Sous Vide baby back ribs

Discussion in 'Slicers, Grinders, Tools, Equipment' started by sigmo, Aug 7, 2016.

  1. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic

    A few months ago, I bought an inexpensive sous vide circulator/temperature controller so I cold try out sous vide recipes of all sorts.  It's been fantastic!

    The other day, I found some baby back ribs on sale, and got a pack with the idea of cooking them sous vide followed by smoking.  When I searched for sous vide baby back ribs recipes, the very first one I looked at described cooking the ribs for 4 hours in the sous vide, then smoking them for another 4 hours using a dry rub.

    Fantastic!  Just what I was looking for.

    I plan on trying it out tomorrow since I've got the day off.

    I was wondering if anyone else on here had tried this general method for ribs, or any other sous vide/smoker combo cooking methods.

    The recipe I found called for four hours at 167 °F / 75 °C for the sous vide portion of the cooking.  Then application of the dry rub and smoking with the smoker run at 176 °F / 80 °C or lower for another three to four hours.  They also recommended inserting a meat temperature probe just under the surface of the ribs and making sure that they never get hotter than 167 °F / 75 °C.

    Since I'll be using an electric smoker (MES 40), this relatively low temperature should be easy to achieve/maintain.  I think folks using other types of smokers may need to use special methods to achieve this sort of smoker temperature.  Some of the folks writing in the comments section of the site where I found the recipe said they smoked the ribs first, then put them in the sous vide, and also got excellent results.

    Frankly, I've had good results just cooking/smoking the ribs entirely in the smoker using some of the methods described on this forum.  But you know how it is when you've got a new toy.  Gotta try it on everything!  :)

    I'll post some photos and observations/results when I get finished tomorrow afternoon.
  2. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Sounds interesting!

  3. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic

    Well, I was not terribly impressed with the results of this experiment.

    The ribs were juicy and OK, but more firm than I like.  Not chewy or dry, certainly, but not tenderized as much as I prefer.  I think the ribs could have used more time or a higher temperature to get them to a more "falling off the bone" degree of tenderness.

    And the rub recipe I used left a lot to be desired. It didn't even have any garlic in it for heaven's sake.  That should have been a tip-off right away for me.  I love me some serious garlic - always.  :)  Nor did it have any hot pepper (red pepper or chipotle, etc.).  So that was something I missed.  I don't need the ribs to be blazing hot, but I do like a little bit of "bite" to the flavor.

    Looking at other recipes, a lot of people leave them in the sous vide quite a bit longer.  Sometimes at lower temperatures, and cooking for 48 hours in some cases!  Even at the temperature I used, one recipe liked to do them for 12 hours.

    I've had excellent luck with ribs doing them the more tried-and-true techniques often posted here, doing them entirely in the smoker.  I've had fantastic luck with the 2-2-1 method, for example.  And the rub recipes I've made based on ones posted here have always been better.  But I just thought I'd go with the whole recipe and method as shown on that website.  Live and learn.  :)

    Also interesting were a number of sites saying that they preferred to smoke the ribs first, then sous vide them to finish them off.  I like the sound of that, because it seems like you'd get better smoke adhesion when the meat is cooler and wetter at the first.  And you'd already have your rub on them, so the sous vide part of the cooking would be holding in all of the juices and mixing that with the rub and the smoke, which would then penetrate deep into the ribs.

    But one site said that this actually resulted in less smoke flavor.  Maybe because it gets "washed off" to some degree by the moisture in the sous vide bag, even though the smoke flavor does penetrate better.  So perhaps one should hit the ribs with more smoke during that first phase.

    But you could always finish them off again in the smoker for a little while to dry up the surface, making a somewhat crispy exterior if you wanted that.  And that phase could add more smoke to make up for whatever loss you had from the sous-vide middle phase of the process.  It'd be sort of like a 2-2-1 or 3-2-1 kind of thing where the middle portion of the cooking was a sealed-in phase.  Only in this case, that portion might be a much longer time, as some sites recommend.  And, in that third phase, back in the smoker, you could add a wet BBQ sauce if you wanted that, too.

    Heck, you could do a three-phase method where you start off in the smoker, do the middle in the sous vide, and then finish them on the grill!  There are endless possibilities, of course.

    One advantage to sous vide is that because you control the temperature very precisely, the meat can't really overcook (within reason), and it can't dry out because it's sealed in.  Its internal temperature will hold right at the water bath's temperature, and that is very precisely controlled by the system.  So that middle "wet" phase could be almost any duration if the temperature was chosen properly.

    I didn't get any good photos of this process, but I will try it again, hopefully with a more refined technique, and if it's a real success, I'll probably make a post about it, and include photos.  Maybe this should go in the pork ribs section of the forum rather than here.

    I'm still curious to read if anyone else on this forum has played with any of this.  I think it has real potential.  Many of the websites where I've read about doing ribs this way gave rave reviews of whatever their process was, often saying that they were the best ribs they or anyone who'd tried them had ever had.

    Mine from yesterday were certainly NOT the best I've ever had.  They were OK, but not great. 

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