The real McCoy

Paul Smith
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One trip to the grocery store, and now I’m smokin’

I made a run to Costco a few days ago, a not-at-all-uncommon occurrence for us around-the-bay folk.

After loading up the hatchback with fruits and vegetables, as will as filling the tank with petrol, Goldie and I headed over to Dominion to pick up a few other items before pointing the car west. I’m fussy over my coffee and a few other items that I can only find in the big city supermarket.

We were headed out the door when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a bargain I just couldn’t pass. The kind managers had chosen to mark down a stack of barbecue smokers. I’m not taking about propane barbecues; these were the real honest to goodness charcoal burning smokers complete with a chimney.

“Now, that’s the real McCoy,” I exclaimed excitedly, maybe with too much enthusiasm. I attracted two other guys to the stack of barbecues. I guess this sort of griller doesn’t sell that well in this neck of the woods. They were marked down from $90 to just $25.

That’s a wicked deal, and I’ve been looking to buy a real barbecue and start learning how to smoke and grill some ribs southern style. I’ve watched some Texans and Tennessee folks smoking up a storm down in Florida, and I’ve wanted to give it a go.

Proper smoker barbecues can be pretty expensive, and this cheaper model slashed to just 25 bucks would be a great way to get my feet wet and my backyard full of smoke. I bought the grill and so did the other two guys.

Home I went proudly with the real McCoy in the back seat. There was no room left in the hatchback.

True or false?

Real McCoy is not a term I often use, but it was kind of stuck in my mind, interestingly enough from the land of smoked ribs, gospel, moonshine and the blues. I met a man this summer from Knoxville, Tenn. I asked him for a light on my cigar and we got to chatting. Our conversation somehow wandered to smoking ribs and on to southern whiskey, then to even stronger spirits.

He told me of the wonderful moonshine distilled in the Smokey Mountains, in the olden days as well as to this very day. He said that the McCoy family made the very best backyard liquor. Others tried to imitate, but just couldn’t quite match the taste and kick. Their product just wasn’t the real McCoy. He claimed that’s where the expression began.

That story has been floating around in my brain for weeks. I was just searching for something to call the real McCoy.

I did a little research on the origin of the real McCoy only to discover that my Tennessee buddy might have been pulling my leg a little. Either that or the crew at Wikipedia have been misinformed. They had a variety of theories on the beginnings of the real McCoy expression, although none were quite as intriguing as moonshine running in the Smokies. For the sake of artistic licence, I’m sticking with the moonshine. And I’m naming my smoker the real McCoy.

Today I smoked ribs in the real McCoy, fittingly I think, Tennessee style.

My buddy from Tennessee promised me his uncle’s rib recipe, but that hasn’t materialized just yet. Looking up a recipe on the Internet would have to do.

The secret to preparing smoked ribs I’ve discovered is low and slow. Five to six hours at about 250 F is recommended. You can go out and buy an expensive smoker, but you can easily smoke ribs on either a regular propane barbecue or a charcoal grill that has a cover. Mine has a smokestack so I’m a step ahead of the mainstream grillers. It looks so cool with the smoke billowing out.

To get smoke you need wood. Somehow you have to smoulder wood or wood chips and have your ribs exposed to it for hours while cooking at 250 F.

I mounded up my charcoal on one side of the smoker, squirted on the liquid starter, and lit them ablaze. What a wonderful smell; the pungent aroma of burning coals always takes me back to family barbecues with Mom and Dad, long before gas grills sat on every deck in the neighborhood.

When the coals turned white, I positioned the ribs on the side of the grill away from the scorching coals. This way the ribs can stay on the grill much longer without searing them from direct heat.

I’ve had some hickory sitting in my shed for a while now, waiting for this occasion. I had previously soaked the wood in water so it wouldn’t burn out too fast. It needs to smoulder on the white hot coals. I dropped the hickory on the coals and closed the lid.

Smoke poured from the stack, creating an amazing aroma all over the backyard. This was wonderful stuff, the best 25 bucks I ever spent.

I let the ribs cook at about 250 F for a full two hours, adding more hickory every half hour or so. They were absolutely the best ribs I have ever barbecued, or smoked — whatever you wish to call it. What I did is kind of a hybrid between smoking and barbecuing.

Real McCoy southern smoked ribs require a minimum of five hours in the cooker. They use side box smokers and the ribs get so little direct heat that they take that long to cook.

Dry rubs

Another critical aspect of grilling that we northerners often overlook is the dry rub. Serious backyard chefs guard their dry rub recipes like the KGB and CIA keep secret files. But at least a few kind sharing souls do post recipes on the web. I read a few and made up a rub for my inaugural smoking session. I mixed brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, sea salt, garlic powder and cayenne. First you coat the raw rinsed ribs in cooking oil and then rub in the mixture of spices with your fingers.

The rub adds a wonderful flavour and delicious crust to your tender smoked ribs.

I mentioned that you could also add real smoke flavour with a standard propane barbecue. Just place a tin foil pouch of wood chips in the barbecue with your ribs. Stab some small holes in the foil so the smoke can escape. You need shavings or chips for this method, whereas fair size chunks will work on charcoal. It’s also a good idea to light just one burner so you can cook your ribs slower and lower.

I’m a rank amateur in this smoking and grilling game, so if you have any ideas, comments or suggestions, feel free to email me.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted


Organizations: Costco, Wikipedia, CIA

Geographic location: Tennessee, Florida, Knoxville, Tenn. McCoy southern

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