Well, your brother’s certainly not from the South, is he? And we’re guessing he fires up one of those little ol’ gas grills to cook those ribs, doesn’t he?
You’ve pretty much stepped into the heart of the barbecue debate. Traditional barbecue involves slow cooking meat over the indirect or very low heat of a fire until it falls apart and melts in your mouth – no matter how long that takes. That’s why people make pilgrimages to Kansas City and Memphis. In fact, you’ll find a whole lot of people who will tell you that that’s what barbecue is, and any other method or anything involving a shortcut is not barbecue.
So there are many people who’d swear your brother is not serving barbecue, but parboiled (or even fully cooked) ribs that briefly touched a girlie-man gas grill. But your brother is also right – just not for the reason you think.
Ribs and all tough cuts of meat have a lot of strong tissue that holds the muscle together and binds it to the bone. It has a lot of flavor, but this connective tissue is only softened by long, gentle cooking. This can be accomplished several ways. One is to keep the grill stoked and barbecue the meat for hours. Simmering the meat for two or three hours is a method many people use, after which they add some sauce, grill for 10 minutes and call it barbecue. (You simmer until the meat is tender and just about falling off the bone. If you go much beyond that, it will dry out and lose all flavor.)
But Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, authors of Born to Grill (Canada, UK) and countless dozens of other smoking/grilling/barbecuing books, say parboiling leaves too much of the meat’s flavor in the water. If you don’t have the time, patience, or equipment to barbecue ribs properly, they say, marinate the meat or apply a dry rub, wrap it in foil, bake it for an hour or so at 300°F (150°C) in the oven, then refrigerate it for several more hours. Finally grill it over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally, and slathering with sauce (they don’t actually use the word slathering) in the last five minutes.