Virginia Willis Blog

Barbecue Ribs: Five Great Recipes

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Barbecue Ribs

Barbecue ribs are one of the great recipes of summer. I cook them on the gas grill, the Big Green Egg, and I even roast them in the oven when it’s a rainy day. Barbecue ribs are always a big hit. First of all, being from Georgia, when I say Barbecue Ribs, I mean pork. And, when it comes to deciding what type of pork ribs to barbecue, there are essentially three choices –  baby-back ribs, spareribs, and country-style ribs.

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A Bone to Pick:
Baby-Back Ribs vs. Spareribs vs. Country-Style Ribs

Baby-Back Ribs are generally leaner, more tender, and quicker cooking. Each baby back rib rack averages 10 or so ribs that are 4 to 6 inches long and weigh between 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 pounds, which easily feeds 2 to 3 people for a main course. Baby-Back ribs originate from the blade and center section of the pork loin, which is known for the “finger meat” between the bones. They’re called baby-back because they are shorter and thinner in relation to the bigger spareribs. They usually have a slightly higher price tag, but they are well worth the cost. They are the quickest cooking ribs and I think the easiest, too. I generally will buy a couple of racks when they are on sale and store them in the freezer.

Spareribs are the meaty ribs cut from the belly of the pig and are typically larger and heavier than baby back ribs. The Rib-Tips are the bottom portion of the spare rib. St. Louis Style ribs are spareribs with the sternum bone and rib tips removed to create a rectangular-shaped rack. These take longer to cook and require a bit more attention as they contain a bit more fat and gristle, but the meat is highly rich and flavorful.

Country-style ribs Country-style ribs are actually more like pork chops—a point that can make them confusing. They are cut from the end of the pork loin and into the pork shoulder and often contain the shoulder blade, not actual ribs. They are the meatiest variety of ribs and are sold either as slabs or in individual servings. These are harder to find and generally, if I want to cook a meaty piece of pork, I will go for a tender pork chop over a tougher country-style rib.

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Wet vs. Dry

Ribs are commonly prepared with either  “wet” or “dry” rubs. Ribs basted with sauce during the barbecuing process are called wet ribs. The key is to know when to apply a dry rub, wet rub, or both. Ribs rubbed with a mixture of herbs and spices are called “dry” ribs. Dry rubs can be applied just before barbecuing. I will often use a dry rub when I cook ribs in the oven. (Here’s my favorite dry rub as seen on a pork shoulder post for the Southern Foodways Alliance.) Some store-bought dry rubs and dry rub recipes contains brown sugar which can burn on the grill, but is less likely to do so in the oven. I  find that a dry rub can boost the flavor of oven-cooked ribs that aren’t able to get that great smoky grill flavor.

Wet ribs are simply seasoned with salt and pepper, then coated in sauce towards the end of cooking. Yes, it is possible to coat the ribs in a dry rub then coat it with sauce, as well, but that’s a lot going on and you can miss out on the actual flavor of the meat. If I dry rub the meat, I most often serve the sauce on the side at the table.

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How to Cook Ribs

Wet or dry, as good as barbecue ribs can be, we’ve all had dried-out ribs, mushy ribs, and burnt ribs. Here are a few tips on how to cook ribs:

1. To help prevent dryness, when cooking ribs on the grill I spray the ribs as they are cooking with a combination of water and vinegar. This also helps douse flame flair-ups, as well. You can also brine the ribs before cooking, but I usually save that technique for shoulder or poultry.

2. Mushy, soft ribs generally come from par-boiling the ribs before finishing them on the barbecue grill.  That’s a big NO-NO in my book. Why on earth would you boil ribs? Don’t do it. It’s much better to slow cook them on the grill.

3. Burnt ribs are most often a result of burning the sugar and spices in the dry rub or sauce. Cook the ribs slowly over moderate heat until they are nearly done before brushing with the sauce.

Five Great Barbecue Rib Recipes

Here are Five Great Barbecue Ribs to add to your barbecue repertoire:

1. My Coca-Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs – Nathalie Dupree loves them

2. Cackalacky Mustard Ribs by Libbie Summers, author of The Whole Hog Cookbook

3. Thai-Style Pork Ribs by Andrea Nyugen of Viet World Kitchen.

4. Last Meal Ribs by Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com — seriously, how could I not? (Look for more on my blog from Meathead and his great new cookbook Meathead: The Science Of Great Barbecue And Grilling in the next few weeks.)

5. Lastly, My Favorite Barbecue Ribs — at the bottom of this post!

In the News

I am very excited about my new seasonal recipe column called “Cooking with Virginia” for Southern Living. The September issue is on the stands now, and we’re featuring figs! Check out my recipes for Fig and Kale Salad, Fig Dutch Baby Pancake, and Ham-Wrapped Figs with Cheese.  Also, please look for my recipes in Diabetic Living this month. Here’s a video featuring their new look that includes a few pages of the feature. Speaking of Southern Living, check out my dear friend Rebecca Lang’s dream kitchen. I can’t wait to see it in person!

Hope to see you at some upcoming events. My next dinner is Roots: A Taste of the Lowcountry on 23 September at Callawassie Island. Proceeds will benefit the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage, a cultural and educational center committed to the promotion and preservation of the region’s rich offerings. See you soon!

Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 
Virginia

 

My Favorite Barbecue Ribs
Serves 2 to 4

2 racks baby-back ribs (3 pounds total)
Tangy Barbecue Sauce (see below)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs, if desired. (I confess that I don’t normally do this because I like the toothsomeness of the silver skin.) Remove the ribs to a rimmed baking sheet to come to room temperature. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper.

For the grill:

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to high, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to about 325°F. 

Combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup vinegar in a spray bottle. Place the seasoned ribs on the grill and cover with the lid. Cook the ribs, occasionally spraying with the water-vinegar solution, for 30 minutes. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook, basting with sauce occasionally, for an additional 30 minutes, or until the ribs are tender. (Second confession – I don’t like my ribs “falling off the bone.” Once again, I like some toothsomeness to them.)

For the oven:

Heat the oven to 325°F. Place the seasoned ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, basting with sauce occasionally, or until the ribs are tender.

Slow-roasting in the oven: 

Heat the oven to 300°F. Place a rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminium foil. Place the seasoned ribs on the rack and cook until tender, turning once and brushing with sauce the last 30 minutes of cooking, about 2 hours, until the ribs are tender.

To finish:

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil or place on the hot side of the grill or increase a gas grill to high. Liberally spoon some of the remaining sauce over the ribs and broil until bits are charred and brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining sauce, an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately with lots of napkins.

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Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 6 cups

1/4 cup canola oil
1 sweet onion,  very finely chopped
2 1/2 cups ketchup
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or hot sauce, to taste
Coarse salt

In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onions and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, or hot sauce, to taste.

Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have smoothed and mellowed, at least 10 and up to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

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