Smokin with Sousa #3 – Ribs

Is there anything as primal feeling as eating ribs?  I mean, you have to be really going at a carcass to rip apart a rib cage in the pursuit of some good eats.  I am personally incredibly thankful for the carnivorous pioneers who discovered the meat fiesta going on along a pig’s rib cage and for passing that wisdom along for future generations to enjoy.  Humanity at its finest.


For this cook I am smoking a couple racks of back ribs, more commonly referred to as baby backs.  If you aren’t familiar with the differences in cuts of pork this is a great article to help get some learnin’.  Around my area the biggest thing to know is the difference between back ribs and spare ribs since it’s what the stores carry.  The main difference is pretty much that back ribs are a bit smaller and more tender than spare ribs.  I’m normally a spare ribs guy, but the market only had backs this time so here we are.

The first thing I do is a bit of trimming.  You can see some fatty stuff, particularly on the bottom right of the rack on the bottom of the pic above, that I’ll trim off.  Also, if there is a skirt of meat on the bone side I like to trim that off.  Also, check along the edges of the racks to see if there are any small bone fragments, and if so clean those off.  The last thing I do for clean up is to pull the membrane off of the bone side of each rack.  The best method I’ve used is to take a butter knife to get under the membrane to start.  I’ll caution you though, there are a couple layers (not sure if the bottom layer is also membrane, I don’t science) and you only want the top layer to come off so you don’t expose all of the bones.  Once you’ve started the separation with the butter knife your best bet is to grip the membrane with a paper towel (it’s slipper otherwise) and hopefully pull it all off in one yank.

Below is a comparison shot between a rack that still has the membrane (top) and the one it’s been pulled from (bottom).

Once you are done trimming and pulling membranes you are ready to rub.  Similar to the pork butt I coat the ribs in a bit of olive oil first so the rub will stick nicely, then I go to town with the dry rub.  Again, pork is not a very flavorful meat on its own, so don’t be shy with the rub here.

For this cook I prepped and rubbed the ribs a few hours before putting them in the barrel with the idea I’d do a bit of a dry brine.  The rub I used has a good amount of salt which after some time brining should increase moisture and tenderness in the finished product.  If you’d like some info on dry brining you can read up on it here.  I just kept them on the tray and wrapped the whole thing.

Once it’s time to cook, and the barrel is going, I hang the racks and sit back for a couple hours.  After about two hours I’ll go and take a look to see how the bark is forming, and also see if the meat has started to pull back a bit to reveal the bones.  This is how I determine how close ribs are to being ready as opposed to monitoring internal temps.  At this point I’m looking for a nice mahogany crust and a bit of bone showing.

This step is optional depending on how you like your ribs, but I pull the ribs at this point for some sauce.  I like to sauce them during the cook so it thickens and caramelizes the sugar a bit, and I don’t add sauce when eating them.  Also, if your sauce has been in the refrigerator let it sit out for a while before this to bring it up to room temp.  No reason to add cold sauce onto hot ribs you have cooking.

After about another 30 minutes the ribs should be ready.  Again, take a look to see if the rib bones are showing – I look for about ¼” of bone showing to consider them ready.  After you pull them let them rest for about 20-30 minutes before cutting them.  I suck at cutting ribs so I usually flip them so the bone side is up, but if you aren’t terrible at life you can cut them like a man (or woman for our lady readers out there).  If all went well you should have some tasty ribs!

Lilly approves!


When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project. 

Smokin’ with Sousa – Episode 2

OG commenter Sousa is back with some more smoked meats for your enjoyment, this time serving up some pork butt. 

Since nobody threw rocks at me after my last post I figured I’d go for another one, this time focusing on some pork butt (which confusingly is actually from the shoulder – stuff like this is why I failed biology).  I’ll be shredding it in the end for some pulled pork which is a great option for a get together, or just a week’s worth of lunches.


One thing I’ve come to learn in regards to pork is that it isn’t graded like beef so you have to look at the meat itself to determine the quality.  Luckily there is a handy guide available to help assist you with this.  Another difference between pork and beef is that pork is typically much cheaper than most cuts of quality beef.  I grabbed this 11 pound butt on sale for about 23 doll hairs which is a pretty solid value.

One nice thing about smoking a butt is that it’s a really easy prep.  All I do to get it ready is pat it dry with some paper towels, give it a light coating of olive oil, and then get reckless with some rub.  You might also get interrupted by a Santa footed child asking for chocolate milk.  He is not amused.

Pork isn’t an overly flavorful piece of meat so feel free to go crazy with the rub, the only thing I’d caution is to not overdo it with salt (unless that’s your thing – you do you then).  Once you’ve rubbed the butt (giggle) it should look something like this.

