I don't usually cook with soda, though God knows, I've drunk enough of it. I spent high school years sneaking Tab at my friends' houses because my mother refused to keep it in the house. In college, I chugged diet Coke, and kept a couple of six-packs in my refrigerator cube.
When I was a reporter at Business Week back in the '90s, I wrote about Pepsi, but the vending machine stocked Coke, and that's what I drank, relying on the sugar and caffeine to help me make deadline. As an adult trying to set a good example for my kids, I keep soda out of the house, except for the secret stash I keep in the basement refrigerator. My kids periodically raid that stash, figuring they can pull something over on me by hiding the cans underneath the basement couch. I sneak it by them, making sure to toss the can in the recycling container before they get home from school.
So when I saw Lisa Fain's recipe for Dr Pepper ribs from her new cookbook, The Homesick Texan Cookbook, I settled in for a closer look. I wasn't a big fan of Dr Pepper but I've been stalking Fain's blog, and on it, read that you can substitute Coke for Dr Pepper in this recipe. I decided to make ribs and soda the week I had jury duty.
If you've been to jury duty in Newark, you know it's a lot of sitting around, waiting for your name to be called, with ample time to think. At the Veterans Courthouse in the Superior Court in Newark, they've spruced the place up, so I spent two mostly pleasant days, sitting at a bright yellow carrel in a modern computer lounge, enjoying free Wi-Fi and reading Debbie Nathan's riveting and excellent new book Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case on my husband's Kindle. (Note: Nathan is enrolled as a student in a writing class I teach in the city.) In other rooms, potential jurors sat and watched flat-screen TVs that were set to CNN, ESPN and HGTV. I drank strong, free coffee that a nice government employee made for me and waited for my name to be called. All around, people banged away at their laptops and checked their iPhones. It was like being in Starbucks except the parking was free and there were loudspeakers in the bathroom. But the courts stop serving coffee at 11:45 a.m. so in the afternoon, I wandered to the vending machine, looking for a jolt. One machine stocked diet Dr Pepper. This was a time for new beginnings: If I could read a book on a Kindle and enjoy jury service, I could try a new soda. That Dr Pepper was delicious. I immediately decided to go home and make it with ribs. All I needed was another can.
But then I was assigned to a courtroom in another building. The judge told us we had to return the next morning and let us know this could be a five-day trial. My heart sank. One of the clerks mentioned that we should also leave ourselves a little extra time to get there in the morning the because a film crew was taking over City Hall to film "The Dark Knight Rises," the third installment of the Batman franchise. He cheerfully warned us there might be a lot of traffic. (If you don't already know, the new Batman film stars Millburn High School graduate Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.) Then he handed us directions for alternate routes to the court house.
By the time I got to the parking lot, I was in no mood to buy Dr Pepper. But I had to make dinner and I knew we had ribs and a six-pack of Coke tucked away somewhere. I drove home, I mixed up the ingredients for the dry rub and got the ribs out of the fridge. Then I saw the words: Coat the ribs with the rub, cover them with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. How had I missed those instructions? I blamed Batman and ordered a pizza.
The next day, I was released from jury duty. I went to Oscar's to get some Dr. Pepper and made the ribs. A note on beef versus pork: Fain calls for St. Louis pork ribs, which are long and thin. My husband grew up kosher so I used three pounds of beef short ribs. The ribs were $3.59/pound at ShopRite. Because I now had both Coke and Dr Pepper in the house, I decided to make two different sauces, using one soda in each, and see if anyone could taste the difference. My kids, of course, were delighted I was cooking with soda and kept asking how much I planned to use so they could drink the rest.
While I was cooking, mother came over. She went to college in the South and developed a taste for ribs. She declared both sauces delicious, but spicy. I tried to cut the spice by adding brown sugar but the ribs still kept their kick. The problem was the chipotle powder. Fain's recipe calls for 2-4 teaspoons. I added four. That was too much. I made pasta and put out red grapes and a challah, and those took the edge off. The Dr Pepper barbecue sauce was a bit mellower than the Coke sauce, but both were sweet and spicy.
At the end of the evening, under the cover of darkness, I tasted the ribs again. They were even better cold. If you plan to make these, try using one, or at most two, teaspoons of chipotle powder so you don't set your mouth on fire.
Real Texans eat ribs with their hands. If you're reading this post, you're probably a real New Jerseyan. Even if you are from Texas, I suggest setting your table with a fork, knife and spoon so you can scoop up that soda-filled sauce at the end.
Lisa Fain's Ribs With Dr Pepper (or Coke)
Ingredients for the ribs:
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons mustard pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 racks of St. Louis ribs (I used beef)
1/4 cup Dr Pepper or Coke (don't use diet)
Ingredients for the glaze:
2 cups Dr Pepper or Coke (don't use diet)
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup yellow prepared mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons molasses
2-4 teaspoons of chipotle powder (use 1-2 teaspoons if you don't want them too spicy)
Note: Ribs cook fora total of 2.5 hours and eight minutes but you need to put the dry rub on them at least FOUR hours before hand.
FOUR HOURS AHEAD Make the rub: Mix the salt, black pepper, brown sugar, mustard powder, cayenne, chipotle powder and ground allspice. Coat ribs with rub, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least four hours.
TWO HOURS AHEAD Preheat oven to 300 degrees and bring ribs to room temperature. Line large baking pan with tin foil, arrange ribs meat-side up, pour in 1/4 cup Dr Pepper or Coke, cover pan tightly with foil and place in oven for 90 minutes.
While ribs are cooking, make the glaze. In a saucepan, pour two cups Dr Pepper or Coke, ketchup, mustard, apple cider vinegar, molasses and chipotle powder. Bring to boil, then turn down heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until thick and syrupy. Set aside.
After 90 minutes, take ribs out of oven. Spread some glaze on both sides of ribs. Place back in oven, meat side up and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take out ribs and spread more glaze over them, then cook for 30 more minutes. Take ribs out of oven and TURN BROILER ON. Spread remaining glaze on ribs and cook ribs on each side under the broiler for 4 minutes (8 minutes total.)