Most cooks have a dish they regard as their specialty. It is a dish requested by family members and friends. It is a dish that, by the end of the meal, has eaters patting their stomachs with pleasure and stroking the cook's ego with compliments.
For years, my signature dish has been barbecued pork ribs. marinate the ribs in Wicker's, a vinegar-based sauce I import from a small town in Missouri. Whenever my kids heard that "Dad's ribs" were being served for supper, they used to high-tail it to the table. After the ribs had been passed around the table, nary a one would be left on the serving plate. When all the pork was gone, eaters would suck the rib bones, coaxing the last bit of succulent flavor from them.
Those days of glory and vinegar are gone. My signature dish no longer gets top billing at the family dinner table. Now, instead of "Dad's ribs," my clan prefers "Rick's ribs."
The Rick in the rib picture is Rick Seaby, director of broadcast operations and engineering at WJZ-TV in Baltimore and creator of the Rick's Ragin' line of barbecue seasonings. His outfit, Ragin' Blends Inc., is based in Monkton and its products are showing up in various Maryland grocery stores. Back in May, I wrote a column about Rick and I subsequently allowed some pork ribs, cooked in accordance with his barbecue philosophy, into my home.
In hindsight I realize that letting those competing ribs into my house might have been a mistake. They were not "our kind of ribs."
First of all, they were "dry ribs," the kind made by applying a mixture of dry seasonings to the pork before it is placed on the fire. We had always been a "wet rib" household, the kind that soaked its ribs for hours in a liquid marinade before placing the meat on the fire. The chasm between the dry-rib camp and wet-rib camp is a wide one.
Moreover, Rick's ribs have a sweet finish, delivered by a head-turning sauce. Again, this runs counter to our family values. We are not "sweet rib" people. We are "vinegar- people," who eat ribs finished with peppery tangs, not sugary notes.
At least that is the kind of people I thought we were. Over the past few weeks of feasting on ribs, my family has slipped away from me.
The first time they tasted Rick's dry-rub ribs, members of my family assured me the new ribs were "pretty good," but not as good as mine. Nevertheless, they wanted more of these "pretty good ribs." They suggested that we try them "one more time, just to be sure what they taste like." I indulged them, applied the dry rub to another rack of ribs and, after cooking them for several hours, removed the ribs from the fire and applied the sweet finish sauce. After this good-bye meal, I thought my family's infatuation with these ribs was over.
Then, over the Fourth of July weekend, they hit me with the truth. On the nation's high barbecue holiday, I was told that my wife and children preferred to have another man's ribs for supper. Instead of ribs made my way, they wanted ribs made Rick's way.
You eat with people for years and you think you know them. Then one day, you wake up and they have become dry-rub fanatics.
I was hurt and feeling a little bitter over my family's request that I prepare Rick's ribs for our Fourth of July feast. So I might have "accidentally" put too much dry rub on the meat. And I might have "mistakenly" let the fire get too hot, which make the meat crusty. And as I put them on the supper table, I might have said something like "these ribs seem too dry to me."
Nonetheless, my family embraced these sweet ribs, polishing off every last one, even sucking some of the bones.
The experience of losing my family to another man's rib philosophy has left me bowed but not broken. I tell myself their dalliance with dry rubs and sweet sauces will pass. I tell myself that someday my wife and children will come back to my belief in wet ribs and peppery finishes.
In the meantime, I will try to preserve family harmony. I will buy two slabs of ribs and cook one my way and the other Rick's way. We will become a two-slab household, a split-supper table -- one side dry, the other wet.
Pub Date: 7/08/98