BBQ Legend Mike Mills Shares Cookout Tips

Legendary Baby Back Ribs from Praise the Lard by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Photo: Ken Goodman

Audio clip:

Just in time for Father's day--father-daughter team barbecue legend Mike Mills and Amy Mills of 17th Street Barbecue sit down with Fox News's Lilian Huang Woo to talk the best way to talk amazing ribs, burgers and more. 

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Pork & Stormy
Photo: Ken Goodman

PORK & STORMY

Our good friend Carey Bringle, the proprietor of Peg Leg Porker out of Nashville, coined the name of this cocktail, and he makes a version with his own Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Straight Bourbon. We encourage you to use your favorite bourbon and ginger beer. We're partial to Fitz's, which we carry at 17th Street, and Blenheim ginger ale, which we carry back whenever we visit South Carolina. We've added our own touch with a cane-sugar-and-bacon bourbon floater that adds a deep, sweet, smoky flavor.

MAKES 1 COCKTAIL

Bacon-Washed Bourbon

4 strips bacon

8 ounces bourbon (your choice)

1 teaspoon pure cane syrup (we use Lavington's, Poirier's, or Steen's)

Cocktail

Ice cubes or shards

2 ounces bourbon (your choice)

3 ounces ginger beer

Lime wedge, for garnish

For the bacon-washed bourbon: Fry the bacon in a cast-iron skillet until crispy. Combine 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease and the bourbon in a plastic container with a lid (eat the bacon). Shake thoroughly and freeze until the fat hardens, about 1 hour. Remove from the freezer and strain the fat from the bourbon; discard the fat. Add the cane syrup to the bourbon and mix well. Decant into a covered glass jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator.

For one cocktail: Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Add the bourbon, top with the ginger beer, and stir. Add a teaspoon of the bacon-washed bourbon to the top of the drink. Garnish with a lime wedge.

From PRAISE THE LARD by Mike Mills and Amy Mills. Copyright © 2017 by Mike Mills and Amy Mills. Used by permission of Rux Martin Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

From Praise the Lard by Mike and Amy Mills. Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt
Photo: Ken Goodman

Legendary Baby Back Ribs from Praise the Lard by Mike Mills and Amy Mills
Photo: Ken Goodman

LEGENDARY BABY BACK RIBS 

Our royalty status on the competition circuit originated with our long-reigning champion baby back ribs. Also known as loin backs, baby backs are cut "high on the hog" and come from the curved region of the rib cage. You'll notice the bones have a slight arch to them, and the meat has a bit of pork chop or pork loin flavor. When buying your baby backs, pay attention to the size of the ribs. We prefer smaller 2-pound racks, which come off a younger hog and are more tender, with a higher meat-to-bone ratio.

The other secret to delicious ribs--of any cut--is cooking them long enough. Because there's not enough meat on a rib to easily use a thermometer, rib doneness is best checked by hand: Lift up the rack, using one finger, from one end; it should bend like a swayback horse. If it doesn't bend much or has any tension at all, it needs to go back on the cooker. If you cut the rack in half or thirds, you'll be able to pick up the pieces individually and bend them in order to judge doneness. They should bend easily, but not break in half. When you've cooked enough racks, you'll be an expert judge of perfect doneness. Meantime, be patient.

Experiment with different combinations of rubs and sauces, from savory to sweet, to give the ribs a whole different flavor. MAKES 3 FULL-RACK SERVINGS OR 6 HALF-RACK SERVINGS 

3 racks baby back ribs (about 2 pounds each)

Pure Magic (page 29) or Sweet Heat Dry Rub (page 33)

2 cups apple juice in a spray bottle with a trigger handle (see page 76)

Apple City Barbecue Sauce (page 36) or Blackberry-Habanero Sauce (page 37), warm

4 to 5 pounds good-quality lump charcoal

1 small (8-inch) piece of apple wood or 2 store-bought chunks

String mop 

Prep the meat: To remove the thin, papery membrane from the inner side of the ribs, lay each rack, bone side up, on a flat surface and slide the handle of a teaspoon between the membrane and the meat, working from one end all the way to the other. Use a paper towel to grab ahold of the membrane and pull firmly to peel the whole thing off. Then use the bowl end of the spoon to scrape away any extraneous fat on the bone side of the rack, between the bones. Don't scrape all the way down to the bone; just remove any thick deposits. Turn the rack over and inspect the front. Use a sharp knife to trim off any scraggly edges and hard pieces of fat (which won't render out during the cooking process).

