Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ribs 101 - Class, we are making SPARERIBS !!!

I have done several posts on spareribs in the past. Spareribs are those BIG slabs of ribs, next to those expensive slim, trim baby back ribs in the meat section. You've all heard the song, and seen the commercials, but do not buy into the hype... Spareribs are both the better value (I buy mine when they are on sale, always better than half the price of baby backs), but even if they were the same price, spareribs have more meat per rib, and can be much more juicy than Baby backs. Competitive BBQers will usually turn in spareribs... for a reason.

In a recent post, on COOKING WITH THE CAPTAIN, the Captain said he wanted to make Ribs for his wife, the Admiral. He admits to knowing nothing about ribs, and implies that he will not be doing an outdoor cook. So, the rest of this post is dedicated to those indoor cooks who want to achieve similar results in an oven versus an outdoor smoker...

OK... First up, rubs. Don't be intimidated by a rub. Just think salt and pepper (and other spices). I have done several posts on rubs, for more details, click HERE and read my top 5 rub posts. I like to make my own. I am lucky enough to have a great spice store where I can easily get what I need, in affordable quantities. the advantages of making your own are freshness (I use mine up within 6 months). Imagine how long between fresh and shelf that prepackaged mix has sat. Fresh is more potent. The other advantage is to control quantities. Me, I prefer a low salt rub. Most commercial rubs have too much salt. BUT, I understand that not everyone will be making their own spice rub. There are lots of flavored rubs out there. If you can find a commercial grilling specialty store, you will see dozens (maybe over a hundred) choices for rubs. But, even in your neighborhood grocery store, that tube of Paul Prudhomme MAGIC BBQ seasoning is very good. If you like Cajun spice, any tube of Cajun spices can be used as a rub. Rubs can be sweet (like the cheery based rub shown in the photo, "burn your mouth" hot (not a fan of burn your mouth, so I don't have any photos to show). If you want to try to make your own, check my archives. I have a few simple recipes I can recommend. But from here, I am going to assume you are using a commercial brand... So I will also!

Next up... A wet rub or base. Easiest base to use is mustard. Yellow works fine, but I prefer the spicy brown mustard. If you like a sweet rib, people could use grape jelly as a base. Really, Smuckers works just fine. I seem to collect jars of stuff. Like those odd little jars of jelly or jam (see that roasted garlic and onion jam jar in the photo). These work terrific as a base. At my local underpriced grocery store, ribs are pre-packaged in sets of two. That's a great excuse for me to experiment, and use different combinations of wet and dry rubs. My wife has different tastes than mine. I prefer a hotter rub, while she really likes that sweet cherry rub shown in the photo. So, I make a rack for me and a rack for her. In the case of ribs... It's all good! Using a base wet rub and a flavorful dry rub will separate your ribs from the also rans...

Alright, let's get to the meat. When you select a rack of ribs, you are looking for a rack with some fat, but not too much fat. The one shown has just a bit too much fat around the ribs and at the top left of center. While in a perfect world, your butcher would do all the trimming, if you are buying on sale, or prepackaged, you are going to have to trim these up yourself. It's not hard at all to trim meat. Have a sharp knife, and just cut off the hard fatty parts. Trim away. The fat on the outside (especially the hard pieces of fat) do nothing to flavor the meat. and will turn into gristle. You can pop the rack into the oven as is, but taking just a second to trim will separate your ribs from the also rans...

BUT... READ THIS BUT, as it is very important.

The bone side of ribs comes with a skin or membrane. YOU MUST REMOVE THIS MEMBRANE. When this cooks, it is tough, chewy and nasty tasting. I am stunned how many restaurants will serve a rack of ribs with this still on... but I am digressing. It takes a bit of practice, but removing the membrane is easy. There is a wonderful step by step photo post for removing the skin already on the net. Click HERE for that lesson. Very basically, slip a knife or spoon end under the meat, and lift off. You can see in the photo the shiny part still has the skin, and the more dull parts have the membrane removed. Texture is important in ribs. This membrane will leave a very unpleasant texture behind. Remove it and the texture of your ribs will separate your ribs from the also rans...

