It’s Grilling Week at Spoonful! To get you geared up for a long, awesome summer of cookouts and BBQs, we’ve got a bunch of great grilling tips & techniques to share. In this Q&A, we get primo grilling advice from pitmaster Ray Lampe, AKA Dr. BBQ.
For some, firing up the grill or the smoker is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, getting in touch with a more primal method of cooking. For others, it’s a way of life. Dr. BBQ, AKA Pitmaster Ray Lampe falls into the second category, having spent the last 35 years perfecting the craft of barbecue and grilling, and sharing his knowledge via nine, count them, nine cookbooks!
This Chicago native parlayed his passion for cooking with fire and smoke into a notable career: in addition to being a cookbook author, Lampe makes frequent television appearances (like on the popular cooking competition “Chopped” on the Food Network), was inducted into the BBQ Hall of Fame (yes, that’s a thing) in 2014, and is slated to open his first restaurant, Dr. BBQ’s, in St. Petersburg, Florida later this year.
When it comes to seeking wisdom on how to up our grilling game, we couldn’t think of a better person to consult than the good Doctor himself. Lampe was kind enough to step away from the grill for a few minutes to chat with us and give us some sage BBQ advice. Also – don’t miss his recipe for apricot glazed baby back ribs, below the Q&A.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Let’s take a walk down memory lane…do you remember the first thing you ever grilled that made you feel like “NAILED IT!”?
That would have to be pork blade steaks. I was trying to learn how to grill and they were inexpensive, so I bought them. Little did I know, they are delicious and pretty hard to screw up. I grilled them hot and smoked them slow and they were great every time. It was a good learning curve for controlling the fire, so that when I began cooking things that weren’t as forgiving, I could manage the temp properly.
Who taught you how to BBQ? Are there books or online resources that you’ve leaned on while honing your craft?
I started before we had the internet and before there were many books, so it was mostly trial and error and visiting BBQ joints. I lived in Chicago but regularly drove to Kansas City just to engulf myself in the BBQ culture there. An early mentor there was Ed Roith. He was an accomplished BBQ Pitmaster when I was just getting started in the early 90’s. Now there are plenty of good books available on BBQ and grilling – I’ve written nine of them. There’s plenty of info online too, some good and some pretty questionable. Be wary when surfing for the truth.
How do you typically prepare for a BBQ? What advice can you give our readers on making sure they’ve covered all their BBQ bases without stressing out too much?
I buy a lot of good quality ingredients to give myself some options. Then on cooking day I’ll make the final decisions on what to cook and how to cook it. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time. I think people rush themselves and that creates stress and cooking mistakes. BBQing is supposed to be a long and relaxing event.
What’s your favorite music for outdoor BBQ’s?
My music preference was pretty diverse in the 70’s but it’s sort of stuck there these days: The Beatles, Jethro Tull, John Prine, Willie Nelson and, of course, some Chicago Blues.
We all know beer goes great with BBQ – are there other beverages you enjoy with the smoky goodness of BBQ’d meats?
I wrote a book many years ago called BBQ Road Trip, and in my research I discovered that the one constant link to all of the styles of American BBQ was iced tea, usually a very sweet version with white sugar. So that’s a no brainer, but a little less known and equally good drink is a glass of California Zinfandel.
Favorite sides? Anything we might not have considered before?
When corn on the cob is in season, there’s nothing better. I like mine steamed or boiled, but grilled is good, too. To change it up, make a compound butter with scallions, jalapenos and cheese.
What’s a common mistake the average home BBQ’er makes?
The biggest mistakes I see are rushing the whole event, and adding BBQ sauce before cooking. Leave that sauce in the jar. Make a rub for seasoning and serve the sauce as a condiment.
In your opinion, what’s the best part of a backyard BBQ gathering?
The whole relaxed nature of the event. This is a time to kick back, have a few drinks, and let the food decide when it’s time to eat. It’s done when it’s done.
Dr. BBQ’s Apricot Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Recipe by Ray Lampe, Dr. BBQ
FOR THE RUB
- ¼ cup raw sugar
- 3 tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. granulated garlic (or powder)
- 1 tsp. granulated onion (or powder)
- ½ tsp. cayenne (optional)
FOR THE RIBS
- 2 each full slabs of baby back ribs, about 2 pounds each
- 1 ½ cup apricot preserves, divided and at room temperature
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup apricot nectar
For the rub: In a small bowl, combine all of the rub ingredients and mix well.
For the ribs: Peel the membrane from the ribs and trim any excess fat. Wash in cold water to remove any bone dust and dry well. Season the ribs liberally with the rub using about 2/3 on the meaty side and 1/3 on the bone side.
Let rest at room temperature for 10 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to two hours.
Prepare the outdoor grill to cook indirect at 300° adding apricot (or apple) wood for flavor. Place the ribs on the grill meaty side up and cook for one hour.
Flip the ribs and cook for 30 minutes. Flip again and cook until the ribs are golden brown, about another 30 minutes.
Remove the ribs and transfer to a platter or sheet pan.
Lay out two big double thick sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil each big enough to wrap a whole slab. Transfer each slab of ribs to one of the sheets of foil, meaty side up. Top each slab with ½ cup of the preserves, spreading evenly.
Sprinkle half of brown sugar over each slab. Begin to bring the sides of the foil up to wrap the ribs. While folding each foil into a packet, pour ¼ cup of the apricot nectar under the ribs. Seal the packets snugly being careful not to puncture the foil with the rib bones.
Return to the grill for 45 minutes.
Open one of the packets and test the ribs for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the meat. When the ribs are done, the toothpick will slide in and out with very little resistance. If the ribs aren’t done, close the foil back up and cook a little longer until they are done.
To finish, prepare the grill to cook direct over medium high heat. Remove the ribs from the foil and transfer them to the grill, meaty side down. Cook for a few minutes, until golden brown.
Flip the ribs and spread the remaining apricot preserves over the top. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the preserves are warm.
Transfer to a cutting board and cut each slab into 3 pieces to serve.
Photos courtesy of Dr. BBQ