This is an easy ribs recipe, using an oven, or a smoker, or even your covered grill if you can control the temperature evenly enough. You can use any BBQ sauce, but personally, I like K.C. Masterpiece® BBQ sauce, or BULL'S-EYE® original BBQ sauce. If you want to make your own sauce, try my recipe for BBQ sauce. It really is excellent. The BBQ sauce you use will make a big difference in how your ribs turn out. This cooking method works on spareribs, babyback ribs, or even country style ribs.
It seems that there are as many opinions on how to cook ribs as there are people. I've tried a variety of ways to make pork ribs. I've tried the methods where you start the raw ribs on the grill, and put barbecue sauce on them only near the end of cooking. I've tried marinating them over night before cooking them. I've tried pre-cooking them by boiling them for a half an hour before cooking them. I've tried the crock pot method. I've tried different kinds of BBQ sauces. Some of the ribs I've made using those methods have been quite good, but not as good as the ribs I make using the oven method described below. One time that I made ribs, I marinated them overnight in a ginger teriyaki sauce, and then grilled the raw ribs directly on the grill. They were really good, but I've never been able to reproduce that experience. The method I describe here has consistently made the best BBQ ribs.
The oven cooking method described here works best on pork spareribs and baby back ribs. Cooking times will differ for the three different cuts of ribs. I recommend spareribs, as they are less expensive, and have more fat, and this barbecue process renders them tender and flavorful. Diagram showing from where on the pig the various cuts of pork are found.
If you are serving adults, then one serving is officially half a rack of ribs, but in my experience an adult can eat more than that. Half a rack of untrimmed spareribs is about the same size as a full rack of baby back ribs, so take that into account too. If you have leftovers, send them to me!
The trick to great ribs is to cook them very slowly with the BBQ sauce on them. You can do this in an oven, just set the temperature to 225° F (about 107° C). I occasionally use an electric smoker, which cooks at about 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. I've also used this method on my gas grill and in my oven. Cook the ribs for 4½ to 5 hours. The time it takes you to cook the ribs may vary depending on the true temperature of your grill, oven, or smoker, the temperature of the ribs when you start, and other factors. Baby back ribs take 30 to 45 minutes less than spareribs. Try a half rack the day before you intend to use this method the first time, so you can get the timing correct.
I don't actually smoke the ribs; I don't put any wood chips in the smoker, although that might be good if I weren't using any barbecue sauce. I do have a pan of water below the meat in the smoker though, just as if I were smoking them. Don't use a pan of water if you're cooking your ribs in the oven or on your grill. The pan of water isn't necessary, however you will need a pan or aluminum foil to catch any drippings and keep from making a mess of your oven.
Also, use a rack, so the ribs can be cooked standing up. This will save you room, and it separates the racks of ribs so that the sauce cooks on to the ribs. I generally cut the rack of ribs in half before cooking it, to make it easier to handle. There are a few rib racks available at Amazon. I'd recommend the Weber rack, as it is less expensive than others, but any of them will work. The rack I use came from Home Depot, and is a Char-Broil brand rack.
I do not recommend using a rub if this is the first time you are making ribs. It is simpler to prepare the ribs without a rub, and the ribs will still taste great if you use a good BBQ sauce and this cooking method.
A rub is a mixture of spices that is liberally applied to meat, usually before cooking, to impart flavor to the meat. Most "award winning" recipes use a rub, which is generally a secret mixture that is guarded by the owner. The main ingredients in most rubs are sugar and salt, followed by pepper of some sort, and various herbs and other spices. Rubs are generally applied to the raw meat and allowed to stand for a period of time anywhere from an hour to overnight. The sugar and salt draw moisture out of the meat and dissolve forming a saline solution with the herbs and spices that is then drawn back into the meat imparting flavor to the meat. Along the way in this process, the meat is partially tenderized, because the salt causes some proteins to dissolve. So the rub works in a way that is similar to brining a turkey.
If you are interested in using a rub, then this is how you do it: Start the night before you plan to cook the ribs. Lay out your ribs lengthwise on a long sheet of plastic wrap. Liberally apply your rub to all surfaces of the meat pressing it on to the meat a bit. The top surface of the ribs is the main one where the rub will be most effective. Fold the plastic wrap around the ribs sealing in all the spice mixture, and store in your refrigerator overnight.
When I use a rub on ribs, I apply the sauce over the rub before cooking.
If you really want the meat to just fall off the bones, then you might try the "1 - 2 - 3" method. Personally, I think the "1 - 2 - 3" method can dry out the ribs, especially baby backs, too much, so I don't generally use it. The "1 - 2 - 3" method works better with spareribs or country style ribs, both of which have more fat, and longer cooking times, than baby backs.
You also might try the crock pot method of cooking ribs, but I find the crock pot method produces ribs that are generally not as flavorful as the oven method described here. I definitely wouldn't do baby back ribs in the crock pot, but I find that country style ribs done in the crock pot are quite good, and spareribs done in the crock pot are passable.
Please do not boil, parboil, or steam your ribs, which removes moisture, fat, and flavor along with it, and produces dried out ribs. Would you boil a beef steak before you grilled it? How about pork chops? A roast? No, of course not, you'd end up with dried out, or rubbery and tough meat. When you make soup, you boil meat in water, the water gets flavor from the meat, and the meat itself loses its flavor to the water. This is fine if you are making soup, but not if you are making ribs. We want the ribs to retain their flavor.
If your goal in boiling the ribs is to remove the fat from the ribs, then... well, why are you eating ribs? Boil a skinless chicken breast and put barbecue sauce on it and it will taste the same as boiled ribs and it won't have the fat.
This is the method that I recommend.
If you are cooking your ribs on a covered grill, then you need to use indirect heat, and monitor the temperature of your grill very closely. Get the grill stabilized at the correct temperature of 225° F (about 105° C) before putting the ribs on it. On a gas grill you can turn off the burners under the ribs, and just use the other burners. On a charcoal grill, this is much more difficult, the coals have to be at the sides of the grill, and the air vents closed down enough so that the coals do not produce much heat. Use an oven thermometer or your grill's thermometer to monitor the temperature.
Cover the ribs with BBQ sauce from the start. Put more sauce on about half way through cooking. I know that common wisdom says not to touch the ribs while they are cooking, and not to put sauce on them while they are cooking, but try my method and you will find that you get great ribs.
About half way through cooking, I generally turn the ribs over and re-coat them with BBQ sauce. I try to cover any bare spots. You want the sauce to thicken and cook on to the ribs. If you put the sauce on too often, you'll prevent it from cooking onto the ribs.
Because you are cooking the ribs at a low temperature, the sugar in the barbecue sauce does not burn -- but DO NOT GO ABOVE 225° F. In addition, because you are cooking the ribs at a low temperature, you do not need to pre-cook them or boil them.
I believe that the rib meat should not just fall off the bone, but that you shouldn't have to work too hard to get the meat either. Cooking 4½ to 5 hours at 225° F should do the trick. Experiment with the timing to get it just right.
With spare or baby back ribs, when the ribs are done, the tips of the rib bones should be exposed, as they are in this picture, or the picture at the very top of this web page. To determine the done-ness of the ribs, using a kitchen towel grasp one of these rib bone tips and gently twist, you should be able to turn the bone (a little) in the meat, without too much trouble. If the meat is still firmly attached to the bone, then you need to cook the ribs longer. If the bone turns a little in the meat, then your ribs are done. If the bone just rips right out, then you should get your ribs out right away, before they dry up.
Try this method on a half a rack of ribs for yourself before you try it for company or a group of people: since oven and smoker temperatures vary, you need to experiment to get the cooking time just right -- nobody wants undercooked ribs, or burned barbecue sauce or overcooked dried out ribs either.
Brush with sauce just before serving, and serve with extra sauce on the side.
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My opinions are not regulated by any recognized authority - I am neither competent nor authorized to dispense advice of any kind. It is probably best to ignore me.