And here you go... You may need to double click the image, and the magic of the Internet will show you a larger, more detailed image of the photo, but this is my rack, all trimmed up, and ready to be cut...

I cut mine St. Louis style (toss that term around, and you really sound like you know what you are doing...

The anatomy of a sparerib... Spareribs come with what is called flap meat and rib meat. Take a big sharp knife and slice the meat just where the ribs end. This is my favorite part of spareribs. If you were to be making baby backs, you don't get any flap meat. Flap meat has the same taste as rib meat, but it is not as much fun to eat. 1 rack of ribs (cut St. Louis style) will feed 3-4 people. Or if it is for Jackie and me only, it will give us 2 meals. But with the flap meat, I GET LEFTOVERS! same taste as the ribs, but I can make rib meat pizzas, Quesadillas, hot pockets, Redneck cake, and so many other recipes (that I will be posting soon). I LOVE SPARE RIBS... I LOVE LEFTOVERS. Take that baby backs, you and your song and press agent... SPARE RIBS RULE!!!

OK, time to rub your meat (shut up Donna). I have fancy home made wet rubs, that would add an hour to your prep time. But really, aside from the fun, just try mustard. Cheap and convenient, slather some on and rub (it's not called a drizzle, it's called a rub). Once you have a nice even coating of wet rub (it's just mustard, but using terms like St. Louis Cut and Wet rub really make you sound like you are doing rocket science, instead of the simple act of cooking ribs)... Anyway, once you have a nice thin even coating of wet rub (both sides and the edges), sprinkle on the dry rub. How much??? Easy... sprinkle some on, rub it in (again, it's called rub, not sprinkle, get your hands messy). If the rib is still wet more than dry, add more rub. do both top and bottom and all the sides.

It's messy and fun!

All righty, This may look odd, but most people do not have a large enough pan to lay ribs out flat. And even if you did, I like cooking like this. It increases the airflow around the ribs, so the cook evenly. Take a wooden skewer and kind of spiral roll them up and put in a pie plate. REALLY, trust me.

The rack here, I used a mustard wet rub, and topped it with a combination dry rub. I have a coffee rub that I make (really, ground coffee, adds a great dark bark on the finished rub, and an almost chocolate flavor). I added some spicy pepper. It's my own homemade mixture. Like I said, Jackie and I have different tastes... This racks for me!

Again, my ribs come 2 to a package. This is Jackie's rack. I used a wet rub of that Garlic onion jam. MUSTARD WOULD ALSO WORK... Grape jelly would also work, orange marmalade adds a very interesting taste. If you have the fancy $8 a jar stuff, use it. But what is in your fridge can be used as well!

I rubbed on some of that BBQ spice as a dry rub. I put just a bit less on Jackie's rack. She likes to taste a flavor, but nothing over powering. Know your tastes, know who you are cooking for and spice accordingly.

And next, the flap meat. You can rub the exact same way you did the rib meat. No reason not to. Especially if you know what you like. I cut these flap meat hunks in half so they are easier to manage.

Me, like to experiment. I have a WONDERFUL Oriental 5 spice rub that I make up. I especially like that because it has no salt. I used a wet rub of a couple tablespoons of HOISIN SAUCE, which is just an Oriental style chili paste. These hunks of meat are going to be used as left overs, and have other ingredients added. While taste is important, it is not as important as the rib meat, which has to stand or fall on it's own. SO, these flap pieces are great to experiment with. If you question what a wet rub of mustard does, make a piece with no mustard, and just a dry rub. If you like teriyaki sauce... use it as your wet rub. My flap meat is a great place to experiment and find what you like. I make spareribs about once a month. What I do with my flap meat will influence how I make my rib meat sections the next month.

Cooking ribs is mostly in the prep. Once the prep is odne, pop em in the oven and go about your business. These were baked LOW AND SLOW...

225 degrees in the oven, for about 6 hours. Fight the urge to open the door of the oven. Whenever you open the door, it lets the heat out and you have to reheat the oven. It adds cook time. Trust me, unless you have a very thin rack, no need to check for the first 5 hours. Low and slow will get you moist and tender ribs! You can see where the meat just starts to pull away from the ribs. If it starts to really pull down, you are overcooking. I cook to an internal temperature of 170 degrees. Once you get to the temp you want, I may add a layer of BBQ sauce. If you are doing this spiral cook method, you will need to use a brush to get it all on. Putting the cold sauce on the meat will mostly stop the cooking process, even when you put the rack back in the oven for an additional 30 minutes. to kind of crisp up the sauce.

