Going hog wild for LI ribs

Allison, Ryan, Brianna and Peter Callahan eati at

Allison, Ryan, Brianna and Peter Callahan eati at Smokin' Al's, a barbecue restaurant on Merrick Road in Massapequa Park. (Credit: Donna Alberico, 2009)

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Give us ribs. Meaty, smoky, tender pork ribs. Make them with a dry rub or slather them with secret sauce. Then throw down some extra napkins and go away. It's not a pretty sight to see us drenched in BBQ drippings. But we don't care.

We love the kind of magic that happens when meat meets wood smoke.

"It's all about the balance of the seasoning, the tenderness of a good piece of properly smoked meat," said Al Horowitz, owner of two Smokin' Al's Famous BBQ Joints, in Bay Shore and Massapequa Park.

But all pigs are not created equal, Horowitz said. Fat content can vary from one rack to the next. So, to keep those ribs reliable, Horowitz has racks checked for tenderness and moistness by gloved crew members, who open and touch them straight out of the smoker.

Who needs knives and forks? "People just like to eat with their hands," said Dan Monteforte, pitmaster at Swingbellys Beachside BBQ in Long Beach. "There's something soulful about that."

Here are some favorite places to hunker down with a rack:

 

DIXIE'S SMOKEHOUSE TEXAS B.B.Q. & ROTISSERIE

12 Indian Head Rd., Kings Park

631-292-2520, dixiessmokehouse.com

PRIME After being dry-rubbed and slow-smoked, the meaty baby back ribs come out tender and smoke-imbued. Get them unadorned or judiciously glazed with a piquant barbecue sauce. Half rack baby backs: $13.99; full rack, $21.99.

PLUS Slider sampler (burger, brisket, crabcake), St. Louis racks, behemoth beef ribs, juicy smoky brisket, fine pulled pork sandwich, succulent rotisserie chicken.

 

LILY FLANAGAN'S

528 Main St., Islip

631-581-1550, lilyflanagansbar.com.

PRIME Barbecue champ Willie B (aka Will Breakstone) parks his mobile smoker in the rear lot of this multipurpose spot (where he also heads up the kitchen). Lunch is the time to go, since the place becomes a noisy bar at night. Beneath their spice crust, Breakstone's baby backs harbor tender pink meat that pulls (rather than falls) off the bone, a sign of proper smoking. Quarter rack, $7.95, half rack, $13.95; full rack, $22.

PLUS From the outdoor smoker, you can also get pulled pork and corned beef. On Sundays, Breakstone grills burgers and hot dogs and offers barbecue specials.

 

MARA'S HOMEMADE

234 Jericho Tpke. (Muttontown Plaza), Syosset

516-682-9200, marashomemade.com

PRIME Tender and generous baby back ribs are in the "Arkansas barbecue" category, where Texas and Memphis meet. Plenty of rub, plenty of smoke, plenty of flavor. The Arkansas sauce is tangier; the Texas, sweeter. Half rack, $17; full rack, $25.

PLUS St. Louis-style ribs, smoked brisket, pulled pork, and for lovers of New Orleans, a crayfish boil. On the side: fried green tomatoes, collard greens, cheese grits, no-mayo coleslaw, jalapeño cornbread. And try those chargrilled oysters.

 

RUB BBQ

2367 Hempstead Tpke., East Meadow

516-731-4227, rubbbq.net

PRIME There are two varieties of baby backs on the menu at RUB, offshoot of the pioneering Manhattan barbecue joint. The regular, smoked over hickory for six hours, are on the austere side, toothsome and tasting of pork, smoke and little else. The 12-hour ribs get a slathering of apricot-mustard sauce and an additional six hours, which makes them sweeter and "fallin'-off-the-bone" tender. Half rack, $14.50; full rack (only option for 12-hour), $25.95.

PLUS Don't pass up the burnt ends, which are brisket deckles that have been smoked into sweet, charred oblivion. "The Baron" platter ($48.25; enough for 3 to 4) is a good introduction to the other smoked meats on the menu. RUB's aggressively seared burgers have a cult following.

 

SMOKIN' AL'S FAMOUS BBQ JOINT

 19 W. Main St., Bay Shore, 631-206-3000;

4847 Merrick Rd., Massapequa Park, 516-799-4700

smokinals.com

PRIME Amply rubbed and smoked, the moist baby back ribs can be finished with barbecue sauces, from the original to "sweet talkin'" and "Rattlesnake." Also served dry-rubbed only on request. Half rack, $15.99; full rack, $22.99.

PLUS "Monster beef bones," or big beef short ribs; "burnt endz," crusty and chopped; Carolina pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw; pulled chicken; marinated and chopped beef brisket; and "the works," a combo of brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, smoked sausage, melted cheese and fried onions on a po'boy roll.

 

SWINGBELLY'S BEACHSIDE BBQ

909 W. Beech St., Long Beach

516-431-3464, swingbellysbbq.com

PRIME At this BBQ powerhouse, baby backs are slow-smoked five to seven hours. They're finely smoke-imbued and spice-pebbled. A wide variety of sauces (from sweet to Carolina vinegar BBQ) are fine, but beside the point. Baby back, half rack, $14.99, full rack, $24.99.

PLUS Rib tips, St. Louis ribs, "monster" chicken wings, fried pickle chips, smoked half chicken, Cubano sandwich made with smoked pork and brisket.

 

TENNESSEE JED'S

3357 Merrick Rd., Wantagh

516-308-3355, barbeque.li.

PRIME Pit master Francisco Gonzalez dry-rubs baby back ribs before smoking them about five hours with hickory and applewood. He adds another step, as well: The ribs are given a brief turn on the grill, to be lightly glazed with sauce or not. Half rack, $14, full rack, $21

PLUS A first-rate Maryland crabcake, rousing red Texas chili, smoky pulled pork sandwich, Texas beef ribs, St. Louis ribs and well-burnished chicken.

 

TOWNLINE BBQ

3593 Montauk Hwy., Sagaponack

631-537-2271; townlinebbq.com

PRIME Savory, meaty, dry-rubbed baby back ribs, under the Texas heading. Half-rack, $12.50; full rack, $25.

PLUS First-class pulled pork and beef short ribs, Texas chili, California vegetarian chili.

This restaurant is jammed in summer, so stopping by during the off-season is like getting an extra dessert.

 

WHAT'S IN A RIB?

 Baby backs, spareribs and St. Louis-style ribs are all cut from the rib cage of a pig. The ribs are long bones that originate at the backbone (spine) and then curve around the abdomen, hugging the belly. Butchers cut rib cages into sections, or racks, and the names of those sections refer to which segment of the rib cage they come from.

1. Baby back ribs (or just plain back ribs) are the portion of the ribs closest to the backbone. They are usually cut 3 to 6 inches long, are meaty, not too fatty and command the highest price, the Cadillac of ribs, if you will.

2. Spareribs are what's left once the baby backs are cut off. Because these are the ribs that hug the belly -- the bacon -- they are very fatty and full of flavor, a favorite of rib lovers who want to get down and dirty. A rack of spareribs is not so neat as a rack of baby backs, with flaps of meat hanging off the ends. The ribs you find in a Chinese restaurant, which are roasted, not barbecued, are usually cut from the spareribs. In general, a flatter rib is more likely to be a spare than a baby back.

3. For St. Louis ribs, the butcher cuts off the last few inches of the spareribs, resulting in a nice rectangular rack with clean-cut ribs at either end. -- ERICA MARCUS

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