Tuesday, August 23, 2011

a Summer BBQ Dinner Party

Before the sweet ending to our dinner party Saturday night (remember the ice cream cake?) there was BBQ.  And a LOT of it. Three days later, Jamie and I are still trying to finish the beans and pulled pork.  It seemed fitting to end the last month of the summer paying our respects to BBQ, though, and I don't think our friends minded having us test out new recipes on them!

Jamie made the ribs.  And when Jamie makes meat, he always comes through with something amazing.  I wasn't actually going to add ribs to the menu, because I've attempted them twice before and both times they were nothing to brag about - tough and sinewy doesn't win any BBQ prizes.  I was so disappointed in my previous attempts that I didn't want to be responsible for such an important part of the meal!  So in addition to the pulled pork, I was going to just make some BBQ bacon-wrapped chicken skewers.  Easy and safe, right?  

Well, Jamie was determined we could do ribs and do them well, and I shouldn't have doubted him.  He made some of the most tender, fall-off-the-bone, flavorful ribs I've ever tasted.  And without a smoker, he just cooked them on low in the oven for about 6 hours then finished them by charring them on the grill for a few minutes.  Absolutely delicious!  Although, I have to keep reminding him that even though he made the ribs, I made the dry rub, the BBQ sauce, the beans, the slaw, the bacon sage butter (hang on, we'll get to that!) the pulled pork, the ice cream cake...  :)

So let's talk about my contributions to the meal, and let's face it - isn't the BBQ sauce the most important part?  For inspiration, I read my June/July issue of Saveur cover to cover, which featured all things BBQ.  I knew I wanted to make their recipe for BBQ beans, although as I usually do, I made a few changes.  But when it came to the sauce, none of the recipes I saw really grabbed me in their entirety, so it became a sort of personal challenge to create my own recipe.  

Now, I know my friends are a little biased, but they thought this sauce was just about the best ever.  Rich with molasses and brown sugar, with a hint of Coke, and a nice kick from cayenne and jalapenos, it had just the right balance of sweetness and spicyness.  Just like Jamie and me.  :)  Who is sweet and who is spicy, you ask?  Well, now, that would be telling...  And so Heather's Coca Cola Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce was happily born.

The dry rub needed to have a nice kick, too, since this was slathered all over the pork butt and ribs while they slow cooked all day, so the red pepper flakes and dry mustard added a really nice balance to the brown sugar.

Then there were sweet and savory beans, slowly simmered in our dutch oven with apple wood bacon and lots of spices.  Saveur recommended canned navy beans, which I couldn't find (I've never seen them sold other than dry), so I used a variety of white beans, left out the pork and reduced the liquid, but basically used their recipe since it was pretty perfect already.  Technically, they can't be called baked beans, since I simmered them on the stove in the dutch oven - which couldn't be helped, though, since the oven was occupied with the ribs.  But a dutch oven is an amazing thing, and the beans were fantastic on the stove.

There was slaw with a hint of vinegar and lime for the pulled pork sandwiches along with the Good and Evil pickles which we bought last month at a farmer's market - they are sweet pickles with jalapenos, and if you don't know what you're about to eat, they definitely take you by surprise!  And then after coughing for a minute or two, you reach for another.  You just can't help it.

Oh, the pulled pork...  Have you ever noticed how happy people are when they are eating pork?  All of life's troubles seem to fade away for a few minutes while savoring that rich, fattening meat.  And when you have pulled pork, baby back ribs and apple wood smoked bacon all in the same meal?  Well, that's a recipe for a very happy (and full) group.  If you don't have a smoker (which we don't) then slow-cooking pork in your crock pot (which I did) is the absolute best way to make moist and tender pulled pork.  Not to mention easy, since you can walk away from it all day and not do a thing to it!  Just try to ignore the rumblings in your stomach as you smell it cooking in your kitchen for 8 hours, though... 

And I don't think BBQ would be complete without grilled corn on the cob ... served with bacon sage butter.  Bacon?  in BUTTER??  That's right!  Kind of seemed like the natural thing to do since I had leftover bacon from the beans, and corn and butter are a match made in heaven.  Brush a little bit of that goodness on your corn and you'll fall in love with corn on the cob all over again.  And bacon.  And butter.

Just for fun, we had a signature cocktail, which, not surprisingly, the guys had no interest in drinking.  I've never heard of a Kir before, but Jamie found it in our "Cocktail Bible" of mixed drinks.  Simple and refreshing, it's a combination of Creme de Cassis and White Wine, garnished with a pretty slice of lemon.  And for a virgin option, try Grenadine with White Grape Juice.  I'm a new fan of this drink, which is good, since we now have a whole bottle of the blackberry-flavored liqueur in our cupboard.