Cut the racks in halves or thirds as needed to fit on the cooker. Lightly sprinkle each side with dry rub. You'll be layering on rub several times during the cooking process, so don't overdo it now. Set the ribs on a baking sheet, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you're ready to put them on the cooker.

Note: You can dust the ribs with dry rub up to 4 hours prior to cooking, but if they sit much longer than that, the salt in the rub will begin to pull moisture from the meat.

Set up the cooker for indirect-heat smoking: Open the top and bottom vents. Pile 3 pounds of the charcoal in one half of the cooker, leaving the other half empty. Load a charcoal chimney one-quarter full of charcoal and light it. When the coals in the chimney are glowing, dump them on top of the pile of charcoal in the cooker. Set the wood on top of the coals, replace the grate, and put the ribs over the side with no coals (the indirect cooking area), bone side down. Close the lid.

Don't open the cooker for 1 hour, but keep a close eye on the temperature (see page 84 for how best to assess and monitor cooker temperature); when it reaches 185°, which might happen very quickly, close the vents about halfway so that less air comes in to feed the fire and the heat in the cooker rises slowly. Let the temperature climb to between 225° and 250° (see page 77 for how to determine your target temperature). Maintain your target temperature for the duration of the cook. 

Throughout the entirety of the cook, be on the lookout for fluctuations in cooker temperature; if it dips more than 5° below your target and opening the vents isn't sufficient to bring it back up, you will need to add a few hot coals. If at any point the temperature climbs above your target by more than 5°, close the top and bottom vents further so that even less air comes in to feed the fire.

After 1 hour, open the lid and check the edges of the ribs closest to the fire. If they look like they're beginning to brown, rotate the racks, moving the pieces that are farthest away and placing them closest to the fire, and vice versa. (Do not flip the ribs over, now or at any other point during the cook.)

Close the lid and continue cooking the ribs for another 2 to 4 hours, monitoring the cooker temperature and checking every 20 minutes or so to see if the surface of the meat looks dry or moist. If the ribs look dry, mist them with some apple juice and sprinkle on another light coat of dry rub. Ribs "sweat" about three times during the smoking process, indicating that the seasoning from the dry rub and the flavor from the smoke are being absorbed into the meat. Never flip the ribs over; instead continue rotating them so each piece cooks evenly.

Prepare another round of charcoal in the chimney as needed. This cook should not require more charcoal than the initial amount, but we always keep some coals at the ready just in case more are needed to maintain the temperature.

After the ribs have been on the cooker for 3 hours, start checking every 20 minutes or so for doneness by lifting up one end of a rack. If the rack is still rigid like a board or bends only a little, the ribs need more time. When they're done, the rack will sway, bending in the middle.

Mop the ribs with a thin coat of sauce, then close the lid for just a minute to let it dry a bit. Mop with a second thin coat, give them a final sprinkle of dry rub, pull them off the cooker, and serve. Serve full or half racks, or cut into single or double bones to serve as an appetizer.

RUBS 

While the flavor profile of our restaurant barbecue is savory and traditional, at home and in our catering operation we like to experiment with all sorts of flavors and ingredients. Dry rubs are applied to meat before smoking, and they help form the delicious, flavorful "bark" on the outside of the meat. You can also use them to enhance the flavor of many other foods.

PURE MAGIC 

For our favorite rub, the spices are ground to a fine powder; you'll need a spice mill or coffee grinder. Spice particles that are all the same size create a rub that melts when used on meat. No one flavor will predominate, and you won't feel gritty spice particles when you're eating. The combination of spices is savory, with just a little sweetness. Use leftover rub as called for in a variety of recipes in this book. You'll also find yourself reaching for this well-balanced all-purpose rub for all kinds of meat, as well as fish, vegetables, french fries, and popcorn.

MAKES ABOUT 2¼ CUPS

½ cup sweet Hungarian paprika

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup granulated garlic

¼ cup chili powder

¼ cup ground cumin

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Mix all the ingredients. Using a spice mill or coffee grinder, blend ¼ cup at a time to a powder-like consistency so that all of the spice particles are relatively the same size.

Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place. The rub keeps for about 6 months, or until the color or pungent aroma fades.

