I love seeing more and more people these days putting together recipes that involve coffee. We’re talking beer, burgers, sauces, rubs, breads, granola, soups, chili, smoothies, ice cream…the list goes on. But still, it’s just one of those peculiar ingredients that many don’t think to cook with. The flavors of coffee can be so profound that it makes it almost too intimidating to bother with. I know I struggled with it in the beginning.
Personally, I have only been experimenting with coffee recipes for the past four years and I am still learning quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t.
Every coffee out there has its own characteristics that can either compliment or overwhelm a dish. In my opinion, you can’t just take any coffee you have lying around and throw it in some recipe. Each aspect of the coffee itself has to be intentional to overall flavor you are trying to achieve with the dish as a whole. Is it earthy? Is it fruity? Is it chocolatey? Is it citrusy? Is it florally? Is it grassy? Is it smoky? (Etc.) You have to pay attention to the region—how it’s processed—the roast profile—whether or not to use grounds or brew—how course or how fine the grounds need to be—what strength of brew to use—the brew method—when to add the coffee to the dish—sometimes even what temperature the coffee is when added…
All of these properties will influence the dish one way or another, so make sure to taste the coffee and figure out how you are going to incorporate it before you start cooking.
Tonight I will be making my own coffee rub for some delicious pork back ribs. I’m using a medium-dark roasted Kenyan coffee ground for a cone filter (fine). Basically, it’s on the finer side of the grind you would use for a regular drip coffee maker. I want there to be some grit so that the coffee forms a bit of a crust, but it also helps me with portioning. If the coffee were ground too fine (like espresso) I’d run the risk of using too much.
Kenyan coffees tend to have a relatively balanced acidity and can be somewhat tart or citrusy depending on how it’s brewed. However, the medium-dark roast fades some of the stronger citrus notes and mellows out the acid in the coffee, leaving it bold but smooth.
But enough talk…let’s get cookin’.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Full rack of pork back ribs
- ½ cup medium-dark coffee ground fine
- Salt and pepper
- Granulated garlic
- Cayenne pepper
- Liquid smoke (mesquite flavor)
- Canola or vegetable oil
- Your favorite BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s)
Preheat the oven to 425 F
Start off by combining all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl to make the rub.
Drizzle oil and a little bit of the mesquite smoke flavor on the ribs.
Note: The liquid smoke is really strong. Don’t overdo it. Like using too much coffee, the smoke flavor can and will be overpowering if you use too much. The only reason why I’m even using it is because I’m cooking the ribs in an oven. It’s kind of cheating to mimic the smoky flavor you’d get from a grill. If you are cooking the ribs on a grill, I would recommend not using it altogether.
Sprinkle the rub evenly over the ribs and massage into the meat.
Note: Take your time with the rub. This is your chance to really get to know your ribs on a personal level. The more you let them know you care, the better they will taste.
Cover the ribs and put them in the oven.
Note: (Very important) Turn the temperature down to 325 F after the first 30 minutes.
Cook for 3 hours.
Note: Don’t touch them! Don’t even think about them. The whole point is to lock in heat and moisture to cook the ribs low and slow. If you uncover them at any stage, it will kill the cooking process…not to mention that it could dry them out as well. Just trust that it’s doing what it needs to do and leave it alone.
After the time is up, take them out and (carefully) uncover.
Note: Don’t mistake the dark color for burnt…it’s just the coffee. Believe me. They will be delicious.
Brush a thin layer of BBQ sauce over the ribs and put them back in the oven (uncovered).
Set the oven to BROIL and cook for another 6-7 minutes.
Note: The BBQ sauce gives the ribs a sweet, sticky glaze to counter the heat from the cayenne in the rub. It also compliments the deep, bold flavors coming from the coffee.
Let them sit for a couple of minutes before cutting and serving.
Unfortunately, I have lived in apartments for the last five years…meaning no grill. I’ve had to perfect the oven cooked method to get me by. That broiling trick for the last 6-7 minutes came about a couple of years ago, and the ribs have been near perfection ever since. It’s not easy imitating ribs that are cooked on a grill because it’s simply not the same. But I will say that these ribs were some of the best I’ve made to date. The coffee rub crusted exactly the way I wanted, making a nice crunch on the outside while the moist, tender meat on the inside literally fell off the bone.
I was so excited to eat ribs that I didn’t even bother making sides, but you can serve quite a few things with them: baked beans, corn, mashed potatoes, green beans, coleslaw, broccoli, pasta salad, etc.
Until next time, take care.