In “Mad Kitchen,” Madeleine Brown speaks to members of the Toronto theatre community about one of their favourite recipes. Scroll to the bottom for Remington North’s BBQ-style wet/dry ribs recipe.
“I think the place was called Billy Bones World Famous Ribs,” says Remington North, a freelance production manager, technical director, and designer, recalling the initial inspiration for his trademark rib recipe.
North encountered Billy’s mighty ribs as a teenager with his dad at his hometown of Brockville, Ontario’s rib fest. He was smitten by the ribs’ bold flavours, intoxicating smell, and eat-with-your-hands approach. Already capable of cooking for himself, ribs (given their shareable, crowd-pleasing quality) marked his first venture into cooking for others. “Ribs kind of hold a near and dear place to my heart, which is comic because ribs are near and dear to everyone’s hearts.”
The recipe has developed over the years, passing through a dry-rub phase, a wet and saucy phase, and, in its current iteration, a combination of the two styles. Whatever the phase, his desire to prepare them remains constant: as an expression of how he cares for others.
This desire has manifested itself on the occasions when his interest in cooking and his career have intersected. What began as two staff lunches when he was director of facilities and production at the Theatre Centre turned into the organization’s monthly Community Meals. His coworkers encouraged him and provided him with the means to expand the meal and invite the public and visiting artists. Excited by the prospect, North prepared the majority of the first year’s meals despite having never cooked for such large groups before.
“My whole career is very much so, ‘Hey you’ve got a big problem to solve, think about it and then solve the problem,’” says North. For him, cooking for twenty-four instead of eight was just another one of these problems. No big deal.
His longest and most intensive meal to prepare was a Thanksgiving turkey (his first ever) with all the trimmings. However, North declares the Community Meal’s biggest victory the arrival of two elderly women at its third or fourth instalment. “They didn’t get invited on Facebook, they didn’t see an Instagram post. Someone who had been at the Community Meal just said it was delicious and they saw a sign outside and they were like, ‘Oh, let’s go.’ And I was like, ‘Boom. This is the thing.’”
This past August, North participated in a residency on the intersection of food and art with the Cucalorus Festival in North Carolina—fittingly the home of pork BBQ. (Yes, of course he prepared ribs for his fellow artists in residence.) Now he is in the process of developing a performance piece, which will likely involve—you guessed it—cooking for others.
At this stage, it’s just another problem for North to think about and, without a doubt, solve. Perhaps without cutlery.
BBQ-Style Wet/Dry Ribs
Makes 1 or more racks of ribs
- 1 or more racks of side or baby back ribs
Dry Mix (enough for one rack, multiply appropriately for more)
- 5 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 tbsp chilli powder
- 2 tbsp coarse salt
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
BBQ Sauce (enough for two racks, multiply appropriately for more)
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup bourbon of choice (for North, it’s Buffalo Trace)
- 8 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- ½ tbsp onion powder
- ½ tbsp ground mustard seed
- Make a small cut into the bone-side of the ribs and, with a paper towel, remove the thin but strong membrane completely from the rack(s). By removing the membrane, flavour will be absorbed into every bit of exposed flesh—not just the fatty topside—and you’ll achieve “fall off the bone” ribs.
- Combine all the ingredients for the dry mix together in a bowl and then massage it into the rack(s). Be generous and vigorous. Wrap the rack(s) with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour or ideally overnight, allowing the muscle fibres to relax and absorb the mix.
- When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap and broil the rack(s) for five to eight minutes until the sugars are caramelized and the flesh lightly seared.
- Preheat the oven to 275° F.
- Wrap the rack(s) in aluminum foil with the shiny side in and bake for 2½ hours for side ribs or 1½ hours for baby back ribs.
- Meanwhile, prepare the BBQ sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a pot and gently simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, cooking off the alcohol.
- At the end of the initial cooking time, open the aluminum wrapping and liberally sauce the ribs. Close the wrapping and return the rack(s) to the oven for another 30 minutes. Repeat for a second time.
- Once cooked, let the rack(s) sit for 10 minutes in open air before serving alongside warm greens, cornbread, and coleslaw.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Remington North is the technical director at Crow’s Theatre. That is a job he formerly held.