Chef Michael Mina’s empire comprises concepts across the culinary spectrum, from sleek izakayas and French brasseries to his eponymous fine-dining restaurants and steak house brands with Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning wine lists, like Bourbon Steak and Stripsteak. But when it comes to cooking for July Fourth celebrations, “you’ve gotta barbecue,” he says.
And that’s not outside his wheelhouse either. In 2017, the San Francisco–based chef graduated his International Smoke pop-up into a full-service restaurant that has since expanded to San Diego and Las Vegas. The collaboration with cookbook author and television personality Ayesha Curry focuses on smoked and wood-fired dishes with global influences that range from Korean and Vietnamese to Middle Eastern to Jamaican and Mexican.
The concept stemmed from the trips Mina and his restaurant group chefs take each year, visiting a different country to immerse themselves in the dining scene. Though that includes white-tablecloth restaurants, the no-frills spots—essentially locals “cooking out of their backyard”— are what inspired International Smoke. “Usually that’s the cuisine that is more historically connected to the country, and one thing we always found in common was live-fire cooking,” Mina says. “Because that’s kind of how all cooking started, right?”
Mina keeps it classic with this Fourth of July feast of barbecue ribs and jalapeño creamed corn, both of which are featured at International Smoke. “I’m a huge traditionalist when it comes to food,” he says. “The traditions that have been happening forever, there’s a reason. Don’t recreate them, just make them more special.”
These pork ribs get a special boost from a recipe that ensures the meat is perfectly tender and seasoned to your personal taste. The racks should be cut St. Louis–style, a method that trims out the breastbone and cartilage to leave a meatier, rectangular rib rack. Mina offers another tip before you get cooking: Remove the thin silver skin on the back side of the ribs. “Most people don’t peel that, so when you season the back side of the ribs and you hit them with the rub and everything else, you’re not actually seasoning inside—it’s not going to penetrate that skin.” Though you can ask your butcher to do this, Mina says it’s pretty simple. “It’s like peeling tape off of a box—you use a little knife to get the edge up and then peel that skin off.”
In the restaurant, the ribs are cooked in a smoker for five to six hours at varying temperatures. Mina’s version of the recipe for home cooks achieves a similar smoky character by charring the meat on the grill before it’s seasoned, which starts with a brushing of yellow mustard. “It’s a really good trick,” Mina says. “That gives a nice little bit of spiciness and acidity to the meat.”
You’ll further season the ribs using a barbecue dry rub and a barbecue sauce of your choosing. “At the end of the day, you have to cook to your palate,” says Mina. He advises tasting your sauce of choice ahead of time to make sure it has the right proportions of acidity, sweetness and spice to play off the fat from the ribs. “Those are the things you’re going for,” he says. “When I’m making barbecue sauce, I’m tasting to see if any of those are way out of balance.” You can buy rubs and sauces at your everyday grocery store, but Mina is particularly a fan of Pappy's Smokehouse, a St. Louis restaurant that sells its sauces and rubs online.
Another key part of Mina’s technique for the ribs is wrapping them in plastic wrap and then again in foil before they roast low and slow in the oven. “It does a great job of steaming the ribs as they cook,” he says. “They get a really nice tenderness, but it isn’t so tender that it gets to where the bones start to get gray a little because they’re overcooked. It still has a little chew, which I like a lot with ribs.” They’re then brushed with the sauce and broiled in the oven until “it almost caramelizes the sauce.” This should only take a few minutes, so keep a close eye on your oven here. “You want it to turn just golden.”
Though he recommends cooking the ribs the day of your event, you can get most of the recipe done a few hours before, up until the glazing step. Once you pull the ribs from the oven, “they hold really, really well,” so wrap them in foil and let them sit in a warm spot in your kitchen. Then when it’s almost time for dinner, unwrap them, add the glaze and pop them under the broiler to reheat them and caramelize the sauce at the same time.
Mina’s accompanying jalapeño creamed corn is a quick and easy dish that’s best enjoyed during summer, when corn is in season and full of natural sweetness and thickening starches. “And then you’re adding that little bit of butter to add that flavor and make it really silky, and then you’ve got the jalapeño that’s going to give it that nice spice.” Aim for the texture of “a really thin pudding,” and, again, for that balance of fat, acidity, sweetness and spice.
You’ll typically find Mina enjoying Burgundies or wines from Sandhi, longtime Mina wine director–turned-vintner Rajat Parr’s winery in California’s Santa Rita Hills, but he suggests a Spanish Tempranillo to match with this meaty meal. His pick, Bodegas Faustino Rioja V Reserva 2016, has the structure and substantial finish to stand up to the ribs, with the versatility to pair with other items that may be at the table too, including starches and roasted vegetables. Below, Wine Spectator offers 10 additional options for bold yet balanced Spanish reds.
Classic St. Louis BBQ Ribs
- 2 full racks St. Louis pork ribs
- 1/2 cup French’s yellow mustard
- 1/4 cup pimenton dulce (sweet smoked paprika from Spain), or standard sweet smoked paprika
- 1/4 cup barbecue dry rub of your choosing
- 1 cup barbecue sauce of your choosing
1. Heat a charcoal grill and grill the ribs until nicely charred, about 10 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and brush both sides of the ribs with yellow mustard.