You are now ready to toss it on the smoker!

In my last post I went over the smoker I use and some basics on getting it going so I’m not going to bore you all again with that.  I’ll just add that for this cook I tried a different brand of briquette, and I added a chunk of hickory to the coals.

Given the size of this butt I opted to just use the grate for the whole cook and not risk having it fall off the hooks.  I got my thermometer set up, put the meat on the grate, and inserted the internal temp probe.

I then inserted the rebar rods (those actually play a role in temp control), and covered the barrel.  The good thing about smoking, especially in a cooker that holds temp pretty well, is you can then ignore it for a while.  But even with that it’s still fun to take a peek at how things are going.  Four hours in I was curious so I popped the cover off and was happy to see a nice bark forming.

Pork butt is one of those meats where you should take some steps at specific internal temps, and the first step comes somewhere in the 160-170 degree (Faranheit) range.  For this cook I waited for about 165 degrees.  I set up a couple pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil, and also about a half cup of apple juice (you can use beer, pineapple juice, etc. as well).

I transferred the butt CAREFULLY over to the foil.  It should already be fairly tender, and it is hot, so your best bet is some good gloves so you can really hold it securely while moving it.  You don’t want it to fall apart on you here.

I poured the juice around the butt and wrapped it nice and tight in the foil, then back on the grate it went (with the internal temp probe back in).  I also added some peaches, tomatoes, and peppers as my wife is trying to put together a smoked peach salsa recipe which I am happy to be taste testing for her.

From here it’s another 2-3 hours of just letting the smoker do its thing until the internal temp hits around 195 degrees.  At that point you can take the wrapped butt out of the smoker and bring it inside.  Once unwrapped it should have a beautiful bark and be sitting in a pool of drippings.  As tempted as you may be, do not start drinking the drippings.

Your butt should have some good jiggle to it.

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Let it sit for a bit, maybe 15-20 minutes, then move it to a cutting board and the shredding can start.  I don’t have any great tips for shredding, I tend to do a lot of it with my hands as I like to remove big pieces of fat and the occasional pieces of bone and find the tactile advantage to help with this.  I do take off the whole fat cap and toss it, but if you like big bits of fat in your pulled pork feel free to keep it in the mix.  The only other suggestion I’ll make if you are serving it to a group of people is to NOT add any sauce to it, instead offer a variety of sauces that they can choose from.  When you are all done you should have a big pile of beautiful pulled pork which you can then drizzle the drippings you didn’t drink (you didn’t, right?) over.  I dream of a silo filled with pulled pork that I could swim in Scrooge McDuck style, but I’d probably get horribly burned and die.

So a quick shameless plug – one other thing you could do to give another option on a pulled pork sandwich is to whip up some slaw while the butt is smoking.  My wife did this during this cook, and she posted a real easy recipe on her blog over here.  I’m not a slaw guy myself, but the combo was surprisingly good.



 When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project. 

Smokin’ with Sousa

OG commenter Sousa recently got a new smoker, and has dove into the world of BBQ headfirst. Here’s the first of a potential series from him on smoking various meats. 

Smoking with Sousa – Chicken Halves

Hey there, it’s been a minute since the last 70’s Big post and I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.  Some of you 70’s Big veterans may recall Gant had a post on smoking brisket some time ago, and that post was one of the early seeds that planted the desire in my heart to begin smoking meat.  Well, it took several years, but I am finally beginning on my journey into the smoke filled world of barbecue and I would like to share some of my adventures with you.

First, let me discuss what I am cooking in.  Stepping foot into the arena of smoke can be daunting as there are numerous options (and of course opinions on those options).  Wood, pellet, charcoal, offset, reverse flow, bullet, drum, enormous green eggs, etc.; so many things to consider you may want to not even bother.  I’m not going to go into all of those things here, but I will walk you through how I decided on my first cooker.

The biggest factor that played into my decision was time.  Right now I have four kids ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.  As a result time, especially sleeping time, is a precious commodity in my life.  While I plan to eventually own a smoker that has more traditional long cook times, the idea of something that can produce good results in less time appealed to me.  Next, I am a total noob with zero guidance beyond reading posts like Gant’s and watching YouTube videos, so something with less of a learning curve seemed like a good thing.  Finally, capacity was important as I wanted to be able to cook a decent amount of food at once.  With all of these combined I was able to start filtering my choices.  I finally came across something that seemed to fit the bill perfectly – the Pit Barrel Cooker (hereon referred to as PBC).

