Podnah’s $12 Pork Ribs
Ribbed from the Gods
There is nothing subtle about eating barbecue. Juices squirt. Fingers get greasy. Flesh is torn asunder and lodged between teeth. But when wrapping your mitts and mouth around something that might be described as the hickory-smoked hand of God, the mess is undeniably worth it.
Whether clinging to charred bone or piled up on bread, proper barbecue is a hedonistic—not to mention cheap, filling, and generously portioned—celebration of meat in its purest form. In fact, it’s a direct line to the caveman in all of us. And, like the Tower of Babel, it sizzles with a million different dialects: Wet or dry. Spicy or sweet. Vinegary or mustardy.
Of course, we can’t deny that the best barbecue dialect is spoken in the South, which can be a problem for those of us living outside of that delicious slab of the country from Texas to South Carolina known as the Barbecue Belt.
But we need not twiddle our Wet Naps in frustration—the lust for quality ’cue in Portland is strong, and though there are numerous joints serving oversauced slabs of shoe leather, there are just as many keeping our discerning palates sated.
But put a baster to our head? We prefer to do our bone suckin’ with the smoked pork ribs at Podnah’s Pit (1469 NE Prescott St, podnahspit.com), a place that’s unabashedly all about the pig. —Bart Blasengame
In the world of ribs, what’s on the outside goes way beyond being an artistic statement—it says a lot about the chef’s general worth as a human being. And in that sense, Podnah’s mastermind Rodney Muirhead is right up there with Mother Teresa. For his ribs, the Waxahachie, Texas, native goes the purist route—what connoisseurs call the “dry rub.” In this case, that means dabbing each pork rib in a fine layer of sugar and secret spices, which, when properly smoked, leaves each massive rectangle of meat with a brown, slightly crispy exterior that acts as a portal to the tender flesh underneath. If you must sauce, a Carolina-style vinegar sauce and a traditional sweet, ketchup-based sauce is available at the table.
A great rib should be a little crusty on the outside, pink and soft on the inside, and it should practically fall off the bone. The first step is starting with quality meat that’s marbled with fat so that it doesn’t dry out as it’s smoking—Muirhead once used Carlton Farms pork ribs, but because they were too lean, he switched to Iowa Gold pork ribs from Oklahoma. But the second step—the smoking process—is just as important. Most mornings, the Texas native lights the fire in his oak- and mesquite-filled wood-pit at 5 a.m. to begin the slow-cooking process. He smokes his spice-rubbed ribs for four to six hours and rarely moistens the exterior, choosing instead to allow the slivers of fat within the meat to keep things juicy. Besides the rub, the oak fumes provide the most flavor, wafting through muscle and sinew to give each bite a subtle, woodsy taste.
Smokey had the Bandit. Vader had Skywalker. Every strong character needs a worthy adversary, and what’s a better foil to pure, unadulterated meat worship than a mountain of cold, refreshing, crispy iceberg lettuce, preferably slathered with a tangy, homemade blue cheese dressing and topped with croutons? At the very least, it’ll make you feel healthy. Or something. And then you can balance that out with a requisite bowl of salty, ham-studded beans.