Last, but not least, there was the Chocolate Caramel Toffee Trifle Ice Cream Cake, which I already shared with you all.  But in case you missed it, I urge you to take a look at that post.  It was a beautiful and delicious creation.

So, finally...  for the recipes.  Enjoy.

Heather's Coca Cola Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce
(makes 7 cups)
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, minced (seeds removed)
  • 3 cups ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 12-ounce can (1 1/2 cups) Coke
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat.  Add the onion and salt and cook until onion is softened, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for two minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients.  

Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until completely smooth (there should not be any chunks of onion, garlic or jalapeno).  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer.  

Simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 hours until sauce is rich and thick and the flavors have deepened.

Dry Rub
(makes 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Bacon Sage Butter and Grilled Corn
(makes 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 8 slices apple wood smoked bacon
  • 4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 6 ears corn, in the husk
Cook the bacon in a skillet until browned and crispy and the fat is completely rendered.  Place on a paper towel to drain and cool completely.

Chop the bacon into small bits, then add the chopped bacon and the chopped sage to a bowl with the butter.  Using a hand mixer, whip the butter until well incorporated.

Grill the corn, in the husk (which keeps it from drying out) for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally.  Spread the butter on the grilled corn.

Baby Back Ribs
  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 1/4 cup dry rub (recipe above)
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, cut into large chunks
  • 4 cups apple cider (approximate)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce (recipe above)
Preheat the oven to 200 F.  Rub the rack of ribs on both sides with the garlic, then with the dry rub, and season well with salt and pepper.  In a baking pan, large enough to hold the rack of ribs, add the onion, garlic, apple cider and apple cider vinegar.  Place the ribs in the pan and cover with foil.  Cook for 5-6 hours, or until meat pulls away from the bone and is very tender.

To finish, heat the grill to medium high.  Brush the ribs generously with BBQ sauce, then grill for 5-10 minutes on each side for a nice char.

BBQ Pulled Pork
  • 5 pound pork butt/shoulder  (I bought an 8-pound pork butt which was actually too big for our crock pot, so I cut a portion off to freeze for another time)
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, cut into large chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife
  • 1/2 cup dry rub (recipe above)
  • 2 cups BBQ sauce (recipe above)
 Place the onion and garlic in the bottom of your crock pot.  Rub the pork butt on all sides with the dry rub.  Set on top of the onion and garlic in the crock pot.  Set the crock pot to low and cook, covered, for 8-10 hours until fat is rendered and pork is very tender.  (You don't need any liquid!  As the pork cooks, the fat will render, creating its own "broth" in the crock pot.  You may even need to remove some of the liquid fat as it cooks, if the crock pot gets too full of liquid.)

Just before serving, remove the pork from the crock pot.  Separate the meat from the fat.  Pull the meat with two forks, place meat in a large bowl and add the BBQ sauce.  Add as little or as much as you like!

Serve on buns with extra sauce on the side, pickles and slaw.

Cabbage Slaw with Lime
  • 1 head cabbage, very thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1/4 sweet yellow onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • splash of white distilled vinegar
  • pinch of celery salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a large bowl, then use your hands to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. 

BBQ Beans
(adapted from Saveur)
  • 10 slices apple wood smoked bacon, chopped
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (recipe above)
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 cans white beans (I used 2 cans Great Northern, 1 can white kidney and 1 can pinto), drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes
In a dutch oven or stock pot placed over medium heat, cook the bacon about 10 minutes, until fat is rendered.  

Add the onion and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  

Add remaining ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, until thick and savory.


  1. Oh, this is FABULOUS! I love the idea of a bacon, sage butter! I also get Saveur and remember that issue. BRAVO on the BBQ sauce! I'm glad Jamie came thru for you with the ribs! Everything sounds amazing!

  2. This must have been one awesome meal. There is not one thing that I do not like. Great post-buzz buzz!

  3. Oh my! This is quite a feast! Can I come over to your house for dinner tonight??

  4. Wowweee!! I'm overwhelmed by all the delicious food here! Everything looks sooooo good!! Awesome post!

  5. Everything looks fantastic...what a feast!

  6. Wow everything just looks so great! What a meal you have going on here! I would be so stuffed I wouldn't know what to do with myself! hehe

  7. What an incredible spread! I was SOLD at bacon sage butter, holy yum!!

  8. Wow - what a meal! Pity we aren't neighbors! ;)


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