Labor Day is ahead, and I think it’s the best opportunity to spend a day however you want, unless you are one of the unfortunate ones who still has to work that day.
Growing up, my Uncle Ken and Aunt Judy had a Labor Day party, on Labor Day, and it was the one time a year I went to their house. I enjoyed the party because they had a stream in their backyard, even though they lived in Baltimore City, and I could find snails in it. But I also knew that the next day was the first day of school, so I had that nervous feeling in my belly. Perhaps I didn’t eat much at that party, but I always cherished it as a last, lazy day of summer.
Now that I’m adult, I think I enjoy Labor Day all the more. It’s not a special day off for me, but I like to take the time, at least on the Sunday if not the Monday, to celebrate a day of rest. Maybe have a few friends over, late in the afternoon, but the key is to keep it low stress.
So for today, I found three simple recipes for a low-stress cookout. Make these three recipes yourself, then ask your guests to bring fill-in dishes, because here you’ve got the basics covered.
First up, ribs. I don’t have a smoker, so I use another slow method of cooking ribs: the oven, followed by a quick cook on the grill at the end to crisp them up. I haven’t tried this recipe yet, with the lemon-lime soda and pineapple juice as the liquid to keep them moist (but not submerged) in the oven, but it sounds good to me. And I love it when a recipe has a homemade barbecue sauce rather than telling you to use your favorite bottle, so I look forward to giving this a try.
Second, we all know that slaw goes great with pork, and this is an interesting version that hales from a barbecue restaurant in Savannah, my home in the south. No mayo in here, just olive oil, cider vinegar, vinegar-based hot sauce and this interesting twist: peach nectar. Try looking for peach nectar in the part of the grocery store that sells the fancy juices, like pomegranate juice and those premade smoothies. I kind of want to try it with pear nectar, one of my favorite secret ingredients.
And finally, a from-scratch recipe for baked beans that you can make in your slow cooker. This requires soaking the beans the night before, so plan ahead, and then drain them and layer them with the onions and bacon in your slow cooker to cook for 6 to 8 hours. Here again you can make your own sauce, so when people compliment you on how great the beans taste, you can authentically say you made them yourself.
May you have a great Labor Day, and send the summer out with a fitting farewell.
Jim’s secret family recipe for ribs
2 racks pork baby back ribs (about 5 pounds)
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 liter lemon-lime soda
½ cup unsweetened pineapple or orange juice, optional
For the barbecue sauce:
½ cup sugar or packed brown sugar
½ cup hot water
1 cup ketchup
¼ cup honey mustard
¼ cup barbecue sauce of choice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoons white vinegar
Brush ribs with soy sauce. Combine oregano, onion powder and garlic powder; rub over both sides of ribs. Transfer to a large shallow roasting pan; refrigerate, covered, overnight.
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Add lemon-lime soda and juice, if desired, to roasting pan (do not pour over ribs). Bake, covered, until tender, about three hours.
Meanwhile, make barbecue sauce by dissolving sugar in hot water; combine with remaining ingredients, thinning with additional lemon-lime soda or juice if necessary. Reserve 1 cup for serving.
Remove ribs from oven; discard juices. Brush both sides with barbecue sauce. Grill ribs, covered, on a greased grill rack over low direct heat, turning and brushing occasionally with remaining sauce, until heated through, about 10 minutes. Cut into serving-size pieces; serve with reserved sauce.
Sweet and spicy slaw
½ cup apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons peach nectar or juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar-based hot sauce
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large head of cabbage, thinly sliced
Whisk vinegar, peach nectar, oil, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt, cayenne and black pepper in a large bowl to combine. Add cabbage and toss until completely coated in dressing. Cover and chill 30 minutes to allow cabbage to soften and flavors to meld together.
Dressing can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.
Recipe by Bryan Furman of B's Cracklin' BBQ, Savannah, Georgia
Brown sugar and bacon slow cooker baked beans
1 pound dried navy, pinto or great northern beans
1 pound thick-cut bacon, small dice
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
⅓ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
¼ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
Spread the beans out into a rimmed baking sheet or plate and pick out any debris or broken beans. Transfer the sorted beans to a colander and rinse under cool water. Transfer to a large bowl or 6-quart or larger slow cooker (this eliminates one extra bowl to wash) and cover with 6 cups of cool water. Cover and soak at room temperature 10 to 12 hours.
Drain the soaked beans and dry the slow cooker insert if needed.
Spread the diced bacon in a single layer in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Add the drained beans, and sprinkle the onions over the beans (do not stir). Cover and turn on to the low setting while you prepare the sauce.
Place 3 cups of water, the tomato paste, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl and whisk to break up the tomato paste. Reserve the salt for seasoning later in the cooking process.
Pour the sauce evenly over the onions, beans, and bacon. Do not stir to combine.
Cover and cook on the low setting for six to eight hours. At the six-hour mark, begin tasting for doneness and add the salt as needed. The beans are ready when they are creamy and tender.
Stir to combine — the sauce will be thick. Serve or cool and refrigerate.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or frozen for up to two months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before reheating in the microwave or on low heat.