Hello there everyone, and welcome to another installment of Grilling 101. I hope you all had a wonderful Canada Day, as well as an eventful first week of July. Next weekend marks the 4th Whitby Ribfest at 1401-1453 Henry Street (Durham Fields). So to help get ourselves in the mood for next week, let’s talk about ribs here and now.
Whenever people talk about ribs, chances are they’re talking about pork ribs, though occasionally you’ll find beef ribs on the menu. Next to steaks, ribs are one of the most popular and sought after barbequed foods. And judging by the popularity of Ribfests, there’s a strong argument to be made that ribs surpass steaks as the king of the grill. Though like the steak, they are also among the easiest to mess up. But if done right, they’ll reward you with their juicy flavour and succulent meats that fall straight off the bone and into your mouth.
When purchasing ribs for yourself, the most common cuts available are baby back and spare ribs. Baby back ribs are ribs cut from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle. These ribs are identified by their curved U shape, and generally come with 10 to 13 ribs per slab of meat. Baby back ribs are both the easiest cut to cook up and the ones most often used when making rib dishes. They more a expensive cut than spare ribs, due to the meatiness of the rib and the additional butchery involved prior to sale. They are basically ready to grill with minimal preparation.
Spare ribs are taken from the belly and side of the animal, just below the baby back ribs, and come in cuts including 11 to 13 ribs. This is also the origin of their name, since it looks like you’re taking what was left over from the animal. Spare ribs are larger and meatier than the baby back ribs, but are less tender and have higher fat contents as a trade-off. They are often done up in a special manner called the St. Louis Style, where the cartilage, sternum bone, and “skirt meat” are removed from the ribs before cooking.
No matter which rib you pick up, you always need to be careful not to ruin your meat. For starters, ribs need a long time to cook indirectly at low temperatures (nothing exceeding 235 degrees Fahrenheit). This is what gives them their succulent texture and flavour; too much heat or cooking too close to the heat source will dry out your meat or tighten it and leave you with nothing but shoe leather for dinner. Also, never sauce your ribs any earlier than the final 30 minutes or until after you’ve taken the ribs off the grill. While it might be tempting to put your sauces on earlier to caramelize it, saucing too early will burn your meat.
Preparing your ribs for grilling
Grilling ribs take time and preparation in order to get yourself the quality rack that you desire. A little time in the prep stage will pay huge dividends with the finished product. The first step in preparing the perfect rib is to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. This is key, as membrane will dry out and give the ribs a leathery texture if not removed. To remove, simply grab the membrane from the small end of the ribs and pull towards the larger end. It can be a difficult task at times; some people use a spoon or other metal object to begin the separation process, allowing for enough to grab before pulling. In the event that the membrane is simply being too difficult to remove (it has happened to me on rare occasions) use a paring knife to diamond score the membrane to allow the connective tissue to break down in the cooking process. Check out this video by the BBQ Pit Boys on removing the membranes
After removing the membrane, it’s best to add a little moisture to your ribs before applying a dry rub. I like to begin by squirting a little mustard on the ribs to add both flavour and moisture. I’ve also been known to add some liquid smoke, chipotle Tobasco sauce (minimal heat, plenty of flavour), and/or cider vinegar. Not only do they add flavour, but they also help to tenderize the meat during the cooking process.
Next step is the dry rub. Dry rubs act as both a flavouring agent as well as a tenderizer for your ribs during the grilling process. It will also provide you with the beautiful bark that you get from ribs that have been prepared low and slow. You can use pretty much any type of dry rub that you like – there are many prepared rubs available on the market, or you can simply add your favourite herbs and spices to create your own rub.
Preheat your grill to a low temperature (235 to 250 degrees Farenheit) to allow the ribs to cook low and slow. This allows the fat to render, the meat to remain tender and best of all, the finished product will fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. I like to add a little liquid to the baking sheet to infuse additional moisture and flavour to the ribs during the cooking process. In this example I used coffee, but you can add apple juice, beer, bourbon, rum or any other liquid flavouring agent you’d like (Dr Pepper Ribs are HUGE among BBQ enthusiasts – recipe to follow). You should grill your ribs on indirect heat (unsauced) for 2.5 to 3 hours and finish them on direct heat for the final 10 to 15. This will allow you for the sauce to caramelize, not burn during the cooking process. I personally like to sauce my ribs AFTER I’ve finished cooking – this allows the sauce to compliment the flavour of the meat, rather than being cooked onto the ribs, but that is simply personal preference.
If you choose to go with beef ribs instead of pork, the basic grilling procedures are still the same. However, there are several fundamental differences between beef and pork ribs that, again, people either fail to take into account or end up over thinking. For example, beef ribs have a much thicker membrane than pork ribs, which should always be removed before you begin cooking or else the meat will develop tough and chewy. Also, you don’t need to turn up the temperature just because beef ribs have more meat on them. Cook them low and slow like you would with pork. One method that works well for cooking both pork and beef ribs is to wrap them in tin foil during the last 30 to 40 minutes of cooking. This helps to preserve moisture in the meat, which also tenderizes it.
The beautiful thing about ribs is that there are so many ways to cook them up, and each one offers a variety of flavours and benefits if done right. Remember though, the key to successful rib grilling starts in the preparation and by cooking them low and slow…
Here’s a recipe for Dr. Pepper Ribs by the Kissing Cook from http:// food.com where she starts the ribs off in the oven and simply finishes them off on the grill. This is perfectly fine, though you can do this entirely on the grill, but cooking indirectly at 350 for two hours, then finishing on the grill as directed. Enjoy!
PREP 24 HRS
COOK 2 HRS
My son handed me this recipe and wanted me to try it. I don’t know where the recipe came from, but I’m glad he sent this my way!
- Place the ribs in a large baking dish. Pour in Dr. Pepper and cover them, reserving at least 1/2 cup for the sauce. Add he salt and soak the ribs in fridge overnight (or at least 2 hours).
- Heat the oven to 350°F Remove the ribs from the liquid, dry them, and rub with the chili powder. Place them on a baking dish, add 1 cup of water, and cover tightly with foil. Cook for 2 hours, until the meat nearly falls off the bone.
- For BBQ Sauce: Heat the oil in saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until they’re soft and fragrant and add the ketchup, Worcestershire, vinegar, cayenne and 1/2 cup of Dr. Pepper. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
- Fire up the grill, and brush the ribs with sauce. When the grill is hot, cook them bone side down on a cooler part for 10 to 15 minutes. Flip them and cook until lightly charred and smoky.
- Remove and brush on more sauce.