BBQ Ribs Are Delicious – Here’s How to Make Them

Jonathan Eyler-Werve

February 24, 2013

BBQ Junkie / Luis Ramirez CC-by-nc

We’ve been cooking a bunch of pork ribs.

If you’ve never made ribs at home, it’s shockingly easy and always a crowd pleaser. The basic setup is: toss some sauce on it, wrap ribs in foil, put them in the oven. That’s really it. There’s a lot of mythology around this food, and it tends to obscure an important truth: BBQ is folk culture, and the thing about folk culture is that damn near anyone can do it. Pork ribs got popular with Southerners because they were cheap, not because they were tricky. If you need a secret ingredient or expensive gear, it ain’t my kind of bar-B-que.

Also, ribs are delicious.

Everything I know about ribs follows. Suggestions always welcome.

Preparation

Pork, sauce, foil, done.

  • Buy good pork – pork loin back ribs. Bonus points if you know anything about how the pigs were treated. If you don’t know, it’s probably not good.
  • One rack serves 2 or 3 people.
  • Wash the thawed ribs. There may be a membrane on the back of the ribs – take that off.
  • Place ribs on a big sheet of heavy aluminum foil, meat side down (shiny side in or out – it matters not).
  • Sauce em! I do a dry spice mix first, then put wet sauce on later, but approaches vary. Do both sides, and spread wet sauces evenly with a brush – avoid clumps. A dry spice rub is below, but the important thing is a decent amount of salt, some chili powder, and whatever else you feel like.
  • Wrap the ribs shut and put em in the fridge for 1 to 24 hours.

Sauces and Spices

A few words about BBQ sauce.

I grew up with Gridley’s, Corky’s and Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous as the holy trinity of Memphis BBQ, with Corky’s eventually rising to world domination, in large part due to their willingness to FedEx a rack of ribs anywhere in the world. So I assumed Corky’s sauce was the best there is. It’s not. In fact, it’s maybe not even that good. Check the ingredient list on any BBQ sauce. If the first ingredient is High Fructose Corn Syrup, throw it out. Better sauces are light on sweeteners, and when they are sweetened, they use real sugar or molasses. Stubbs is nice. John Vergo of the Rendezvous says: “People are so obsessed with the sauce, they might as well put it on a piece of bread.”

I like dry spice mixes a lot, and the foil wrapped approach I use means the ribs are plenty moist without any sauce poured on. You can see an unofficial Rendezvous spice recipe here, or buy 4 bottles of their mix for a mere $30 online. It’s good stuff. My house mix below.

  • 3 parts Kosher salt
  • 2 parts packed brown sugar
  • 2 parts black pepper
  • 1 part paprika
  • 1 part ancho chili (you can use any mild chili powder, but ancho is nice and smokey)
  • 1 part crushed red peppers (optional heat, and it looks lovely)
  • 1/4 part mustard seed powder
  • 1/4 part garlic powder
  • Applesauce (spooned on over the spice rub)

You want to shake out a good even coat on the ribs, top and bottom. You’ll put more on later, and you don’t want to overdo it – you have to be mindful of over salting. Getting the salt right is key, particularly if you’re using premixed “rib rub” – eat some and guess at the salt level. You can pour wet sauce on at any point, or none at all.

ribs

Cooking

Slow and low.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 *F. 
  • Put some more sauce on the ribs, then seal them tightly in the foil. You want a moisture barrier.
  • Put the ribs on the oven rack and immediately turn the heat down to 250* F. The 400* preheat is to get the cold ribs up to temp quickly, then hold them there.
  • Cook for four hours at 250* F. Less time, use more heat, up to about 300* F.
  • As they cook, pull em and peek occasionally. You can top off your sauces. You have options: for fall-off-the-bone ribs, you want them braising in the juices, so seal the foil again. For a crispier rib, after you are halfway through, you can poke a hole in the foil and let the juices drain out.
  • As they near completion, pull a rib off and eat it. If it’s tough, they need more time. You can turn the oven off and hold them here if you need to.
  • Finishing: Discard the foil and transfer the ribs to a broiler pan. Flip them meat side up. Sauce them. Broil them for 20 minutes until browned and slightly crispy, more or less to taste. Or, grill em up.
  • Let em rest for a bit, then serve em with the sauce of your choice, baked beans and some greens.

Thanks to Ariel Diamond at GuideToMeat.com for teaching me how to do this.

Images: Top photo is by BBQ Junkie / Luis Ramirez ( CC-by-nc ), bottom photo is by me  (CC-by).