It’s a rare feat to upstage the Thanksgiving turkey, but that’s what happened this year when on the eve of the great national feast, a gift arrived at our house: ribs, a rack of them, seasoned and smoked, requiring only a warm up. They came with a bottle of barbecue sauce, and a box of cornbread mix.
It is fortunate that this coincided with the arrival of my son from Los Angeles. He’s five months into his first year of a medical residency at UCLA. So as far as I can tell, when he’s not in a hospital, his favorite activities are sleeping and eating.
“Will you taste these?” I asked him.
They were gone, as fast if we’d turned on a super speed vacuum cleaner. My daughter’s resourceful rescue dog didn’t even have time to mooch a bite. I ate one; and my daughter ate another; but the rest we donated to the worthy cause of feeding the hungry, new doctor.
“These are great,” Sam said. They were — superbly seasoned, succulent, and falling-off-the-bone tender.
They were, in fact, better, than my brined and carefully roasted turkey. It was good, but the ribs were beyond good. It’s always nice to add a new traditional to an old one. Next year, I believe, it will be turkey and ribs on the menu.
The ribs were from a new company called BBQ Hero Ribs. I knew that, although the chef behind the project was from Los Angeles, his ribs had caught the attention of The Westin Hotel in Napa and Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, and were being sold at Sunshine Market in St. Helena and Corti Brothers Market in Sacramento.
But who was this barbecue hero?
It turns out to be Steve Sheanin, who at 75, has launched a new career, with the help of his wife, Jackie Applebaum.
For “30 or 40 years,” Sheanin, a magazine executive, been making these ribs for friends and family, but to get a taste of them, you had to be on the list of the 100 select invitees to an annual barbecue party he and his wife hosted each year at their Beverly Hills home. “We would cook an entire pig,” Applebaum said.
Among the guests were a few famous Los Angeles chefs, and one persuaded Steve to let him try serving them one night at his restaurant. The result is best summed up by a visitor to the restaurant that evening. “He told us, ‘I’m from Texas, and these are the best damned ribs I’ve ever eaten,’” Applebaum said.
The ribs went to being a permanent fixture on the menu of this restaurant, and with Applebaum as CEO, they launched BBQ Hero Ribs in January 2017. At the end of their first year in the rib business, they were shipping the ribs across the country. BBQ Hero Ribs were turning up on the menu of Los Angeles restaurants like Il Piccolino where Vanity Fair hosts its pre-Oscar pary, as well as on the tables of Angelenos like Kathleen Brown, the former California state treasurer, and Joe Morgenstern, movie critic for Wall Street Journal. And they’d found their way to Napa Valley too.
Applebaum and Sheanin are fans of Napa Valley — “We spend every July up there,” Applebaum said; so they were delighted when their ribs became a hit here.
And they are expanding their repertoire. “We try out different things; we have a group of 10 restaurant people,” Applebaum said. “We can’t eat all of that food ourselves.”
The next product they plan to launch is brisket, “exactly the same brisket I’ve made for 40 years,” Applebaum said.
Just be sure to order plenty of them — if you want to eat more than one yourself.