There is something very special happening this week . . . . It's something my family looks forward to each year. We literally count the days until this momentous occasion arrives. If you think I'm talking about Thanksgiving, you're wrong. It's the Iron Bowl, an important tradition dating back to 1893 when the University of Alabama takes on Auburn in football the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which I mentioned here. You see, Alabamians seem to be assigned a denomination by birth: Tide or Tiger fan. You're either one or the other and that's how you grow up. I was definitely raised Tide and football is gospel—the gospel according to Paul Bear Bryant that is. Perhaps one of the greatest coaches ever, he is revered on a saint-like level in many homes. Wally Butts, the University of Georgia coach from 1939 - 1960, said, "The definition of an atheist in Alabama is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant." While some people have an altar to Jesus or the Virgin Mary in their homes, we have one to Bear Bryant. The objects that comprise it are the most coveted in my family. Those are the things we will surely fight over in the will, as they represent not only our proud Southern heritage but also my granddad, who may have been the most devout Alabama football fan that ever roamed the Earth and whom was deeply loved by all (kind of like Bear Bryant). And let's be honest, who doesn't want a Bear Bryant clock?!
They call the South the Bible Belt, but people may not realize the real religion in the region is football. Football in the South, not just Alabama, is something that crosses racial, political, and economic lines. Whether you're a judge or a janitor, come Saturday you're praying to the Lord your team wins, regardless of which, if any, House of the Lord you may visit on Sunday. And like any tried and true religion, there are time honored rituals to adhere to in the gridiron church, such as flags in your front yard, pets named after mascots, tailgating, and even tattoos.
Football is truly a central part of the Southern culture that goes far beyond trash talking and sharing a flask of Jack in a parking lot before a game. A close second might be barbecue, drawing perhaps equal ardent devotion. People are just as passionate and narrow-minded, drawing well-defined lines in the sand. Grilled vs. smoked. Pork vs. beef. Wet vs. dry. Tomato- vs. vinegar-based. Pulled vs. sliced. Your style of barbecue also seems to represent who you are and what you represent. We are long on memory in the South and honor tradition like it's an endangered species. While many consider a good burger the most American of meals, Southerners would claim barbecue. The people, the places, the rituals, the flavors are what make it such a deep part of the fabric.
Another secure part of the Southern fabric is "Coke," which is the generic term for soda. If you say, "I'd like a Coke," someone will ask, "What kind?" The South is the birthplace of a number of "Cokes:" Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Cheerwine, RC Cola, Mountain Dew, Root Beer, and Nehi, to name a few. Maybe because of our history in bootlegging we needed mixers? As a marketer, I've always been fascinated by brands, and I'd say it's safe to say that Coca-Cola is one of the strongest brands in the world. But the history behind it is pure Southern legacy. In the early 1900s, the Coca-Cola Company would give stores free custom-printed signs for their storefronts, as long as they agreed to an accompanying Coca-Cola logo. This business approach bought favor among the country store owners but also made the Coca-Cola brand ubiquitous in the South. It was one of the most powerful case studies in how to build brand loyalty, as well as become the generic term for the entire category.
Since I live in Santa Barbara, there are a few facts to note here: 1) Most people don't even know what the SEC is; 2) On Saturdays, the locals are doing yoga and picking up organic sprouted beans at the farmers' market; 3) "BBQ" is Hawaiian and involves pineapple and a poppy seed dressing; and 4) People drink rooibos tea or an acai berry smoothie instead of "Coke." But what I have confirmed after 17 years is that you can take the girl out of the South but not the South out of the girl.
So at some point in the midst of the SEC football season this year, I started to fall apart. I had to get back to my roots and get some barbecue on. And I figured this round should also have a good dose of Coke in it since I needed a "religious" fix. When I found this recipe for Dr. Pepper Ribs, I wanted to do a Touchdown Jesus, but that's just tacky for a proper Southern girl. We're full of pride but frown upon flaunting.
If you've never made ribs or if you're a Smoke Master and are already thumbing your nose down at me, you have to trust me on this one. This is a good recipe. A golden recipe. An easy, no fail recipe. An indoor recipe. A recipe your friends will marvel over your cooking prowess. Seriously. You'll be the the Nick Saban of ribs, which is the absolute highest honor—if you're a Tide fan (which is the greatest birthright of all).
6. After 30 minutes, take out the ribs and spread more glaze over them and cook for 30 more minutes or until the ribs are desired tenderness.
7. At this point, take the ribs out of the oven, spread more glaze on them and then cook each side under the broiler for approximately 4 minutes.
8. Divide and serve—with plenty of napkins!