Cooking ribs is easy - once you know how. If you follow the advice given here you'll be the undisputed barbecue champion of your neighbourhood!
Ribs: Which is which?
Back ribs: Back ribs come from the back of the animal, as you might expect. They are the same bones that you find on pork loin chops. The most expensive, but with the greatest proportion of meat, and the most tender. The bones, or ribs, are small and more rounded in cross section than those of side ribs. Weight: about 1 1/2 lb (700 grams)
Buying guide: Try to find ribs with as much meat covering the ribs as possible. Rib racks that have been trimmed right down to the bone (on the convex surface) are less of a bargain. Fresh is always preferable to frozen, but the difference is marginal.
Baby Back Ribs: These are identical in every way to regular back ribs - a bit of restaurateur's poetic license!
Side Ribs: Side ribs are from the side and belly of the animal. The meat directly adjacent to side ribs (pork belly) is usually made into bacon. Less expensive than back ribs, side ribs have a great flavour, but have proportionately a lower meat to bone ratio, and are less tender, and so need a longer cooking time.
Weight: about 2 lb (950 grams), trimmed as below
Buying Guide: Ensure that the breast bone has been removed, flank meat has been trimmed away, unless the price has been adjusted to reflect the extra weight. Those labeled "centre portion removed" have had a narrow strip removed from the top portion of the rib rack. Fresh is always preferable to frozen, but the difference is marginal.
Spare Ribs: These are identical in every way to regular side ribs; this term is more common in the US.
Preparation: On the concave surface of all ribs is a thin, translucent membrane. This membrane is tough and impervious. Any sauce or flavouring applied to it will not reach the meat as the membrane acts as a highly effective barrier. Furthermore, when eating the ribs it tends to get stuck in one's teeth. Avoid culinary and social embarrassment by removing this impediment to total rib enjoyment!
To remove membrane: Insert a metal a spoon handle under the membrane at one end of the rib rack and detach a corner. Then, with a paper towel, grab the detached flap and gently tear it away from the ribs, It should come off in one clean pull.
DO NOT BOIL YOUR RIBS. We appreciate that this has been the accepted method for generations, but we can suggest a better way. If using a dry rub, apply to the ribs. One back rib rack will need about one tablespoon of rub, a side rib rack will need two tablespoons. In a shallow roasting sheet or pan, add about 1/2 inch of water. Add a few slices of lemon or orange to the tray. Place the ribs, meaty side up, on the tray in a single layer. Cover well with aluminum foil and place in oven at 325ºF (160ºC).
Back Ribs: Cook for about 45 minutes, or until meat is easily pierced with a metal skewer.
Side Ribs: Cook for about 90 minutes, or until meat is easily pierced with a metal skewer.
Tip: Cooking times can be reduced by adding HOT liquid to baking tray.
Tip: Cooking times will vary depending on how many rib racks are being cooked at once; more ribs means a longer cooking time. At this stage the ribs can be cooled and refrigerated for up to three days.
Place ribs on a medium heat. Baste with your favourite BBQ sauce. As soon as the ribs begin to brown, turn and baste. Continue doing this for about 20 minutes. Eventually the ribs will begin to turn a beautiful mahogany colour from a build-up of cooked sauce applied in multiple layers. Ensure that the ribs are hot all the way through.
Back ribs can be grilled without prior cooking, i.e. from raw. To do this, heat barbecue to about 250ºF (120ºC), turn off one side and place ribs on the "off" side. If using barbecue sauce start basting after thirty minutes, and continue until ribs are cooked and tender, about 90 minutes total. Turn ribs every 20 minutes or so. If using a rub, apply before you start grilling. If using charcoal, wait until coals have died down, bank the coals to one side, and grill on the other side. Keep the lid of the barbecue down, and try to maintain a temperature of 250ºF (120ºC) throughout the cooking process.
Place steamed ribs in a roasting tray and baste with your favourite BBQ sauce. Place in oven at 300º (150ºC). Continue basting with sauce every five minutes or so, turning ribs each time, for a total of 30 minutes.
Allow at least one pound raw weight per person, depending on what other food is being served at the meal. Two back rib racks will serve a maximum of three guests, and one side rack would be sufficient for a minimum of two guests.
Rubs and Sauces:
It is not necessary to use both a rub and a basting sauce. One or the other will give a great result. If you like sweetish, smoky and rather messy ribs, go with a barbecue sauce. If you prefer crusty, toasted spice and dryer ribs, go with a rub. There are numerous rubs and sauces available commercially but nothing beats the sense of accomplishment achieved by developing your own flavour profiles. To start you off here is one recipe for a rub, and one for a sauce.
ALL PURPOSE BARBECUE RUB
A large number of ingredients, but if stored correctly one batch should last the whole season.
1/2 cup granulated sugar 125 mL
1/2 cup brown sugar 125 mL
1/4 cup seasoned salt 50 mL
1/4 cup onion salt 50 mL
1/4 cup garlic salt 50 mL
1/4 cup celery salt 50 mL
1/2 cup paprika 125 mL
2 tbsp ground black pepper 30 mL
2 tbsp chile powder 30 mL
2 tsp mustard powder 10 mL
1 tsp poultry seasoning 5 mL
1 tsp ground ginger 5 mL
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper 2 mL
1/4 tsp allspice 1 mL
Combine all ingredients and store in a cool, dark place.To use: Apply about one tablespoon of rub to back ribs, two tablespoons to side ribs, or as much as will adhere to both surfaces. Then continue cooking as described. No need to leave ribs to marinate.
THE DEFINITIVE SOUTH WESTERN BARBECUE SAUCE
4 cups tomato ketchup 1 L
1/2 cup dark brown sugar 125 mL
1/2 cup cider vinegar 125 mL
1/4 cup water 50 mL
1/4 cup honey 50 mL
3 tbsp molasses 45 mL
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 25 mL
2 tbsp yellow mustard 25 mL
1 tbsp liquid smoke 15 mL
1 tbsp chili powder 15 mL
2 tsp ground ginger 10 mL
2 tsp ground black pepper 10 mL
2 tsp garlic salt 10 mL
1 tsp cayenne pepper 5 mL
1 tsp ground allspice 5 mL
Heat all ingredients, except ketchup, in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add ketchup, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir frequently. Allow to cool. Place in refrigerator in airtight containers. Will keep refrigerated for at least a month. Adjust cayenne pepper according to taste. One teaspoon gives a relatively mild sauce. Makes 4 cups (1 litre)