The Secrets to Barbecue Joint-Quality Ribs
Reading Time: 5 minutes
My first bite of spicy, saucy barbecue ribs in a local ribs restaurant put me on a quest to perfect this ultimate finger food. The best barbecue ribs have intense flavor from a dry rub and smoky barbecue sauce, and a texture that is tender, meaty, and succulent. Could I replicate these pork ribs at home?
I learned from my husband, Frank, that not every pork rib makes the best barbecue ribs. He grew up on a farm raising pigs for meat. Like many children of that era on farms, he learned how to butcher a pig. Consequently, just about every part of the pig was used. Goetta was made from pork shoulder. Hog head cheese was made, yes, with the pig’s head and morphed into a kind of chunky country pate that’s quite flavorful. Waste not, want not!
Not all ribs are created equal. The type of rib meat is determined by where they are located on the pig. But when it comes to the best barbecue ribs, baby back ribs are hands-down favorites.
Baby Back/Pork Loin Ribs Make the Best Barbecue Ribs
Baby backs are the leanest and tender which makes them my go-to-ribs for perfect barbecue ribs. They are sometimes labeled as pork loin ribs and are located at the top of the rib cage. The name “baby” comes because they are shorter than spareribs, and “back” because they are closest to the main backbone. Baby backs are meatier than spareribs and take less time to cook.
Spareribs are cut from the bottom portion of the ribs and have what’s called a brisket flap on the bottom. Spareribs are longer than baby backs and have less meat, more fat, and a tougher texture. Although spareribs have a lot of flavor, they’re not my choice for barbecuing.
St. Louis Ribs
St. Louis ribs are spareribs with the rib tips and brisket flap cut off to remove cartilage and gristle. As a result, they have a uniform shape. They take about the same time to cook as baby backs.
Country Style Ribs
Guess what? These thick, meaty ribs are not cut from the rib cage. They’re usually cut from the shoulder but may be cut from the loin. Not easily eaten with fingers, they’re the knife and fork kind of ribs. Country style ribs may take a bit longer to cook.
What is Silver Skin and Why Do You Have to Remove It?
Also called the membrane, this skin covers the bone side of each whole rack of ribs. If left on, silver skin keeps seasoning from penetrating and cooks up with a leathery texture. Some ribs are sold with the skin removed. If you have to remove it here’s how …
- Slide a knife under the silver skin toward the beginning of the rack, or really just about anywhere. It if resists in one spot, try another.
- Lift and loosen it with the knife until you can grab it with a paper towel.
- Pull it off. Sometimes it comes off in one log sheet; other times you have to start over with the knife.
Now that you know all about ribs, let’s get busy making a dry rub and my smoky barbecue sauce.
Spicy Dry Rub for Ribs
Try this on tenderloin, or loin, as well.
- 6 tablespoons granulated garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons chili powder blend
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- Whisk everything together.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a month, or freeze up to six months.
What is Chili Powder Blend?
It’s a blend of spices and herbs, ready mixed for adding to foods.
Granulated Garlic vs. Powdered: What’s the Difference?
Granulated garlic consists of irregular particles. Powdered garlic is finely ground with a more intense flavor. They can be used interchangeably, but use less powdered garlic than granulated.
Rita’s Smoky Barbecue Sauce
This is a nice do-ahead sauce. Use this recipe as a guide. After cooking, adjust seasonings to your taste.
- 4 cups catsup
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar or to taste
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar or more to taste
- 1/4 cup molasses or more to taste
- 1/4 cup prepared mustard
- 2 tablespoons Tabasco
- 2 tablespoons barbeque rub (see above)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce. I puree the peppers for easy measuring.
- Combine everything in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until dark and thick, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
- Store in refrigerator for up to a month.
We like baby back/loin ribs — three to five pounds cut into six to seven rib slabs or left whole.
Seasoning and Precooking Ribs
This may be different from what you’re used to, but trust me, this method works perfectly.
- Season ribs with the rub on both sides. Be generous and pat it in.
- Place on a hot grill and “mark” them for a few minutes on each side. Marking means allowing the ribs to grill just until you see grill marks, that’s all. Bonus: This can be done ahead!
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Arrange ribs in a single layer in a baking pan and pour some chicken broth or beer around ribs — about a cup or so. This makes for a flavorful steam. Cover tightly with foil and cook until fork tender, anywhere from two to two-and-a-half hours. You don’t want them falling apart. This can be done ahead of time too!
- When you’re ready to serve, heat the grill to medium-high. Place ribs on the grill and start brushing with sauce. I do this several times on both sides. They’re ready when they are hot throughout and the sauce is charred a bit.
- Use a light hand when brushing on the sauce. Several light coats make for a glossy coating that sticks better than one thick coating that clumps and slides off.
- Serve with additional warm sauce on the side.