2. Combine pimenton and barbecue dry rub, and dust both sides of the ribs liberally.
3. Wrap ribs tightly in restaurant-grade, oven-safe plastic wrap then again in heavy-duty foil. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 300° F, place the foil packs of ribs on a baking tray and roast for 2 hours (using two trays if necessary). After 2 hours remove from the oven, carefully unwrap and assess tenderness. The ribs should be tender but not falling apart. If they need more time, rewrap and continue cooking until tender.
5. When ribs are tender, remove from oven. At this point you can cool them down in the foil or unwrap and proceed with glazing to serve immediately.
6. Preheat the oven to broil. Brush the barbecue sauce onto both sides of the ribs and transfer to the oven to broil until glazed, about 2 to 5 minutes.
7. To serve, cut the racks into individual ribs. Serves 6.
Jalapeño Creamed Corn
- 1 jalapeño, chopped
- 2 ounces unsalted butter
- 26 ounces corn kernels (preferably fresh, cut off the cob; frozen corn, thawed before preparation, may be substituted)
- 8 ounces heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to your liking
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1. Add jalapeño and the same amount of water to a blender and blend on high until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve 2 teaspoons.
2. In a large pot, melt butter over low to medium heat.
3. While the butter is melting, take 50 percent of the corn and blend with an immersion hand blender to make mashed corn. Aim for the texture of a coarse puree.
4. Once the butter is completely melted, add the remaining corn kernels, mashed corn, heavy cream, salt and 1 teaspoon (or amount to your taste) jalapeño water. Bring to a gentle simmer (do not allow to boil).
5. Combine cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon water to form a slurry, stir into the pot and let mixture come back to a gentle simmer.
6. The creamed corn will thicken in about 2 to 3 minutes. Once this happens, turn off the heat and season with salt to taste, if necessary. Serves 6.
10 Barbecue-Ready Spanish Reds
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Rioja Reserva 2014
Score: 92 | $17
WS review: Rich and expressive, this red delivers bold flavors of plum, blackberry and licorice, balanced by graphite, black tea and forest floor notes. Tangy acidity offsets the firm tannins. Exuberant. Drink now through 2028. 40,000 cases made. From Spain.—Thomas Matthews
BARON DE LEY
Rioja Reserva 2015
Score: 92 | $20
WS review: This red offers a plush texture and ripe flavors, yet it remains graceful through the spicy finish. Plum, currant and fig notes are balanced by licorice and graphite elements, with well-integrated tannins and gentle acidity keeping this balanced. Drink now through 2025. 200,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
Rioja Reserva 2013
Score: 92 | $18
WS review: This plump red offers mulled cherry and plum flavors, with notes of cinnamon, sandalwood and cedar. Light tannins are well-integrated, while orange peel acidity keeps this fresh and focused. Harmonious and generous. Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Garnacha. Drink now through 2028. 26,500 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
Rioja Reserva 2012
Score: 91 | $20
WS review: A thick, firm texture carries ripe flavors of blackberry and fig paste in this solid red. Notes of dark chocolate, smoke and forest floor add complexity. The tannins are well-integrated, and balsamic acidity keeps this lively. Tempranillo and Mazuelo. Drink now through 2028. 60,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
BODEGA ELIAS MORA
Score: 91 | $28
WS review: This red is rich, ripe and expressive. Bright acidity balances muscular tannins, supporting cherry, blackberry, licorice and cocoa flavors that are fresh and harmonious. Lively, in the modern style. Drink now through 2031. 10,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
BODEGAS VIÑA VILANO
Ribera del Duero Crianza 2016
Score: 91 | $30
WS review: This red offers juicy cherry and red plum flavors, backed by floral, orange peel and vanilla notes. The texture is tender, with bright acidity and light tannins lending focus. Lively and expressive. Drink now through 2026. 9,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
Ribera del Duero Teófilo Reyes 2016
Score: 90 | $35
WS review: This solid red shows a thick texture and muscular tannins. Currant and plum flavors mingle with loamy earth, smoke and tarry notes. Dense, but has enough acidity to stay fresh. Drink now through 2030. 8,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
BODEGAS CASTILLO DE CUZCURRITA
Rioja Señorío de Cuzcurrita 2015
Score: 89 | $32
WS review: Cherry and raspberry notes are matched to herb, fresh leather and orange peel elements in this supple, medium-bodied red. Elements of sweet tobacco and loamy earth trace the finish. Drink now through 2026. 3,911 cases made. From Spain.—Gillian Sciaretta
Rioja Añares Crianza 2016
Score: 89 | $15
WS review: This focused red delivers black cherry and licorice flavors, accented by smoky, underbrush and cola notes. Shows backbone, with firm tannins giving way to a savory finish. Drink now through 2026. 24,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.
Rioja Viña Albina Reserva 2015
Score: 89 | $23
WS review: A supple texture carries harmonious flavors of dried cherry, tobacco, cedar and spice in this graceful red. Features light tannins and orange peel acidity, with a vanilla-scented finish. Drink now through 2023. 50,000 cases made. From Spain.—T.M.