Photo by Sam Armanino
Digging into a rack of ribs.
If fighting over politics isn't intense enough for you, may I suggest ribs? Even within the guidelines of competition judging, our personal and regional aesthetics make the whole business like drawing from a deck of wild cards. Still, the pros will generally tell you that for competition ribs, the meat should cling lightly to the bone, tender but not slipping off by itself.
And yet some of us grow giddy pulling the meat clean from a bone in one tug of the teeth and swiping the fallen pieces in the drippings of sauce on the plate. No shame in that. If this is you — or if, like me, you suffer from anxiety at the sight of pork left on bones by fellow diners — it's time to live your truth. The smoker beside the drive-through kiosk of Z&J Asian Subs (2336 Third St., Eureka) is lately turning out racks of St. Louis-style ribs, with their shorter bones and succulent belly meat crusted in brown sugar and sauce ($25 full rack). The trick is knowing when to pick them up.
The whole process takes somewhere around six hours, between the first round of smoking, steaming wrapped in foil, saucing and resting. Show up early in the afternoon and the meat is firmer, more like a competition rib. Call up and reserve some for pick-up closer to the 7 p.m. closing time (except on Sundays, when the shop is closed) and a pothole on the way home could knock the meat off the bones. Any time of day they'll be smoky with a sweet, juicy interior worth getting a little messy for. Not judging.