Variation: To make this rub a little spicier, increase the mustard and black pepper to 2 tablespoons each. 

SWEET HEAT DRY RUB 

A combination of sugars and molasses, along with chile powder and cayenne, lends sweetness and heat to this hot, sticky, spicy rub.

MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP 

6 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

1½ teaspoons molasses powder (see Resources, page 321)

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground chipotle

¼ teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a whisk to blend evenly. Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place. The rub keeps for about 6 months, or until the color or pungent aroma fades.

APPLE CITY BARBECUE SAUCE 

This is the sauce that has won us dozens of awards and accolades on the competition circuit. It's a harmonious combination of ketchup, vinegar, and mustard--the three ingredients that typically set regional barbecue styles apart from one another--along with fresh grated apple, a nod to the apple orchards surrounding Murphysboro. This sauce is a favorite on ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, as well as on chicken and hamburgers.

MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS

¾ cup ketchup (made with cane sugar, such as Red Gold or Hunt's)

..." cup rice vinegar

1½ cups apple cider

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard

½ teaspoon granulated garlic

... teaspoon ground white pepper

... teaspoon cayenne pepper

..." cup bacon bits (real, not imitation), ground in a spice mill

..." cup grated peeled apple

..." cup grated onion

2 teaspoons grated green pepper 

Combine the ketchup, rice vinegar, apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, granulated garlic, white pepper, cayenne, and bacon bits in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir in the apple, onion, and green pepper, then lower the heat. Simmer the sauce, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Decant into a mason jar, cover, and refrigerate; the sauce will keep for at least a month. Warm or bring to room temperature before serving.

Variation: To make this sauce a little hotter, add more cayenne pepper to taste, another ¼ to ½ teaspoon. Be careful; a little goes a long way.

BLACKBERRY-HABANERO SAUCE 

Adding habanero peppers and sriracha to a fresh blackberry base balances the sweetness of the fruit. Have no fear, the hot sauce and habanero bring just a nice little bite, not a blast of heat. This is best made at the height of blackberry season, which is all too brief. We use this sauce on all types of poultry and pork; it's especially good on pork chops.

MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS 

½ cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons Pure Magic dry rub or your choice

1 quart blackberries

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons pure cane syrup 

2 teaspoons local honey

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon blackberry preserves

¼ teaspoon minced seeded habanero pepper

... teaspoon sriracha sauce 

Combine the vinegars, Worcestershire sauce, dry rub, and blackberries in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Take the pan off the heat. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined. Decant into a mason jar and let cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator; the sauce will keep for at least 2 weeks. Warm or bring to room temperature before serving.

 

SPRAY BOTTLES 

Use a heavy-duty spray bottle with an adjustable nozzle and a trigger handle to spritz meat while cooking.

STRING MOP 

An old-fashioned string mop captures the most sauce and distributes it evenly over the meat.

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Caramelized Midwest Pork Steaks
photo: Ken Goodman

CARAMELIZED MIDWEST PORK STEAKS

Pork steak is a Midwest classic that most home cooks just grill, which is a fine way to get good outdoor flavor from an inexpensive cut of meat. But we give ours a special reverse-sear treatment: first dusting the steaks lightly with dry rub, then infusing with the gentle smoke of apple wood, next grilling, and finally mopping with sauce and caramelizing them over direct fire.

As commonplace as they are in the Midwest, pork steaks are not usually found in grocery meat cases elsewhere, but obtaining them is as easy as asking your butcher to cut them from the butt end of a pork shoulder--specify 1-inch-thick steaks that weigh about a pound apiece, since this is the optimal size for taking on smoke. The steaks can be smoked a day or two in advance and finished on the grill just prior to serving. You can even freeze a pile of smoked steaks for up to 1 month, then pull them out, thaw, and grill them as needed.

MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS

4 to 6 bone-in pork steaks (about 1 pound each)

Pure Magic dry rub (SEE BELOW) or your choice

Apple City Barbecue Sauce (SEE BELOW), or your choice, warm

1 to 3 pounds good quality lump charcoal

1 small (8-inch) piece of apple wood or 2 store bought chunks

String mop (An old-fashioned string mop captures the most sauce and distributes it evenly over the meat.) 

Lightly sprinkle the pork steaks with dry rub on both sides. Set the steaks on a baking sheet, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you're ready to put them on the cooker.

