Should BBQ ribs fall off the bone?
Now for people who know BBQ, eat a lot of BBQ, cook a lot of BBQ the goal is the perfectly cooked rib. The perfectly cooked rib should not be mushy. When you bite into it, the meat should stay on the bone with some resistance before coming cleanly off. Your teeth-marks should be clearly visible after the bite.
The problem is educating the public on a matter of taste is an upstream swim. No amount of information will keep people from making that nasty wasabi/soy sauce slurry before they use it to crucify a perfectly balanced piece of sushi. People growing up eating Tony Roma's and Applebee's invariably will want something similar. It's not wrong, just a matter of taste. Whether its good or bad taste I'll let some else debate.
This becomes a serious economic concern in New York because much of the demand is directed towards "fall off the bone" ribs. This come demand comes from a wide spectrum. You'll hear it from clearly uninformed eaters on yelp - people who might eat BBQ once every 5 months and yet feel they are authorities on how BBQ should taste like. It seems easy to dismiss the yelpers but you hear this same refrain from informed food bloggers. People who actually do eat a lot of BBQ if for no other purpose than to write about it. I have seen rave reviews given to inferior BBQ joints and punishing reviews given to clearly superior pit-masters. All around whether or not the perception of the ribs were "tough" or "Fall off the bone".
Now before I'm accused of pandering to the masses there is some regional logic to this. Perceptions of "done" varies on major BBQ styles. How a perfect rib should be like stems largely from Kansas City where a Fall-Off-Bone rib would get laughed at. A blatant sign of an incompetent pit cook. Due to widespread nature of Kansas City BBQ, this has created a sort of cohesion in how BBQ ribs in informed circles are judged.
But not all meats achieve cohesion when it comes to degrees of tenderness. For example, Texas and Kansas City briskets are very different. One's overcooked would be another's perfectly cooked brisket.
In the American Southeast only Memphis really has a detailed opinion on BBQ ribs. In North Carolina, BBQ is whole hog or shoulder. When someone says BBQ they're thinking a plate of chopped pork not an assortment of chicken, ribs, brisket etc. Because of that, BBQ _____ has a certain degree of flexibility, So for example, "BBQ Chicken" could be a piece of fried chicken that dunked in a sweet BBQ sauce. In basically every joint that serves ribs in North Carolina, they are of the "fall off the bone" camp. This is largely due to "BBQ ribs" not really being BBQ to citizens of the state.
You'll see fall off the bone ribs in other parts the American South as well. In Mississippi, local favoite "The Shed" purposefully scores their ribs to ensure that the meat falls right off. As you can see from the video below, Mississippi residents clearly prefer it. So fall off the bone doesn't necessarily have to be a northern Yankee thing. Thus as a Carolina stylist, I get a certain amount of flexibility in how soft the ribs get without sacrificing authenticity.
The difficulty then is figuring out how fall off does one go? There is clearly a skill in making ribs that of a certain degree of doneness. There is basically no skill involved in making a rib that falls off the bone. Simply cook the silly out of the meat and it will naturally fall off on its own accord. So to create a proper Carolina rib that does not include the degree of Carolina indifference is my new project.
You can actually see my current Carolina Ribs HERE.