarine over an area of the foil the size of the rib rack. Sprinkle the margarine with the brown sugar and pepper sauce, then drizzle the honey evenly over the top. Lay the rack, meat-side down, on the margarine mixture and wrap the foil around the rack, sealing the packet tightly closed.

Place the ribs in the smoker and cook between 225° and 275°F for 3 hours. Remove the packet from the cooker and discard the foil. Coat the meat side of the rack with the barbecue sauce, return the rack, unwrapped and meat-side up, to the smoker, and cook at 225°F for about 1 hour, or until the ribs are done. To test if the ribs are ready, using tongs, pick up one end of the rack, and if the rack is just about to break, the ribs are done. Be careful that they do not burn.

Remove the rack from the cooker and immediately apply more barbecue sauce. Carve between the bones into individual ribs (Trigg uses an electric knife), pile the ribs on a platter, and serve.

Variation: Home Version. Cook-off competitors have to do all their cooking on the barbecue pit, but home cooks have the freedom to employ modern conveniences. If you start Johnny Trigg’s Spareribs in an oven set at 250°F for 3 hours, then put them on the smoker after you unwrap the aluminum foil and proceed as directed with the glazing, you will have exactly the same results. Be sure to put the foil-wrapped packages in a roasting pan before you put them in the oven—if you puncture the foil while handling, the juices will leak all over the oven.

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You can find Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook here.

Jenna Homen

Community Manager at Chronicle Books. When she's logged off, she can be found cooking, camping, or in a museum. You can follow her on Twitter at @jn_na.
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