Mankind continues the search for perfection in spareribs


RICK SEABY'S quest is a noble one: cooking the perfect rack of pork ribs. Seaby, who is director of broadcast operations and engineering at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, has been on this mission for 15 of his 47 years. He feels he is closing in on success. He has a good cooker. He has good sauces. And he has a few secrets.

The search for pork perfection has been long. There have been casualties, among them his first cooker. A few years back, Seaby worked that cooker so hard he burned a hole in it.

But right about the time his first cooker went bad, his buddy and cooking partner, Jon Howell, was going to throw out a wood-burning stove. Seaby is an engineer and loves to build contraptions. So he used the stove to build a new, larger cooker. He put the firebox in the bottom of a couple of 55-gallon drums.

The fire flourished in its new home. The smoke, with help from a couple of blowers, wafted to the upper chamber of the vessel. There, slabs of ribs were moved around by a motor-driven rotisserie. The idea of this device -- a "smoker" -- is that the ribs are evenly exposed to the heat of a 250- to 275-degree fire.

Seaby was also working on his sauces. He now puts three different concoctions on his ribs. He developed the technique over the years, and was heavily influenced by the two years he spent in Nashville, working at a radio station, WLAC, and eating at a rib joint called Bobby Q's. Shortly before Seaby left Nashville to work in his native Baltimore, the proprietor of Bobby Q's announced that he was selling out. In a parting gesture, he showed Seaby what he did to ribs.

That was about 16 years ago. In the interim, Seaby worked out the fine points of rib cookery, consulting with various Big Bubbas of Barbecue, like J.R. Roach, who makes an annual trip to Baltimore from De Witt, Ark., to conduct a barbecue seminar (June 27 at Valley View Farms).

By last year, Seaby felt he had the rib routine pretty well worked out, so he began bottling his Rick's Ragin' line of sauces and seasonings. (It is sold in Graul's and Eddie's markets and in the Maryland With Pride store in BWI.) His company, called Ragin' Blends Inc., is based in Monkton.

His rib routine is as follows. First, he rubs a trimmed, skinned rack of spareribs (weighing no more than 3 pounds) with his dry rub, called Rick's Ragin' BBQ Rub. He lets the ribs sit for about 20 minutes until they glisten. Then he puts the ribs in his smoker, letting them bask in 250-275 degree heat for about three hours. As the ribs cook, Seaby keeps them moist by applying a basting sauce every 20 or 30 minutes. This sauce is made with 1 cup vinegar and ] cup each of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and olive oil. Finally, when the ribs are done - when the meat pushes away from the bone - he takes them off the fire and applies his "finish" sauce, Rick's Ragin' BBQ & Broilin' Baste, which has brown sugar in it.

Next, Seaby wraps the rack of ribs in aluminum foil and puts them in a brown paper sack. He swears that ribs that have spent one hour waiting in a sack taste better than ribs served right off the fire.

When I asked him why, he talked about how the sack time gave the pores of the meat time to close, drawing the seasoning into its center.

I didn't understand what Seaby was saying. But I did know that when a man sets out on the quest for the perfect rack of ribs, logic takes him only so far.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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