Ain’t Singing The Blues

Step into the kitchen of Bethany Blues to see how they make their award-winning St. Louis ribs

Interview and Photography by Grant L. Gursky

Grant L. Gursky sat down with Zach Warner, director of operations at Bethany Blues, to see just how their delicious St. Louis ribs are made — while trying to come away with advice for the home-smoker enthusiast. 

All right, Zach. Let’s talk about the St. Louis-barbecue-style ribs you have going here.
What makes Bethany Blues famous for these?

ZW: This is our award-winning St. Louis rib. This is 100% hickory-smoked, with no gas assistance.
It is all done by hand, the old, old-school way.

GLG: Can you walk me through the preparation process?

ZW: Sure! The process starts by peeling off the membrane on the backside of the cut. If you don’t, the ribs will be chewy. Then, the spare rib gets trimmed down to the center cut. That’s what the St. Louis rib is. Next, we’re going to put an even coat over the top. They call it a rub — not because you’re massaging it in but because you’re rubbing it over to get a nice, even layer on top. We add a sweet brown-sugar rub on ours. It’s got a little bit of cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic, onion and a few other ingredients, so you’re going to get a nice, sweet heat from it. We don’t season the bottom. Some people do; we do not. Then it’ll go into our smoker for about three and a half to four hours. That is the typical range for our St. Louis ribs. What we’re also known for is chopping this up and tossing it in Buffalo sauce. We call it “Pigs on the Wing.” That’s probably one of the most iconic dishes we have at Bethany Blues.

Bethany Blues head chef Israel Cotoc-Pec has spent plenty of time learning the intricacies of “Little Reggie” — the restaurant’s signature smoker that’s capable of handling roughly 44 pork butts and 40 briskets at one time.

GLG: Talk about this smoker you’ve got going here. I’ve been in a lot of restaurants and haven’t seen anything quite like this.

ZW: This is Little Reggie. We had him custom-made in Mesquite, Texas, and brought him here in 2003. We actually had to take the back half of the restaurant off just to get him in. We call it him Little Reggie because we had a former [Washington] Redskins linebacker help us get it in here. He is a friend of our owner, so we named it after him. This is a massive rotisserie-style smoker; you could park your car inside, it’s so big. It’ll fit about 44 pork butts and 40 briskets. It’s smoking 24/7, and everything that you get out of Bethany Blues is 100% hickory-smoked.

GLG: Without giving away your trade secrets, what tips can you share with our readers who want to make St. Louis-style ribs at home?

ZW: My biggest advice for a home cooker is get to know your smoker. Every smoker is a little bit different. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t turn out the way that you wanted the first time — it’s going to take practice. I have a bunch of friends who have been smoking as a hobby for years, and they’re still finding where the hot spots and where the sweet spots are for what they’re cooking. It’s all different, too — a rack of ribs isn’t going to cook the same as if you’re smoking a pork shoulder. For doing a rack of ribs at home, I would recommend brining it and cook it low and slow. Don’t be afraid to check it every now and again, but if you’re looking, you’re not cooking, so let it go.

Rob Waters from WFilms takes you behind the scenes at Bethany Blues

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