Now before of you experienced smokers start rolling your eyes and dismissing me I am aware that the PBC doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a smoker, and I am sure the results are not as majestic as what you can achieve on stick burners, etc.  But for what it is it still puts out some pretty fantastic smoked meat.  There are Pros and Cons to everything, and here was my list for the PBC:

Pro Con
Easy to use Not as good of a bark as slower cookers
Shorter cook times Doesn’t use wood**
Good capacity for a small footprint Inefficient coal use*
Efficient coal use*  
Relatively inexpensive  
Veteran owned, US made  

*The PBC can cook for about 8 hours on a single basket of coals which is pretty efficient.  However, if you only want to smoke something that takes a couple of hours there is no out-of-the-box way to snuff the coals which means you use a whole basket for a two hour cook.

**The manufacturer basically suggests you only use charcoal, however you can find people on forums, etc. that have done cooks with wood chunks with good results.

I know this is starting to become a PBC infomercial so I’ll stop discussing it’s attributes and get into cooking with it.  I’m going to cover getting the coals lit in case that is helpful to anyone reading.  Have your assistant get the bag of coals; having a good assistant is key.

The first thing I do is fill the coal basket so it is about level with the sides, and then take about 40 pieces from the basket to fill my chimney starter.

I then put the basket into the barrel, and then the grate as well.  Now I take a couple pieces of newspaper and roll them up and then wrap them into circles that will fit into the bottom of the starter.

I do this instead of just crumpling them as I feel it does a better job of not restricting airflow as the paper is burning and heating the coals.  I sit the chimney on the grate in the barrel, light the newspaper, and let it heat up for about 12 minutes before dumping the hot coals back into the basket.

Now that the coals are going I am ready to hang my chicken halves.  Before lighting the coals I prepped the chicken by halving it (cut the spine out completely).  Then I put a generous amount of rub all over both halves making sure to get it under the wings and thighs, as well as on the inside of the bird.

Once the rub has been applied I grab a couple of the hooks that came with the PBC and insert them in the meatiest area of each breast.  That’s all there is to it, and now they can hang.

A couple tools I picked up that have helped me a ton with getting good results are these thermometers.

The black unit with the wired probes allows me to monitor the cooking temp inside the barrel as well as the internal temp in whatever meat I’m cooking.  The red dealy is an instant read thermometer I use to double check the internal temp once the probe tells me it’s where I want it.  Some stuff doesn’t really need a thermometer (i.e. ribs), but other stuff it helps tremendously as you may need to take certain steps like wrapping at specific temperatures (i.e. brisket and pork shoulder).

Once the halves are hung, and I’ve got my thermometer set up, it’s basically time to just let it do its thing for a couple of hours.

I’ve cooked several birds at this point and it’s been very consistent in cook times and results.

In terms of the capacity I mentioned earlier you can fit eight chicken halves in the barrel, and since the coals can easily last 6+ hours you could do three cooks on a single basket of coals.  Twelve smoked chickens in 6 or so hours with minimal effort seems like a good deal for any meal preppers out there.


If this write up didn’t bore the crap out of you, and you’d be interested in future posts (that wouldn’t include the PBC commercial), drop a note in the comments.  Thanks all!


When Paul isn’t busy BBQ’ing, he can be found lifting the train wheels at IronSport with himself, while he & himself also looks on, or helping his wife with her new food blog project. 

Memorial Day 2017

I typically use the same post every Memorial Day to remind American readers of their freedoms. Every year, families and friends gather to grill meat and wave flags, but getting a day off from work and drinking a beer doesn’t really do justice to those that have lost their lives in service of the United States of America.


A flag from the WTC rubble in 2001.

I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard, have personal responsibility, and always try to improve.

Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.

The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade. This is not a day if celebration, but of remembrance. Lest we forget.

A Case for Athleticism

It’s fantastic how quickly the online strength and conditioning community grows. 70’s Big started in 2009, and I’ve been coaching since 2005, but the number of athletes has never been larger. Powerlifters, weightlifters, CrossFitters, and general trainees range from the kid that never exercised growing up to the professional athlete. All of us have something in common: improving performance. Despite our intentions, most of us leave out critical components of athleticism.

CrossFit bills itself as the everything program. Almost ten years ago we talked about it in terms of a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program. GPP programs have their roots in Russian sport science with respect to periodization. In Supertraining, Mell Siff describes that GPP “is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness” (pg 315). GPP was either followed by or performed congruently with Specialized Physical Preparation (SPP). This type of phase was commonly used in younger athletes who had not specified in a particular sport, but it could also be used as an introduction phase after a long off-season. Siff even points out how a hypertrophy (or muscle building) phase can be included with GPP. Historically GPP was used as a phase instead of a training paradigm.

