For a lot of people, ribs are the first thing that comes to mind when the word "barbecue" is uttered -- and with good reason! Ribs, whether pork or beef, are ubiquitous at every BBQ cook-off in the U.S. and are a specialty of many steakhouses today. Ribs can be tricky to cook at home, but good preparation makes the job much easier.
These tips should help you make excellent ribs.
- Know your ribs. Are they pork or beef? St. Louis-style, spareribs, short ribs or baby back? All require care and attention, but there are recipes and instructions specific to each kind. For more details specific to each kind, check out Hormel or The Cattlemen's Beef Association websites.
- Season the ribs well. Rubs are ideal for ribs, and there are plenty on the market from which to choose. Coat the ribs with a thin layer of mustard (try honey mustards if you like sweet barbecue sauce), sprinkle the ribs liberally with seasoning and then rub it into the meat very well.
- Refrigerate seasoned ribs from four to 48 hours, well wrapped.
- Cook the ribs. This is the first cooking for great ribs. "Low and slow" is the key here, and it can be achieved in a number of ways.
- Crockpot or other slow cooker: Cut the ribs into serving size pieces and cook on low for ten hours.
- Oven: Arrange ribs in large roasting pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake at 225 degrees for six to eight hours. This is not the ideal method if you have no air conditioning in July!
- Electric roaster: Cut ribs according to the slow cooker directions, then cook at 200 degrees for about six to eight hours.
- Boil: The absolute easiest method, but my least favorite for flavor. Don't bother with a rub before cooking. Bring ribs to a boil in a large pot seasoned with chopped onions, garlic, liquid smoke, celery, bay leaves and a couple tablespoons of barbecue rub or seasoning. Reduce heat to a simmer. Spare ribs take longer to cook tenderly than baby back or St. Louis style with simmering, so watch carefully. Ribs need anywhere from one to three hours depending on cut. Test for tenderness by pricking with a fork.
- Grill: Cook ribs over lowest possible heat (gas or charcoal) for eight hours. This requires a lot of attention and care, more than any other method, so proceed only if you are confident about your grilling skills. If you choose to cook ribs entirely on the grill, do not use a sweet or honey mustard for the rub step, as it will burn long before the meat is tender.
- Electric roasters and slow cookers have lids that enclose the juices and continually "self-baste" the ribs. If using the oven or grill methods, make a "mop" to baste the ribs about every half hour to keep them moist. For a basic mop, combine four cups apple cider vinegar or beer with three tablespoons of the rub seasoning you used earlier. Use this mixture to baste the meat every 30 minutes. There are lots of great recipes for mops, sops and bastes all over the internet. Note: if you are cooking for a large number of people, the first cooking can be done up to a day in advance of the gathering as long as the ribs are refrigerated, giving you time to cook a couple of batches if needed.
- Once the ribs have cooked to melting tenderness by any of the aforementioned methods, they are ready for a final cooking on the grill. Heat the grill to medium. Distribute ribs evenly over the grill and cook for five minutes on each side to brown the meat.
- Brush with your favorite barbecue sauce and give each side another five minutes to caramelize the sugars in the sauce and finish the ribs.
- Let stand a few minutes before serving -- the sugars in barbecue sauces reach molten temps and cause unpleasant burns to fingers and tongues!