For a lot of people, ribs are all about having the right sauce. They guard their recipe jealously. Now aside from the fact that I don’t believe in secret recipes, I think it kind of misses the point.
For me ribs are about the technique. I might use a homemade onion sauce one time, and next time go with a tomato based sauce. It’s different every time … but it’s always good. Why? Because I taste as I go. If it’s too salty I add some sugar. Too sweet? Maybe some more pepper to give it bite.
Today’s version used sorghum molasses instead of the brown sugar I usually use.
Braise the ribs
Rinse the ribs and pat them dry. Place each rack of ribs on a large piece of heavy duty foil. Apply a generous coat of salt and black pepper.
Place the ribs upside-down in the foil. Pull the sides up into a tent shape, then roll it down until it’s just touching the back of the ribs, but not tight. Fold the ends over to close the foil.
If you’re doing some spicy ones — I only did one rack that way — before wrapping the foil add a dusting of the chipotle and pat it into the meat.
Put the wrapped ribs on a baking sheet and cook at 200° for three hours or more. You need to go low and slow with ribs to give enough time to render out the collagen. Technically this is braising the ribs. That means cooking partially submerged in liquid, which these will be as soon as they start to give up some liquid. It’s good for tenderizing tougher cuts of meat.
Make the sauce
After three hours or more, open one end of the foil and pour the liquid out into a sauce pan.
Re-close the foil, turn off the oven, and put the ribs back in while you make the sauce.
Add the same amount of vinegar as what you got from the ribs. This is why I can’t give you an exact recipe for the sauce: I don’t know how much liquid I’m going to get. Add the sorghum and stir. Keep tasting until the sweetness from the sorghum is balanced with the acid from the vinegar. I had just about equal parts vinegar, sorghum and liquid from the ribs. Add plenty of pepper. (I like pepper. You don’t have to.)
Stir the sauce over medium heat until it has reduced in half and is starting to thicken. It’s ready when it sticks to the back of a spoon.
Don’t taste the sauce without blowing on it first! This stuff is thick, sticky and hot. Don’t get it on you.
Glaze the ribs
Place the ribs on a well-lubed grill over the lowest flame it will hold.
You can see the one that has the chipotle on it. If you’re doing two flavors like this, make sure you keep track of which is which. You may not be able to see the difference by the time you’re done.
Every minute or so, turn the ribs over and apply another coat of sauce.
Apply the sauce right after turning the ribs over, so it cooks onto the meat instead of the grill.
Alternate turning the ribs end-over-end and front-to-back, so any hotspots get evened out.
Do several coats of sauce on each side. Keep going until you have a dark, caramelized finish.
Some people like to serve slabs of three or four ribs, all attached. This version of the sauce is so sticky I thought it would be better to slice the ribs before plating.
Here you can see how much pepper I like in the sauce, and on the ribs.
Since these were mostly cooked before applying the sauce, the meat will not absorb much flavor from it. Unless you’ve got the thickest, meatiest ribs I’ve ever seen, that won’t matter. You’ll get plenty of glaze in every bite.
And that’s it.
Remember when I said it was sticky?
I set out some extra sauce for dipping. As it cooled off, it started to thicken up just a little.
Bring plenty of wet wipes.
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.