22 Rib Tips! Up Your Game with Slabs & Bones
The rib is the most perfect morsel of meat known to man, and these 22 tips will deliver perfect ribs again and again!
- Choose the right rib. Baby backs make great starter ribs — they’re tender, well-marbled, and quick and easy to cook.
- When buying ribs, look for plump meaty racks. Avoid “shiners” — ribs with so much meat removed you see the shiny bones.
- Pedigree counts: Sure, you can make tasty racks with supermarket ribs, but for really extraordinary bones, use a heritage breed, like Berkshire or Duroc.
- Remove the membrane: The papery membrane (pleura in anatomical terms) is tougher than the meat below it and impedes the absorption of the spice and smoke flavors. Insert a slender implement, such as the tip of a meat thermometer, between the membrane and one of the bones under it. (Best place to start is one of the middle bones.) Using a paper towel or pliers to gain a secure grip, pull off the membrane. Note: some supermarkets sell skinned ribs; elsewhere some members of our barbecue community leave the membrane on to provide a contrast of flavors.
- Great ribs are made by applying multiple layers of flavor. Use a rub or marinade to apply the base layer. Swab on a mop sauce to apply a second layer of flavor and keep the ribs moist during cooking. Apply the barbecue sauce at the end as a lacquer or glaze. (For even more flavor, sear it onto the meat directly over a hot fire.) And of course, the wood smoke provides the most important flavor of all.
- The basic rib rub formula is salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar (in roughly equal proportions. Customize by adding garlic or onion powder, chili powder or cumin, or even a ringer ingredient, like coffee or cocoa.
- To to add an extra layer of flavor and keep the meat most, apply a mop sauce during the cooking. Mop sauces tend to be thin and not terribly sweet — typical ingredients include beer, cider, coffee, broth, and/or melted butter. They don’t include sweeteners like honey or sugar.
- Another way to add flavor and moistness is to spray the ribs with apple cider.
- Avoid the “guy syndrome” (if some is good, more is surely better). This applies to rubs, hot sauce, and wood smoke. Often just enough is enough.
- You can cook ribs by at least four methods: direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoking, and spit-roasting.
- Direct grill tender cuts, like pork country style ribs, or Argentinean cross cut beef ribs.
- Indirect grill tender tender fatty ribs, like baby backs.
- Smoke tough meaty ribs with a lot of connective tissue, like spare ribs.
- Don’t forget spit-roasting, which is great for lamb ribs or Brazilian style baby backs.
- If smoking ribs, maintain temperatures of 225 to 250 degrees F. If indirect grilling ribs, maintain temperatures of 325 to 350 degrees.
- Don’t limit yourself to pork or beef ribs. Lamb ribs are enjoyed on much of Planet Barbecue and are absolutely terrific.
- If your grill grate is small, invest in a rib rack (pictured, above): Not only will the rack enable you to grill more ribs, but it encourages self-basting as the juices travel down the length of the ribs.
- Never, I repeat never, boil your ribs prior to grilling. Boiling denatures the flavor and texture. (That’s what you do to bones to make stock.) You can achieve the requisite tenderness by indirect grilling or smoking. The same hold true for baking or braising prior to grilling.
- Smoke is the soul of barbecue and great barbecued ribs. Hickory, apple, and oak are great woods for smoking ribs. Or use a mixture of all three. (Dang! I just gave away the formula for our Best of Barbecue Pork Smoking Chips.) Apply the smoke decisively but with restraint. It should enhance the meat, not overpower it.
- When ribs are cooked, the meat will have shrunk back from ends of the bones by 1/4 to 1/2 inch. (It’s almost like the popup thermometer in a turkey.) Another test for doneness is to lift the rack of ribs with tongs: If the meat begins to separate into shreds at the flexing point, the ribs are tender. Finally, ribs should be tender enough to tear apart with your fingers.
- Turn the ribs meat-side down on the cutting board before cutting into portions or individual ribs. (It’s easier to see the meat between the bones.)
- Finally, apply the barbecue sauce — especially a sweet sauce — during the final minutes of cooking. (Otherwise, the sugar will burn before the meat is cooked.) Move the sauced ribs directly over the fire. Watch carefully, and don’t let the sugars burn.
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