Ahhhh, my favorite time of year is here. It’s officially Fall. The temp is dropping, soon the leaves will be too after that magnificent color change. Baseball is in the postseason, football is back both college and pro, hockey is here. Halloween is just around the corner and the pumpkin ales are on the store shelves. It’s a glorious time my friends.
Oh, and did I mention it’s the single greatest time of year to grill? Most people think it’s the summer. That’s just not the case. Think about it. It’s 95 degrees outside, let’s go build a fire and stand around it? Firing up the grill when it’s chilly outside makes much more sense than adding more heat to a hot summer day doesn’t it? Now if I could get Shawn and Blinda, hosts of Your Livable Garden in Houston and owners of Mirror Lake Designs, up to St. Louis to build me one of those outdoor kitchens with the ceiling fans I might be singing a different tune. While I grill all year round, some of the most miserable cookouts for me are on those ridiculously muggy summer days that we get here in St. Louis.
All of this revelry in the season got me thinking of some sort of fall themed recipe. It took some doing but I finally came up with the Grillin Fools official recipe for the Fall – Apple Pumpkin Ribs. Bear with me here.
OK, so let’s start off with the inspiration for this. O’Fallon’s Pumpkin Ale:
This is probably my favorite beer. I don’t know if it would be if I could get it all year round but I can’t wait for it to hit every year at the beginning of September and it just makes me believe it is Fall outside when I taste it. I wanted to grill something that when I tasted it would have the same effect.
Just to give you an idea of how this recipe came into being I thought I would show you how badly I messed it up before I got it right. My first attempt was less than impressive. First I tried marinating ribs in actual pumpkin pie filling:
MmmmmMmmmmm. Appetizing, huh?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
What a huge orange mess that was. But I wasn’t done wrecking the ribs with the pumpkin pie filling marinade. Oh no. I had a ways to go yet before these thing were thoroughly bad. I also tried to infuse the flavors that make a good pumpkin pie via a rub. I ground up whole cloves and cinnamon sticks to be combined with brown sugar, ground ginger, allspice and granulated garlic. It was way over the top. Fresh ground cinnamon and cloves can be overpowering. It was an assault on the taste buds.
My poor in laws were subjected to the first iteration of this. My lovely Mother in Law actually suggested that I tone it down and keep it simple and it was her advice that helped me come up with the final product which I tested out a few days later.
The next Thursday was the first game of the NFL season and I had some of my boys over for the game. One of them, Bill, had expressed a desire a few days prior to learn how to grill ribs. I told him to go pick some up and that I would teach him. Ribs 101 if you will. He had 2.5 slabs of baby backs and I told him to skin the membrane off, put them in ziplocks with apple cider, a half cup of brown sugar and a few teaspoons of fresh minced garlic. He put that in the fridge overnight and then came over the next evening before the game so I could show him how to grill them.
So the first step is brining in apple cider. Brining does three things, it makes the meat more tender, makes it juicier and adds flavor.
1 quart apple cider (substitute apple juice if you can’t find cider)
2 heaping tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup table salt
10 turns each of black and white pepper
If you need more or less brine, keep the same ratio of 1 cup of salt per gallon of fluid.
The next day, I walked Bill through the basics of making a rub for two of the slabs but the last half slab I decided to try my Mother in Law’s advice. Keep it simple. And again, I took inspiration from the pumpkin beer. The pumpkin beer does not taste overwhelming like pumpkins. It tastes like the spices that makes pumpkin pie so distinctive – cinnamon, clove, ginger, all spice, maybe nutmeg. If they only had something that was comprised of all those ingredients? Well they do. It’s called, sort of appropriately, pumpkin pie spice:
The rub was comprised of 6 ingredients and two of them were black and white pepper. The rub was simply equal parts pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar and granulated garlic along with a few cranks of black and white pepper and a third of the amount used for the pumpkin pie spice, garlic and brown sugar of paprika.
Ingredients for a single slab of apple pumpkin ribs:
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tsp paprika
black and white pepper
Nothing fancy in terms of grilling the ribs. Just the basic two hour method I’ve started using exclusively now where I indirect the ribs at about 275-300 for two hours. A more detailed write up on the 2 hour cooking process can be found here.
They were a huge hit with my second set of guinea pig tasters:
Now that the picture was over with, back to business:
Starting from the left we have Chad, Art, Roy and Bill. BTW, those 5 half slabs of ribs were gone in all of about 3 minutes along with the, appropriately enough, apple fatty I did.
So the following weekend, I decided to try a couple more variations just to make sure I had the process down. I wanted to make sure that brining actually added something to the ribs. I took two slabs of ribs, one I just applied the rub to and put in a ziplock overnight. The second I marinated in apple cider, garlic and brown sugar as Bill had done a few days prior. And not just any apple cider. That dark stuff that is available from the local farmers this time of year:
The next evening I pulled the ribs out of the bags. The ones with a rub on them got a little coarse salt and straight on the grill. The other ones were taken out of the wet marinade and patted dry, then the rub was applied along with a little salt.
Here are the apple pumpkin ribs on the grill about ready to be taken inside to be carved up after being smoked for two hours with, you guessed it, apple wood:
Sliced. Notice there is not a prominent a smoke ring with apple as you would get with a cherry or say a red oak. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the nature of apple wood. It’s more subtle than cherry in flavor and the smoke ring:
Three rib bones of each kind on the plate:
In the end, the ribs marinated in the apple cider/garlic/pepper with the pumpkin pie/granulated garlic/brown sugar/paprika/pepper rub were by far the best of the three. The apple cider really permeates the meat and the rub gave that distinct pie flavoring as well as a bit of garlic so as to not make them overly sweet.
And I just wanted to give you an idea of how obsessive I can be to get something like this right. I had baby back ribs three times in a seven day span because I wanted to make sure they were perfect. I’m a slave to this obsession I tell my wife is just a hobby.
By the way, I did a more scientific experiment between brining and not brining and tested on seven of my friends. You can see the results here.
If you liked the rib recipe above you might want to check these out the many other ways we have done on this site by clicking here.
And as usual, if you have any questions or comments about the Apple Pumpkin Ribs, please respond below or shoot me an email.