Buz's Best Barbecue Ribs

With a name like Buz, he may as well have a Vegas lounge act, but Buz (that's right; one "z" is intentional) Grossberg is up to different kinds of theatrics -- barbecue. To add to the weird quotient, Grossberg, a former surplus tire salesman, is doing his barbecue in Richmond, Va. Not exactly the first place that slips off your tongue when you're hankering for some 'cue.

Pitmaster Buz Grossberg.

But he must be doing something right. Buz's joint, Buz and Ned's, (we'll get to Ned in a bit), which started out as a roadside stand in 1992, has morphed into quite the empire, with $2.3 million in sales last year, says Grossberg. He's also had a brush with barbecued fame; Grossberg is now known in Richmond as the "Flay Slayer," for slamming Bobby Flay last year on an episode of the Food Network's "Throwdown With Bobby Flay."

These days, he's up to his elbows in blueprints for a new "state of the art -- and that's a good thing" 240-seat space that includes a patio, full bar and cooking class space. The project is scheduled to open next spring.

Short of driving down I-95 to Richmond, which I hope to do this summer, I asked Buz over the phone to walk me through the basics of barbecue. After all, this was a maiden voyage for this Yank, and I needed all the help I could get. Below, the goods from Buz's brain, plus his recipe for barbecue ribs, which I tested last weekend. Yee-haw. They made for some good eatin,' even for a Philly girl.

And who's Ned? He's Buz's barbecue mentor, an old friend who died before Buz officially opened for business, but whose spirit lives on in the restaurant name.

Q&A and recipe below the jump.

Spareribs, done the Buz way.

It's actually easier than people think. It does take time and focus, because it's not a turn on the gas and put the pan in the oven kind of thing. Once you do it though, it becomes more second nature. It's always fun, an experiment every time you do it.

First off, don't use gas or electricity. Only use wood. I know, wood is not so easy to get for the layman. I recommend natural chunk charcoal as the heat source. Briquettes don't give off any flavor and are filled with chemicals. It's okay for burgers, but not appropriate for longterm cooking, and those chemicals go right onto your food. It's just not to be done. You can taste it, you can smell it. We have to have trees to have barbecue. Don't burn the furniture!

Next you want an enclosed pit. It can be a smoker -- best one on the market is the Big Green Egg -- it's really expensive but a pretty incredible piece of equipment. The Brinkmann line is less expensive, and it's the Cadillac of the smokers. Then there's the kettle grill -- flying saucer type, aka Weber -- and the grills with offset fireboxes, made from heavy steel. In all grills, you have to experiment and learn the personality of the grill. It's not easy off the bat, you have to find out what works.

Now you need flavoring. Wood flavoring come from wood. chips, sawdust, different types of wood in chunks. They all need to be wet before using. You want a smoking process, not a burning process. I recommend soaking the wood overnight in hot water. You also want to retard the burning potential, so make a foil pouch of your wood and poke holes in it.

Then you gotta think about temperature. You don't want a lot of heat. I do chicken as low as 200 degrees. For ribs, in about two or three hours, you've got something really really good, around 225 degrees.

What about marinades and rubs?

I'm always pretty much in the middle. I use a paste, with enough moisture for penetration, but not too much liquid, no swimming. But the most important things about seasoning your barbecue is salt and sugar. In food science, they are known as carriers, which means they allow the movement of substances through cell membranes. They also bring in the spices that draw in the smoke. All that capillary action, bubbling towards the top, that's what you want.

Why do people flip the food so much? It drives me crazy.

You never have to flip. That's for grilling, even then you have to keep the flipping at a minimum. I know, it drives me crazy, too, and what you're doing is taking moisture out of the product.

Here's one for my mother, who wants to know: Parboil ribs?

If it's ever gonna be barbecued, don't ever ever ever parcook it. You're closing the cell structure for any transfer of taste, including marinades, sauces and salt. Basically when you're parboiling ribs you're making soup. All that flavor from the meat is now in your water which you're gonna end up throwing out. Parboiling changes the texture of the meat. You know that fall off the bone tender? It refers to something that has been boiled or steamed. You can tell every time.

A Reasonable Facsimile for Perfect Ribs
From Buz and Ned's, Richmond, Va.

Seasoned salt:
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup paprika
1/3 cup ground black pepper
1/3 cup granulated garlic

Note: You will use only a portion of the salt mixture; store the remainder in an airtight container for future barbecue sessions.


For five racks of spareribs (approximately 2.5-3.5 pounds each), you'll need:
1/2 cup of seasoned salt
1 cup Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients until integrated. Consistency will be slightly wet and pasty.

