Ribs - the ultimate finger-lickin’ favorite!

August 26, 2022

Last week, we ordered baby back ribs from the purveyor we ironically call “the happy animal farm.” While their name, Marsh Creek Cattle & Company, implies they focus on beef, they also offer eggs, poultry and pork products, all of which are sustainably and humanely produced under their “pasture raised” philosophy. Through their partners, they offer butter, olive oils and additional cuts of beef. And, not only can you find them at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market, they also offer home delivery.

The term “ribs” covers a great deal, so it may be helpful to understand the differences. First, we’re talking about pork, not beef ribs for this column. Second, “country ribs” are not ribs at all, but a type of chop, so take them off the list. Baby back ribs come from near the spine; they are leaner, smaller and cook faster than other types. Spareribs attach to these and run all the way to the chest. St. Louis cut ribs are spareribs with the tips removed to form an evenly rectangular rack.

Since we’re working with baby backs, the first step is to remove the membrane or silverskin that covers the underside. If this is left in place, it will create a leathery texture, keep fat from rendering and prevent sauce from reaching the meat. Insert a thin knife beneath the membrane, followed by your fingers to work a section loose. You can then grasp it and tug the entire membrane away. If you’re not successful, at least be sure to cut slashes every inch along the underside.

The most traditional approach to cooking ribs begins with coating the rack with a dry spice rub. You can find thousands of rib rub recipes online and in specialty cookbooks devoted to grilling. It’s easy enough to blend your own, but if you don’t want to maintain a stock of different spices, there are several name-brand rubs available from familiar chefs and restaurants. In our kitchen, we reach for Penzey’s spices, in this case a blend called BBQ 3000.

I didn’t cook these on the grill or in a smoker (horrors!) but set them in a slow oven for about an hour. One of the mistakes people often make is to cook ribs for too long, following advice to let them bake until “falling off the bone.” Meat that has reached that point is typically mushy and not going to deliver a pleasant mouthfeel. For baby backs, one hour (not three) will get them ready for the next step: sauce.

We know there is debate about ribs and their cooking methods. Any discussion about BBQ sauce and its endless variations can be quite contentious. The Carolinas have two types of sauce, ketchup-vinegar blend and mayonnaise-based. Kansas City’s signature is tomato-molasses while Memphis is known for pulled pork, and we don’t have enough space to mention all the regional differences across Texas.

For your next batch of pork ribs, I’ve included a recipe for a dry rub spice mix, which can be tweaked to suit your personal preferences. The glaze or sauce recipe is another combination that can be made hotter by adding Tabasco or sweeter with some molasses or fruit jam. When you get the point of brushing the ribs with the glaze, watch to ensure the sugar in the mixture doesn’t burn, unless you like those charred spots on your ribs. The photo shows the finished product before cutting between the bones to separate the ribs, a messy task, indeed. Be sure to serve these with lots of napkins and some cold beers.

Pork Ribs

3 lbs ribs
rub (below)
sauce (below)

Place the ribs meat side down on a sheet of plastic wrap. Remove the thin membrane from the underside, starting in the middle of the ribs. Insert a thin paring knife to separate a section of the membrane, then get a secure grip with a dishtowel and pull it off. Coat the ribs on both sides with the rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 325 F. Place the ribs, bone side down, on a wire rack in a single layer in a roasting pan. Cook for one hour, then baste every few minutes with sauce until done, about 20 more minutes. Finish with a blast under the broiler to crisp the surface. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Dry Rib Rub

1 T chili powder
1 T garlic powder
2 t black pepper
1 T smoked paprika
1 T sweet paprika
1 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ground sage
1/2 t cayenne

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Coat ribs on all sides with spice mixture, rubbing it into the meat. Wrap ribs in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before cooking.

BBQ Glaze

1 t orange zest
1 T Balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T tomato paste

Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl. After ribs have cooked for one hour, brush with sauce every 15 minutes until done.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter