6 Things You Need to Know About Pork Ribs
Pork ribs have it all: rich-tasting meat with plenty of luscious fat, as well as bones to provide structure and flavor, at a price that remains relatively affordable—especially when compared to beef. Ribs are capable of culinary sophistication, yet primal—even joyful—enough to devour with your bare hands. Here are 6 Things You Need to Know About Pork Ribs:
1. Pork ribs come in many cuts, shapes, and sizes.
- Baby back ribs: Cut from “high off the hog” (next to the backbone), these are tender, well marbled, and quick and easy to cook. A full slab has 11 to 13 bones. Typical American baby backs tip the scales at 2 to 2½ pounds; figure on 1 to 2 servings per rack. Racks of Danish baby back ribs weigh about 1 pound each; figure on 1 serving per rack.
- Spareribs: Cut from lower down on the ribcage, spareribs are meatier, fattier, and tougher than baby backs. Their big porky flavor makes the extended cooking time worth it. A typical rack weighs 3 to 4 pounds and serves 2 or 3.
- St. Louis ribs: A trimmed section of spareribs that looks and cooks like baby backs. The cartilaginous tips and a flap of meat have been removed to “square” the rack. A favorite cut of competition barbecuers, the St. Louis rack weighs in at 2 to 2½ pounds.
- Country-style ribs: The “ribs” that look and cook like pork chops. Cut from the front of the hog at the top of the shoulder. May or may not have bones. A typical country-style rib weighs 4 to 6 ounces; figure on 2 per person.
- Rib tips: The cartilaginous ends of spareribs. The sort of cut smoke masters tend to keep for themselves while serving spares and baby backs to their guests.
2. When buying ribs, look for heavy racks with lots of meat. Avoid “shiners”—racks with so much meat trimmed off, the tops of the bones are exposed. Figure on 1 pound per person.
3. Ribs have a papery membrane on the inside (concave side). Do you absolutely need to remove it? No, but many believe it impedes the absorption of the spice and smoke flavors. To remove it, loosen it from a middle bone with an instant-read thermometer (wiggle the end of the probe under the membrane at the bone). Grab the membrane with a paper towel or dishcloth (it’s slippery) and gently pull it off. If the membrane isn’t obvious, it was probably removed by the butcher.
4. Tight on space? To cook four racks of ribs in a water smoker, kettle grill, kamado-style smoker, or other smoker with limited space, use a rib rack, which enables you to cook the bones standing upright. Added advantage: This helps drain off the fat.
5. Never boil ribs. I repeat: Never boil ribs. You can achieve the requisite tenderness by smoking. Smoke spareribs and St. Louis-cut ribs low and slow (at 225° to 250°F) to soften the tough connective tissue. You can smoke baby backs low or at a higher temperature (325°F). The latter gives you a crustier, meatier rib.
6. If using barbecue sauce, don’t apply it too early. The sugars will burn before the meat is fully cooked. I brush it on the last 5 minutes and move the ribs directly over the fire, searing the sauce into the meat. Better yet, serve the sauce on the side.
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