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Country-style pork ‘ribs’ aren’t ribs, but they’re delicious

You’ve been lied to for years. Country-style pork ribs are not really ribs. If you’re craving a big, smoky rack of pork spare ribs or baby backs, then keep looking.

Country-style pork “ribs” are actually cuts of meat about the size and shape of individual ribs cut from the area between the loin and the shoulder (also called the butt). They are often sold in family packs that can weigh 5 or 6 pounds and are inexpensive by today’s elevated standards, selling for about $2 per pound.

They are easy to handle. And they are delicious, so just because they aren’t real ribs doesn’t mean I don’t still love them.

“They get the name ‘country style’ for a couple of reasons, but the terminology started because they can be cut very thick, and they have a lot of meat on them,” said butcher Joe Doria, owner of the Bergheim Meat Market near Boerne.

Doria, who has more than 40 years of experience as a butcher, said it’s also an issue of practicality: “It’s a lot easier to just say ‘country style’ than put a label on there that says ‘bone-in, loin cut from shoulder or blade region,’ because that can be even more confusing.”

Unless you speak with the butcher directly, it’s impossible to know from the packaging if the ribs are sourced from the loin or the butt. The butt is fattier and more forgiving, but it’s better to assume that most of the meat comes from the leaner loin and cook it more gently. I recommend cooking in the smoker and finishing on the grill.

Let the pork come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, and apply your dry seasonings.

Start with the smoker, and get it fired up between 250 and 275 degrees. That low of a temperature will slowly cook the meat without drying it out and will infuse it with a delicious layer of smoke flavor. If you start with the grill before the smoker, it will make the outside so crispy the smoke won’t penetrate it.

Milder fruit woods like apple, cherry or pecan are perfect for the pork cuts, providing a good amount of smoke flavor without overpowering the meat.

Place the meat on the smoker for about three hours, spritzing with apple juice at the top of every hour. When they’ve taken on a lovely red hue and reached an internal temperature of about 175 degrees, it’s time to move them to the grill.

During that third hour, fire up the grill and set it for indirect cooking. For charcoal, stack all the briquettes on one side, and on gas grills, just turn on the burners on one side.

You want the grill hot enough to give a nice sear to the outside — fast enough that the inside stays moist as the outside chars. Transfer the meat from the smoker to the grill, and place it in between those hot and cold zones, close the lid and cook for about 5 minutes. Open lid, flip the ribs, and repeat. They should take on solid grill marks. You can test them for tenderness, and they should slightly bounce when prodded.

Now, to sauce or not? I know it’s a contentious issue, but I am definitely pro-sauce, especially with smoked pork. The flavor is mild, and sauce adds a nice kick. I sway between sweet and spicy sauces based on mood, but anything works.

If you do go the sauce route, warm it up to a slight simmer and apply it after the meat has been on the grill for five minutes on each side. Slop it on thick on one side of the meat and let it thicken for a minute or two with the lid open before flipping and repeating.

While you aren’t eating proper pork ribs, you and your guests will be eating good — country style. | Twitter: @chuck_blount | Instagram: @bbqdiver

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