Note: You can dust the steaks with dry rub up to 4 hours prior to cooking, but if the steaks sit any longer than that, the salt in the rub will begin to pull moisture from the meat.

Set up the cooker for indirect-heat smoking: Open the top and bottom vents. Load a charcoal chimney one-quarter full of charcoal and light it. When the coals in the chimney are glowing, dump them on one side of the cooker. Set the wood on top of the coals, replace the grate, and put the steaks over the side with no coals (the indirect cooking area). Close the lid.

Don't open the cooker for 15 minutes, but keep a close eye on the temperature; when it reaches 200°, which might happen very quickly, close the vents about halfway so that less air comes in to feed the fire and the heat in the cooker rises slowly. Let the temperature climb to between 225° and 250° (see page 77 for how to determine your target temperature). Maintain your target temperature; if at any point it climbs above your target, close the top and bottom vents further so that even less air comes in to feed the fire.

After 15 minutes, use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat: Insert the probe into the center of one of the steaks, not near the bone. You are looking for a slow and steady climb to between 160° and 165°. Do not flip the steaks over at all during the smoking stage.

After you check the meat temperature, reload the chimney halfway with charcoal and light it. You'll soon need these additional hot coals to sear the steaks at the finishing stage, after they're done smoking.

Check the internal temperature of the meat every 10 minutes or so. When the steaks are between 160° and 165°, pull them off the cooker and set them aside on a baking sheet. Working quickly, add the hot coals, spreading them out all over the bottom of the cooker. Lightly mop the tops of the steaks with the barbecue sauce, sprinkle on a light layer of dry rub, and put the steaks back on the cooker, sauce side down, directly over the hot coals. Cook the steaks for 5 to 8 minutes, mopping with the sauce and flipping them several times to caramelize all over. If there are spots of fat that are dark and blackened, sauce them and caramelize them again. When the steaks are sizzling around the bone and beautifully glazed on both sides and around the edges, they're done. The internal temperature should be between 170° and 175°.

PURE MAGIC

MAKES ABOUT 2 ¼ CUPS

For our favorite rub, the spices are ground to a fine powder; you'll need a spice mill or coffee grinder. Spice particles that are all the same size create a rub that melts when used on meat. No one flavor will predominate, and you won't feel gritty spice particles when you're eating. The combination of spices is savory, with just a little sweetness. Use leftover rub as called for in a variety of recipes in this book. You'll also find yourself reaching for this well-balanced all-purpose rub for all kinds of meat, as well as fish, vegetables, french fries, and popcorn.

1/2 cup sweet Hungarian paprika

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup granulated garlic

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup ground cumin

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all the ingredients. Using a spice mill or coffee grinder, blend 1/4 cup at a time to a powder-like consistency so that all of the spice particles are relatively the same size. Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dark place. The rub keeps for about 6 months, or until the color or pungent aroma fades.

Variation: To make this rub a little spicier, increase the mustard and black pepper to 2 tablespoons each.

APPLE CITY BARBECUE SAUCE

MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS

This is the sauce that has won us dozens of awards and accolades on the competition circuit. It's a harmonious combination of ketchup, vinegar, and mustard--the three ingredients that typically set regional barbecue styles apart from one another--along with fresh grated apple, a nod to the apple orchards surrounding Murphysboro. This sauce is a favorite on ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, as well as on chicken and hamburgers.

3/4 cup ketchup (made with cane sugar, such as Red Gold or Hunt's)

2/3 cup rice vinegar

11/2 cups apple cider

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/3 cup bacon bits (real, not imitation), ground in a spice mill

1/3 cup grated peeled apple

1/3 cup grated onion

2 teaspoons grated green pepper

Combine the ketchup, rice vinegar, apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, granulated garlic, white pepper, cayenne, and bacon bits in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir in the apple, onion, and green pepper, then lower the heat. Simmer the sauce, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes, until it thickens slightly. Decant into a mason jar, cover, and refrigerate; the sauce will keep for at least a month. Warm or bring to room temperature before serving.

Variation: To make this sauce a little hotter, add more cayenne pepper to taste, another 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon. Be careful; a little goes a long way.

PRAISE THE LARD by Mike Mills and Amy Mills. Copyright © 2017 by Mike Mills and Amy Mills. Used by permission of Rux Martin Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.