Prep the ribs:
Remove the skin or 'fell' from the back or "bone" side of the rack. Insert a butter knife under the skin and against the bone, using it to pry up while using your fingers to pull the skin away from the rack.
Paint ribs with the marinade and leave overnight in the refrigerator. Be free to tweak this marinade to your taste adding any other spice or herb that you fancy.

Cooking the Ribs, Part One
In a covered grill or pit use an indirect method of cooking whereby the heat source is not directly under the coals.

For real barbecue, use natural chunk charcoal for the heat source. Add wet wood or chips like hickory, apple or white oak for more smoke flavor. (Hint: place the wood inside a container like aluminum foil poked with holes or a beer or soda can to retard the burning of the wood. You don't want flame, you want smoke.) KOD note: We placed the coals to one side, the foil pouch of chips in the center.

Using an instant-read thermometer to gauge the temperature, place the ribs "bone" side down and away from the fire when the temperature has dipped to 225 degrees. Cover the grill, partially open both the bottom and top vents and cook ribs, monitoring the temperature of the grill every 20 minutes and adjusting accordingly (Removing the lid will help to raise temperature, adding one or two lumps of charcoal as necessary.) No flipping is required.

Ribs are done in about about 2 1/2-3 1/2 hours, or until the thickest part of the rib feels spongy to the touch, like touching a medium rare steak with your finger. Remove the ribs from the heat.

Cooking the Ribs, Part Two

With the lid off, increase the heat of the coals until they return to 400-450 degrees. (You can also do the "hand" test: Place your hand four inches over the grill; it's at desired temp if you must remove your hand after three seconds.)

Return ribs to the grill and place directly over the fire. Allow the ribs to bubble and pop over most of its surface, then flip the rack to the other side to repeat the process. Some charring of the meat and bones is a good thing.

With a basting brush, apply a thick glazing sauce and paint the surface of one well-heated side with the sauce and then turn the rack and place that painted side toward the fire. When the first side begins to bubble and streaks of black carbon form and the sauce reduces to a thick candy coat, flip rack and repeat with the other side... then back and forth until three coats are caramelized one on top of the other on each side. That should do the trick.

Remove from the heat, cut into individual bones and enjoy.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 23, 2008; 8:34 AM ET Backyard Cooking , Flames
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Excellent technique. And you heard it from me first, Big Green Egg.

Posted by: Dave | May 24, 2008 7:32 AM

Try Pierce's BBQ on HWY 64 headed towards Williamsburg. Truckers used to risk $50 tickets to park on the side of the highway and jump the fence to pick up some excellent pit BBQ.

If a Brinkman smoker is the Cadillac, The Weber Great Smoky Mountain Smoker must be the BMW/MERCEDES D class. Brinkman's are notoriously hard to maintain temperature.

Posted by: glenn | May 29, 2008 10:54 AM

I smoke chickens in a cardboard box with an electric burner and some Alder tree chips and sawdust, I lucked into, in a pie tin, with as many chickens that my wire racks will hold, and lift the box off or cut a door in the bottom to emty the burnt and add new wood flavor. 2-3 tins of sawdust, about 1 1-2 hours, then I put the chickens in those Renold´s Oven Cooking Bags and cook them in the oven a 1 1-2 to 2 hours, which keeps all the moisture in and the meat flys off the bone, with a flick of the wrist. Wait, I´m not finished, while they´re cooking through, I make a hot (picante), sweet berry sause, throwing everything applicable from the fridge, like marmelade, jelly, fruit juice, a little soy, ginger, wine, garlic, chipotle, just add, stir at low temp, taste, tomato sauce, whatever, a little brown sugar, splash of vinegar, it´s different everytime and spoon it over the chicken for a smokie, sweet and hot flavored food orgy. Your Welcome. tommy-baby

Posted by: tom frazee | May 29, 2008 12:02 PM

Hi Kim! Thanks for the story. As a relatively new resident here, it's great to see the local cuisine catching some broader attention. And, Buz & Ned's rocks. Yum.

Posted by: richmond! (by way of dc) | May 30, 2008 10:16 PM

Thanks been looking for a way to cook ribs!
Tried a few and they were always so complicated-this is great.

Posted by: mtoday | May 31, 2008 9:42 AM

great having the ribs recipe...now get him to cough up the pulled pork recipe! that is the BEST! hmmm, maybe i'll swing by on my way home tonight...

Posted by: richmonder | June 5, 2008 11:18 AM

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