We see trends of using phases in a variety of sport or competitive based events. Smart CrossFit competitors know they can’t train hard all year, and usually when their competitive season is over they’ll reestablish a training base or work on deficiencies in their fitness. Then their training will filter back into preparing for competitive events. This is almost ironic given how we used to consider CrossFit as a GPP program, but a large portion of its annual calendar forces most competitors to shift to a SPP approach in order to adequately prepare for “the open”.

What about those who don’t have an annual training cycle? Or don’t care about CrossFit or specific national events in a sport? It’s almost a negative stigma to not specialize in a type of competition, because not specializing likely means not performing to the utmost ability. For example, a guy recently wrote me asking why I did or didn’t compete in various sports and what my opinion is. And I think he honestly wanted to be blessed off on not specializing in order to dabble in several sports throughout the year.

Within the online strength and conditioning community – which includes the social media concerning CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, etc. – there are general trainees. They want to be strong and fit, but don’t specialize their training because they don’t want to or don’t care to. There’s also the “applied fitness” trainee – a term we used in FIT to describe military, law enforcement, and people with active jobs. Applied fitness trainees often train for a reason and can’t specialize in order to preserve performance for work. In other words, they can’t afford to specialize.

Regardless of their reason for not specializing, it behooves these populations to maintain a broad proficiency. Nearly all exercises in “the big three”, CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting, are linear in nature. A snatch, box jump, or squat require the trainee to face one direction without deviation. Even movements where the trainee’s feet move, like a box jump, Olympic lift, or burpee, do so in one direction. All of these movements are fantastic for building the capacity to be athletic, but doing them does not make someone athletic.

An argument could be made that a muscle up or snatch is an athletic movement – because they aren’t easy – but they are skills that require practice. I don’t want to get into a “Athleticism vs Skill” argument; it doesn’t have a clear delineation. Instead, I want to focus on how training for the big three competitions excludes important elements of athleticism such as reaction, lateral and angular movement, and change of direction.

John Welbourn said in 2013, “Athleticism only really becomes glaring apparent when you force an athlete to move in space as it relates to another competitor, task or obstacle” (Link).  I don’t know if I agree that this is the only time it’s apparent, but I do agree moving in space and reacting to a competitor, task, or obstacle is inherent in athleticism. Reaction is important and differs from an exercise because the conditions are in flux. During a squat or snatch, gravity is the only deterrent, but team sports with an opponent requires a player to react to an opponent or their actions. Moving in space and navigating obstacles is part of the definition of “mobility” we used in FIT. Movement in sport or reality is not simply linear and could be in any direction, often requiring an individual to change their direction. This might be like a juke, or it could be flowing into a room properly to shoot bad guys.

Ultimately, these are components of athleticism that aren’t included in training programs. If a trainee wants to remain or become athletic, these components need to be a part of the program because simply doing CrossFit, weightlifting, or powerlifting isn’t enough.

As with all training variables, new drills or exercises should be very basic. Add in ladder drills, particularly things like the Icky shuffle and two feet in each hole while moving laterally. Use cone drills, like the 5-10-5-meter shuffle, lateral shuffles, the L drill, or the M drill. Things like the M drill allow the trainee to open their hips and move at a 45-degree angle forwards and backwards, which is often neglected in favor of lateral work. A reactionary component could be accomplished with a square of cones, the athlete in the center, and another person calling the number of a cone. The athlete quickly moves to touch the cone and moves back to the center. This could be done for consecutive reps for time, which will satisfy the competitive nature of CrossFit training partners. Another classic reaction drill is the “mirror drill” from basketball or soccer where one athlete mirrors the movement of another. The athlete being mirrored tries to fake out or lose the other.

Drills like the ones above can be implemented as conditioning or before lifting after a general warm-up. Unathletic people can improve their athletic capacity, athletic people can maintain or improve theirs, and, most importantly, all parties involved will improve their soft tissue to prevent injury. For example, if the lifter or CrossFitter plays flag football in which they catch a pass and turn up field to sprint, and they haven’t done any short sprinting and movement drills, it wouldn’t be surprising to tear a hammy. In fact, this dumb ass author did such a thing in 2012. And in 2010 he rolled his ankle at the first CrossFit Football seminar after months of solely lifting. Getting hurt doing something simple definitely makes one feel unathletic.

Most trainees choose to specify their training into a particular sport or competition, but the truth is only a small percentage of dominant competitors need to do so to continue to win. Furthermore, for the applied fitness or sport athlete, they need to focus on building or maintaining athleticism for both the sake of performance and preventing injury. Spending a phase in the training year on performance and/or including drills on a regular basis to maintain or improve athleticism will truly make a trainee capable over broad modal domains. Simply add agility and reaction drills as conditioning or as part of a warm-up, and you can be more than just fit or strong; you can be athletic.