Big Joe finds a great barbecue here in New Jersey

May is National Barbecue Month. It’s a month that I like to celebrate. The barbecue has become so personal. Tell someone about a great recipe or a restaurant that serves great barbecue and you’ll always have an argument. It’s the same thing that happens when we talk about meatballs, and everyone knows a better recipe.

As you can imagine, humans have been cooking meat over an open flame since the dawn of time. Native Americans are credited with using cherry wood and other smoking woods which are said to add flavor to their catches. We’ve come a long way in chemically treating wood to get some flavor out of our choice smoked meats.

a barbecue

picture by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

I’m a big barbecue fan but I’m not obsessed with it and I certainly don’t treat it like a science experiment to get the perfect item for your plate. I use natural ingredients with natural sauces and untreated wood to make my barbecue the best it can be.

Big Joe at the BBQ Festival in North Wildwood

Big Joe at the BBQ Festival in North Wildwood (Townsquare Media NJ)

For years I used to come down to North Wildwood in July to do my New Jersey State Barbeque Championship radio show. It was by far one of my favorite appearances because I love the smells but especially the taste of a good barbecue. The people there are great and the competitors and organizers, especially the Angle Sea Fire Co., do an amazing job.

Barbecue and Brew Fest at Mercer County Park

Think Stock

By going there and through my travels, I have become a student of the art of good barbecue. I’ve spent some quality time in Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, the Carolinas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Mississippi and Oklahoma and had great BBQ’s in each of these beautiful places. However, I truly believe that here in New Jersey we have the best barbecue.

Youtube screenshot via Food Network

Youtube screenshot via Food Network

I met a guy who busted the myth and the idea that anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line can’t cook a good barbecue. I met Butch from Butch’s famous Smack Your Lips barbecue! The guy has won hundreds of awards for his sauce and ribs and won a barbecue with celebrity TV chef Bobby Flay. I’ve had lots of sauces, I’ve made my own for years too, but hers is the best, bar none.

Youtube screenshot via Food Network

Youtube screenshot via Food Network

I got to know Butch well, went to his house to get gravy, and saw him every year in North Wildwood. He was an icon for me. A great guy, a gentle soul who had a huge passion for what he loved, good barbecue.

Sadly, Butch passed away a few years ago. Luckily his daughter was so proud and took the reins in continuing Butch’s tradition of championship barbecuing and making exceptional sauces and marinades and this great barbecue rolls out of Mt. Laurel, New Jersey . I love it. You can reach them online at

Big Joe Henry / Cinecall Productions

Big Joe Henry / Cinecall Productions

Big Joe’s Award-Winning Ribs Recipe

Well, first of all, my ribs never won anything, not a damn thing, no ribbons, no honorable mentions, nothing, but that’s because I never entered them in any competitions. They have “earned” a few compliments when eaten and that’s good!

There are so many factors in making the “best” ribs possible. Gone are the days of running to the grocery store, picking up the ribs, slathering on the sauce and tossing them on the grill. I learned that the most important factor in cooking a good barbecue is time, lots of time. Nice and easy, slow down, let them soak up the right sauces and the meat will be flavorful and tender with an appetizing taste that will leave you wanting to cook more.

Most pros have smokers. I don’t know, but I can tell you from the reaction of friends and family, these ribs are very good. Relax and cook Jersey-style ribs! Just a note, these ribs are going to take about 8 hours to cook, so be prepared!

Two racks of ribs. (pork, membrane removed and trimmed – large pork chops, not spare ribs, they’re too small!)

1 can of beer. (OK, two cans of beer, one for the ribs and one for you.)

2 cups of friction. (I use Butch’s but just in case you can’t get Butch’s in time, here’s a rub recipe I’ve used before that works well)

Big Joe’s Emergency Rub

1 cup paprika
1 ½ cups of brown sugar
½ cup garlic powder
¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup onion powder
½ cup chilli powder
¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of white pepper
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried oregano
¼ cup ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest

Butch’s Doctored BBQ Sauce, Big Joe Style

1 18oz bottle of Butch’s Mild BBQ Sauce (if you can’t get Butch’s, try a premium BBQ sauce)

1 18 oz bottle of Butch’s Pyro BBQ Sauce (if you can’t get Butch’s, try a premium BBQ sauce)

2 tablespoons habanera infused honey

¼ cup orange juice

½ cup bourbon liqueur (optional)

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

After preparing the ribs, generously apply the rub to both sides of the ribs. I suggest you use plastic gloves so you don’t get paprika stains on your fingers. Really put the rub in the meat. Once rubbed, wrap the now covered ribs in plastic wrap, then foil and return to the fridge for 6 hours or more, preferably overnight.

Once the ribs are out of the fridge and ready to cook, preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Place the ribs on a rack upright. I use a turkey rack and lay the ribs against the sides of the rack. Make sure the ribs don’t touch the bottom of the pan. Add the can of beer to the bottom of the pan holding the ribs, making sure the beer does not touch the ribs. Once the oven has reached 225 degrees, place the ribs in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add only ¼ of a bottle of barbecue sauce, add the garlic and orange juice, reduce for about 5 minutes, add the honey and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add bourbon and remaining barbecue sauce. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Big Joe Henry / Cinecall Productions

Big Joe Henry / Cinecall Productions

Once the ribs are cooked, preheat your grill to maximum heat. Once the ribs are out of the oven, immediately apply the barbecue sauce liberally to the ribs. Head to the grill and cook the ribs on the grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on how hot the grill is. Apply more sauce while cooking. You want the ribs with an icy coat. Be careful not to burn the ribs.

Remove from grill. Cut the ribs using the ribs as guidelines and enjoy. Don’t forget that it took you a long time to cook them so take the time to taste them.

I recommend serving these ribs with a side of Nana’s Potato Salad or trying my Big Joe Too Sweet Potatoes.

The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. All opinions expressed are those of Big Joe.

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