Serving tip, be nice to your guests. Cut them between the bone before you plate them!

Class, repeat after me... OHHHH, AHHHH

Love those drippings... A little milk, cornstarch drippings gravy over some cheesy garlic mashed potatoes.

Anyone and everyone can get great results with this method. Easy and cheap. New year's Eve, a plate of ribs will disappear before the ball drops. Christmas Eve is a great time to cook up a batch of ribs. Superbowl Sunday is coming up, and now comes a radical suggestion...

Ladies (food bloggers are about 90% ladies)... Ladies, make these for that romantic Valentines Day dinner... Here's why...

First, it is symbolically Biblical. Eve was made from Adam's rib. Dare I suggest that if you don't honor god's plan and serve meat on this most romantic of all holidays, you are a tool of Satan???

But more importantly, Valentines day is not about what you think is romantic, it is about finding what your spouse thinks is romantic despite your one-sided vision of what a romantic meal should be. If you had rose petals floating in a tub last year, trust me, he was doing that because he thought you think that is romantic. And that was the only reason he did it. But, if you serve him ribs... HE WILL BE IMPRESSED, and next year, he will go out of his way to be romantic... Dare I suggest that if he is taking you out for Valentine's Day dinner, serve this up the night before. Honestly, which do you think he will brag to his friends about???

Spareribs... someone needs to write a song, someone needs to hire a press agent. They are the BEST ribs! Now you have no excuses... Give em a shot!


  1. Thanks for the great instruction on how to bake ribs in the oven, especially trimming the rack to prepare it for roasting. My family would love it if I prepared ribs for them.

    And thank you for stopping by my blog for a visit. I'm looking forward to reading your back posts for more bbq tips.

  2. I'm rib challenged so love this post. I never know which to buy - thanks for the spare rib tip.

  3. I have never cooked ribs before in my life so I definitely appreciate this tutorial. If there is a man in my life come Valentine's Day, I will for sure be taking your advice. As long as we can have a butternut squash on the side ;)

  4. Can you just make 'em for me. I'm way too lazy for all of this. But they look finger lickin' good and I totally would gobble them up!

  5. I hear if ya boil 'em in beer for an hour, they'll be more tender.

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha , whew. I just wanted to see if I could say that with a straight face;)

    Great tutorial for someone without a smoker or grill. Especially the tips for St. Louis style trimming and the roll up technique. A lot of people use that on the Egg.

  6. Nice tutorial here. My mouth is watering!

  7. I like your method of slow and low in the oven. It just creates such a succulent fall of the bone experience! This looks very good!

  8. What a great tutorial Dave. I am overwhelmed when I go and look at ribs and what to do. I will feel much more confident now and will try this method. We love ribs but both attempts I made were okay but not great. I think these would be great!

  9. Great post with detailed instructions. You will make us all rib experts now.

  10. I've always wondered what St. Louis style ribs meant! This was a wonderful tutorial, and I've bookmarked it for future rib cooking.

  11. Hi

    Thanks for all your comments. I don't eat Meat. But I like your post. Very informative and a real cosy read :)

  12. What an excellent tutorial. I learned a lot. So v-day is about romance not sex, silly me.

  13. I don't debate spare ribs vs. baby backs, but around here the baby backs are what you will see in KCBS contests. Also, it has a little bit to do with grill space..

  14. How in the world did I miss this post. I do not think I have ever seen a finer rack or ribs. Definitely drool worthy.

  15. Thanks for the post! A lot to take in but definately looks like the end result is worth it. Just two things...

    1. I'm a she, not a he :) It's Captain Karen.

    2. The Admiral is my mom, not my missus

    Thanks again for the rib tutorial!!!!

  16. This is definitely your best post. There is an art to cooking ribs, and you have it covered here. I think any novice could follow your directions and cook a great rack. You know how to contact me.