Ribs are one of those dishes that when done right they should melt in your mouth with flavor and you’ll have friends and family inviting themselves over for more. When not done right, well, let’s just say no one wants that to happen. Experts will rave on about smoking ribs (and could go on for days, likely months, about which sauce is best). We’ll let them teach you about that. For the purposes of getting you started, we’ll stick with the basics.
So how to make great ribs? Here are some tips to put you on the path to success.
- There are different kinds of ribs: pork, beef, lamb. The most common are pork and beef. Baby back ribs or spare ribs, both pork, are both great options to get you started. Baby back ribs are more tender like a pork chop, while spare ribs are fattier and a bit tougher.
- If ribs are frozen, to thaw them, either leave them in the fridge or place them in cool water in the sink (plastic wrap still on).
- Before cooking ribs, we recommend removing the skin on the underside of the ribs. Use a thin, sharp knife to remove the membrane of thin skin that is on the bone side of the ribs. You can slide the knife under the skin to lift it and then you should be able to use your fingers to pull it back. You can also trim off the pointed end of the ribs to make a rectangular rack and trim extra cartilage off along the base of the ribs.
- Ribs can be cooked with a dry rub or BBQ sauce applied during grilling. You can also marinate them in more acidic based marinades for a few hours to help break down the toughness of the meat. If you use a dry rub, you can still let them eat sit in the fridge for an hour before cooking. Sauces that are sugar based should be applied near the end of the grilling process—the last half hour—to avoid burning the sugar. Try adding a dry rub (that doesn’t have sugar) before and during grilling and adding BBQ sauce near the end of grilling.
- Time and temperature are key. The key to good ribs is to truly not be in a rush. Cooking ribs at a low temperature for a longer period of time slowly breaks down the tough connective tissue and fat in ribs to eventually make them tender and easy to eat. If ribs are cooked too fast on too high of heat they will turn out chewy (remember the thing nobody wants to happen).
- Indirect heat: The best bet for cooking is to use indirect heat. On a grill this means the outside grills are turned on and the meat sits on the middle grill which is turned off. On a charcoal BBQ it means the coals are pushed to one side and the meat is cooked on the side that is not over the coals.
- If you have time to spare, cook ribs in the range of 225 degrees Fahrenheit to 275 degrees F for three to six hours. Baby back ribs, which are thinner in profile can be cooked for approximately three hours, while spare ribs, which are thicker, can cook for up to 6 hours.
- If time is an issue then start cooking the ribs at a higher temp. Place the ribs on the rack on indirect heat at 300 degrees F. Don’t’ open the lid for 30 minutes. Then place the ribs in tin foil. Douse them in apple juice and tightly fold the tinfoil around the ribs. Return them to the grill. Cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Return the grill heat to approximately 250 degrees F, remove ribs from tinfoil and place them back on the grill. Now cover them in BBQ sauce. Basting and flipping the ribs every 5 minutes for at least 30 minutes.
- Hint: If you do want that smoky flavor for your ribs, you’ll need some BBQ wood chips such as oak or hickory. For a gas grill, you can soak the chips and drain them and then wrap them in tinfoil with a few punctures in the foil. Place the wrapped chips under the grill on the side that is heated, with the ribs using indirect heat and sitting over the grill that is not heated. For a charcoal grill you can wrap the chips soaked or not soaked and place them in the coals. There are many nifty smoke boxes and smoking techniques that you can learn about from the experts online.
- When are ribs done? The general consensus is when they reach 185 to 190 degrees F as measured with a meat thermometer. At this point, the meat should be falling off the bone and melting in your mouth.