Perfect Grilled Ribs: What’s the Secret?
I know my ribs. And my BBQ. Those who have read my “works,” or at least some members of my family, already know that I was once a judge at a rib contest in Cleveland. Although Cleveland is not generally thought of as the rib capital of the world, a pack of great barbecue chefs showed up for the event, and I ended up eating 42 ribs. Not just tasting them, the way you’re supposed to do so you don’t fill up too fast. Eating them all up. I was sorry at the time, but now I wish I’d eaten a lot more.
So I guess you might call me a Rib Expert. But I’m only a rib-eating expert, not a rib-cooking one. In fact, grilling big racks of spareribs has always scared me. It’s a baseless fear, though. You don’t need to be a prizewinning barbecue chef to make great ribs.
Ribs are very forgiving! Despite what you may have heard, they don’t require one set cooking method to be delicious. You can grill them for several hours; you can parboil them for a few minutes to make the grilling time shorter; you can grill them for a couple of hours and then finish them in the oven; you can start them in the oven and finish them on the grill. You can sauce them with pretty much anything you like, or you can leave off the sauce and season the meat with a dry rub; you can use sauce along with a dry rub, or skip both sauce and rub and serve the ribs with salt and pepper.
There are a few tips that can make your ribs even better, though:
If you use a dry rub, leave it on the meat for at least 24 hours (and up to 48). If you plan to let the meat get “rubbed” for the full two days, use only half the salt the dry rub recipe calls for. Too much salt for too a long period may produce a cured “hammy” taste.
Don’t overdo the barbecue sauce while you’re grilling, or the meat may lose its glazed beauty and turn a dull black. Many cooks believe you should only add sauce during the last hour of cooking.
Use LONG, SLOW cooking on a charcoal grill, NOT a gas one. I realize that a lot of you still refuse to face facts about this. Please get with the program!
Buy at least ONE POUND OF RIBS per person. I use a pound and a half.
Finally, find any recipe that sounds good to you, and forge ahead without fear. If most ribs weren’t delicious, would I have eaten 42 of them?
I must start with Kansas City ribs because that’s where my husband is from, and that’s where I was first introduced to K. C.-style barbecue. If you really want K.C. ribs, you’ll order a bottle of Bryant’s barbecue sauce. Its tangy, slightly vinegar-y sauce is unlike anything else. Around my house, Bryant’s is such a staple that we even put it into salad dressing.
For centuries — literally! — people have loved the pork-apple combination. But there can’t have been many folks who added bacon to their spare ribs. Along with the apples, bacon elevates the taste of the ribs stratospherically high. This recipe only calls for bacon grease. To provide the grease, you’ll have to cook a few slices of bacon. I wonder what will happen to them.
Please don’t scream, “Rhubarb! No way! I’ve never used it, and it looks too much like celery.” Even if you’re not interested in making a rhubarb pie (and why not?), you should grab a few stalks for this recipe the next time you’re in the supermarket. Rhubarb’s intensely tart taste counters the ribs’ richness beautifully, and honey not only sweetens the glaze but helps it cling to the meat without sliding off onto the coals.
People my age (142) may remember that when we were kids, the only time we ever tasted ribs was in Chinese restaurants, where their chewy texture and sweet-sour-salty taste seemed deliciously exotic. You don’t see Asian-influenced ribs as often now, but they’re still a classic that should remain in the repertoire. This version doesn’t need to be grilled outside — very useful on a rainy day — but of course it can be, if you like. I would add some soy sauce and sesame oil to the slaw to punch it up a little.
Recipes containing soft drinks must never be allowed to disappear. They’re pleasantly kitschy — like a 1950s sitcom — and they usually taste great. Please don’t get mad at me for my belief that out of all the brown soft drinks, Dr. Pepper has the most character and complexity. And please also don’t get mad at this recipe for including molasses powder! Granted, it’s not likely to be hanging around your supermarket, but you can find it all over the Internet. And once you do, you’ll think up lots of ways to use it.
Country-style ribs are meatier than slab ribs; think “like pork chops, but less expensive.” You could probably eat them with a knife and fork, but who’d want to do THAT? And another question: Why don’t more ribs recipes use mustard? It’s such a natural with this kind of meat! Don’t worry that you’re adding an artificial ingredient when you use that liquid smoke. Liquid smoke really is nothing but distilled smoke — hickory, usually. It adds depth of flavor and cuts down on cooking time. (Try mixing a little into the butter you use for corn on the cob.)
Beef ribs are bigger and meatier than their pork relatives. (Feel free to insert your own “big as Texas” joke here.) Since the meat is more tender, they don’t need the long, slow cooking that’s generally required by pork ribs. Stash a bunch of beef ribs in the freezer, and you can have them ready to eat in a couple of hours. The chile-based barbecue sauce in this recipe takes only seconds to stir up and would be great on burgers for a change of pace.
Sauce up the flavor of your BBQ ribs with these great recipes for barbecue sauce!