I’ve tried lots of different marinades for my ribs, thinking I would get some great flavor into the meat before even cooking it. But with ribs it’s all about the sauce. So now I go with a simple preparation to get the tenderest meat, and then finish with a good sauce either under the broiler or on the grill.
For this batch I’m using the apple cider sweet onion sauce from yesterday’s post. I’ve heard from a friend that I re-discovered North Carolina BBQ sauce. I went looking and I can’t find any of them that are mostly onion, as mine was. If anyone knows of an onion-based sauce, tell me about it in the comments below, I’m really interested.
In any case, today isn’t about the sauce, it’s about the technique. This will get you great ribs with a great finish every time. And in my experience any sauce cooked well is going to beat any sauce cooked badly.
1 rack pork spareribs
salt and pepper
1 cup your favorite barbecue sauce
Unlike baby back ribs, spareribs will not be all the same length when you get them. They’re less expensive and taste just as good, but they do take a little more prep work before you cook them. If you really want to do it yourself, here’s a great tutorial on trimming spareribs. If you have a good butcher, which I do, you can ask him to trim it for you.
I didn’t trim the skirt meat from the bone side. The extra pieces that look like skirt meat above are actually a couple of “western style” pork ribs. Basically they’re pork chops cut in half. I got two of the boneless side for the girls. They like ribs, but they don’t like eating off the bone (yet), and I hate trying to handle a knife while I’m eating ribs.
It’s very difficult to do ribs on the grill unless you have a really good grill, or even better, a smoker. So the first step will be braising the ribs low and slow in the oven. Line a cooking sheet with a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil — the extra-wide kind — that is about six inches longer than the slab. Give the top of the ribs a generous coating of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
You can add whatever dry rub you prefer at this point, but as I said above, for me it’s all about the sauce. Put the seasoned ribs upside-down in the center of the foil.
Don’t crowd or stack the meat. Every piece should be on the bottom of a pack so it will braise in the liquid that comes out of the meat.
Fold both sides of the foil up and pinch them together above the ribs. Roll the ends down tight against the bone side.
Roll the ends up and pinch tight so that steam won’t escape from the package.
Make sure one end is tight, but the end is still exposed so you can open it up later.
Make sure the package is well sealed and somewhat tight, but not squeezed tight all the way around. The idea with braising is to cook the ribs about halfway submerged in liquid. As long as the foil is tight, the ribs will give up enough liquid that you won’t need to add more.
Put the pan in the oven at 200° for a half-hour. By that time there will be enough liquid for the braising, and you can turn the temperature down to 160° and leave it there for at least two hours. Four or six would be better. The longer you can go, the more tender the ribs will be.
About a half-hour before you want to eat, take the pan out and open up one end of the foil. Aim the opening away from your face when you open it. (Steam. Lots of it.)
The liquid in the bottom will be about half collagen, which we will add to the barbecue sauce to make a glaze. Pour the liquid into a small pan …
… and add the barbecue sauce.
Stir well and put over medium heat to start warming and reducing the glaze. Turn on the grill to start warming up while the sauce reduces.
When the grill is nice and hot, open up the foil.
You’ll notice that the ribs are completely white and don’t look at all appetizing. That’s OK, we’ll fix that right up.
Carefully — remember, this has been in the oven for several hours — place the ribs on the grill.
Add whatever other cuts you have around the ribs.
If your grill has a side burner, put on the pot with the glaze. If you don’t have a burner, try to make room on the grill to put the pot or pan.
Turn the ribs over the first time as soon as you start seeing it form a crust, then brush a coat of the glaze onto the ribs.
Keep turning the ribs over every two minutes or so, adding another coat of the glaze after each turn. Keep going like this until you’ve used up all the glaze on the top …
… and bottom.
You’re done when there’s no more sauce, and the last bit added is cooked on but not burned.
Bring the finished ribs inside and call everyone together to “Oooh” and “Aaah” over your magnificent rack.
Cut the ribs into two- or three-rib sections.
Serve with old-fashioned macaroni salad.
And that’s it.
You may remember back near the beginning of the macaroni salad recipe where I said that the ribs were going to take a lot of attention and you might want to stick with the store-bought mayonnaise. Well … normally I clean as I go, and by the time the food hits the table the only thing left to clean is the serving dish. With this meal, I had everything finishing up all at the same time. I was a little behind on the cleaning.
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.