Growing up, Labor Day always marked the unofficial end of summer, and the beginning of football season, toasted marshmallows over an outdoor fire, and wondering whether the hot apple cider needs more cinnamon. The first Labor Day was held in 1882 to honor the American labor movement and the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of their country. President Grover Cleveland passed the law making it a national holiday in 1894. One of the reasons for choosing to celebrate this on the first Monday in September was to add a holiday in the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
There is no better way to celebrate than to fire up the grill and enjoy the cooler weather before hurricane season brings its heavy autumnal rains. Our Labor Day tradition involves smoky barbecued spareribs (or “meatsicles” as the boys always called them) and some homemade sauce. In case you are not familiar, spareribs are pork ribs that have been cut from the bottom section of the ribs and breastbone of the pig, just above the belly. A full rack of ribs is known as a “slab” and usually weighs between 2-4 pounds.
Because the heat of a grill is difficult to control and maintain, we have found that the optimal cooking method is to roast ribs in the oven and then smoke them toward the end of the cooking process. Place ribs, meat side down, in baking dish(es). Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil and place in an oven that has been preheated to 225 degrees F. A regular size rack of ribs takes about after 4 hours to cook.
Flip the ribs over (we like using two spatulas or grilling forks) at least once during roasting. While the ribs are roasting in the oven, prepare a charcoal grill so that ribs can smoke when roasting period is over. Place briquettes to one side of grill, so that the ribs do not have to sit directly over the flame. Prepare a packet of wood chips by placing dampened wood chips (we prefer hickory) in aluminum foil and wrapping tightly then gently poke holes in the aluminum with a fork. Place wood chip packet on the coals.
Remove ribs from the oven and place on the cool side of the grill. Place the lid on the grill; you should see smoke start to billow from under the lid of the grill. Let the ribs smoke for about 45 minutes turning occasionally. If the smoke completely recedes, prepare another wood chip packet and place on the coals. When ribs are done smoking, tightly wrap each slab individually in aluminum foil and place covered slabs in a paper bag. The ribs should be securely tucked back into the now-cooled oven to rest for approximately one hour before serving.
While ribs are resting, take time to make your favorite barbecue sauce! This recipe is the one my mom has used my whole life and tastes like “home” every time I make it.
That’s it! If you plan to baste with this sauce, as well as use it on the table, remember to set some aside. It is not a good idea to serve basting sauce that has been exposed to raw meat. Put out some grilled corn, baked beans and potato salad and the fruits of your labor!