Cooking Ribs for 30
By: Jeff Hillyard
Ever agree to do something, and then immediately wonder if you could pull through? Well, that’s what happened to me about two months back. The GM in my office told me he was thinking about having an employee appreciation lunch, and if I could cook enough ribs for everyone. I immediately said something to the effects of “Oh year, no biggie”, but I immediately wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew.
See, my day job is in Sales for the local Caterpillar Tractor Dealership. We have staff of around 30 people who have lunch at the branch every day. I’m not one to shy away from cooking a pile of food, but I usually only cook two or three racks of ribs at a time, I wasn’t even sure how many we would need for 30 people.
Anyway, I knew my first step was to make a plan. At first I thought I would cook 15 racks of ribs, that way every person could get a half rack. I also wondered just how the heck I was going to cook them. I thought I’d bring two of my Weber Kettles and my Pit Barrel Cooker into the office early the morning of and that I would cook them fresh to order. But the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like that idea. In order to serve for lunch, and in order to give myself enough time to light charcoal, remove the ribs to wrap, then unwrap, etc., I would have needed to been to the office at 6:00am. No fun.
Next thing, I found out it was decided that I would be cooking 18 racks of ribs, not 15. Kinda makes sense when you factor in that many of our staff are hairy-arsed mechanics. With the extra racks, I knew then that I would be cooking the ribs the night before and reheating. This is something I seldom do, since it’s essentially serving leftovers, but sometimes it is unavoidable.
I decided I was going to keep the process as simple as possible: use my Pit Barrel & one Kettle (refilling the PBC once), cook for two hours, then wrap for two hours, then quickly chill, reheat next day still wrapped in tinfoil in oven at the office, and finish with sauce on our big ass gas grill at work.
Finally, the day came. A manager made a run to Costco and decided to pick up 21 racks of ribs instead of the 18 we had spoken about. Not a big deal since I had the capacity to do them. I then brought them home and got to work.
First I skinned and trimmed the 21 racks. Let me tell you, that was the hardest part of the whole thing. I did eventually get into a flow. I’d remove the membrane from the back, do some minimal trimming (there really wasn’t much that needed to be done), and rubbed down with some Red Pork & Poultry Rub, that the guys from Historic BBQ generously sent me to try.
Once all the ribs were rubbed down I added the charcoal to my Weber Performer w/ my new Slow ‘N Sear & Drip ‘N Griddle pan, and my PBC. I then lit about half a load of briquettes and once they were ashed over I lit the two grills and added some chunks of hickory wood. I cooked 5 racks on the Weber (with a rib rack), and hung 8 racks in the PBC.
At the two hour mark I removed the ribs and wrapped them in tinfoil with about ¼ cup apple juice, a little honey, and a little brown sugar for each rack of ribs. I then placed them all on the rack in the PBC and cooked for another two hours. Once the four hours had gone by I took out a couple of racks of ribs to see if they were tender and I could tell just by the way they felt in the tinfoil that they were done.
I took all 13 racks of ribs out of the PBC and placed them on a baking sheet, opening each tinfoil package a little as I went. This allowed the steam to escape and to keep the ribs from braising further. Once the ribs had cooled for a little I placed them into my refrigerator to chill.
While the finished ribs were cooling on my counter, I quickly took the remaining 8 racks and hung them in the PBC and repeated the process of cooking for two hours, then wrapping and cooking for two more hours, then finally chilling.
The next morning at work I placed all the ribs (still wrapped in tinfoil with the braising liquids) into a deep pan and placed them into a 300° oven for two hours. I know this seems high and long, but keep in mind; I had to heat up 21 racks of ribs. It would take a long time for the heat to evenly get through all those ribs.
Next, I needed to finish them with some barbecue sauce. I fired up our huge gas grill and set it up for two zone-indirect cooking, this way I could avoid burning any of the ribs. I did two batches, 10 racks the first time, then 11 the second time (while people ate the first 10).
When the ribs first came out of the tinfoil they looked a little “wet”, but after 15 minutes on the grill they had tightened up significantly and were ready for sauce. With the sauce on I closed the lid and let the sauce set on the ribs for the last 15 minutes of the cook. From here I took the ribs off and sliced them up to serve to the hungry hoards at the office!
To recap, here’s my advice if you’re ever going to be cooking a lot of barbecue to reheat and feed a crowd of people:
- 1. Plan your cook ahead of time. Make sure you have enough charcoal, rub, sauce, tinfoil, etc. on had the day of your cook.
- 2. Give yourself a realistic timeframe to prepare and cook your food. You don’t want to put food on at 6:00pm and still be cooking at midnight!
- 3. Remember, the most important thing you want to avoid is drying out your meat. I avoided this by leaving the ribs wrapped in tinfoil with braising liquid when first reheating in the oven.
- 4. While not necessary, finishing the ribs on the large gas grill with barbecue sauce really did make these ribs awesome. If they had only been reheated in the oven, I think they would have been terrible.
What do you guys think? Have you ever had to prepare a massive pile of ribs or other barbecue that you had to reheat the next day to serve? What did you do? Do you think the method I’ve outlined here is sound? Leave us a message on social media and let us know!