For those who subscribe to the “Hail to the Pig!” philosophy, there is nothing more fabulous than perfectly cooked pork ribs. However, many people shy away from cooking them at home, instead preferring to trek to their favorite local BBQ joint, knowing the ribs there will be perfectly seasoned and fall-off-the-bone tender. After all, cooking ribs is a science that can’t be mastered at home. Home-cooked ribs are typically tough and lack flavor, right? Wrong! Read on to learn the secret to cooking perfect BBQ ribs in your outdoor kitchen.
STEP ONE: THE RIBS
There are a number of different cuts, but if you’re cooking at home, your best options will be spareribs, St. Louis cut ribs or babyback ribs. Babyback ribs are smaller, leaner and include delicate loin meat, which makes them a little pricier. Spareribs are cut from the ends of babybacks down to the breast bone. The flavor of the meat is typically richer because of increased marbling, but the texture is less delicate. St. Louis cut is simply spareribs with the rib tips cut off, which can be a little more manageable for both cooking and eating.
STEP TWO: THE RUB
Lay aluminum foil on a baking sheet — at least double the length of the rib rack — and place your ribs meat-side down for rubbing. There’s no one recipe for a good dry rub. In fact, feel free to buy a prepared rub or experiment with different flavor profiles. The key is to use only dry seasonings and use way more than you think you’ll need. Liberally coat both sides of the ribs and pat it in. For a basic foolproof homemade rub, try sprinkling sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and coriander on your ribs. You CAN overdo it with the salt and cayenne pepper, but be generous with the others. For best results, sprinkle all seasonings on the underside, pat everything in at once, then flip and repeat. Remember…use lots of rub!
STEP THREE: THE WRAP
Completely wrap your ribs in the foil. Now do it again. Now a third time. Why so much foil? Simple — you want to tenderize the meat by allowing it to steam in its own juices, so a tight wrap is important to the process.
STEP FOUR: THE BAKE
Nope, that’s not a typo. You will finish the ribs on the grill to get that smoky flavor, but first you want to cook them low and slow in the oven. Bake them at 300 degrees. The time will vary depending on the type, thickness and quantity of ribs. Babybacks will typically cook more quickly, and a single rack will usually be ready for the grill in about 2 hours. For two racks, you might want to add about 10-15 minutes. Spareribs or St. Louis ribs will need to cook for about 2.5 hours for a single rack, adding 10-15 minutes for a second rack. To test the ribs, unwrap a section and test the meat with a fork. You don’t want it falling off the bone yet, but it should be fully cooked (no pink juices) and barely starting to pull away from the bone slightly–still firmly attached to the bone, but tender. If the meat is still tough and pink, close the foil tight and add some more baking time. If you’re planning a tailgate party, you can actually do up to this step the day before and then refrigerate everything until you’re ready to grill.
STEP FIVE: THE SEAR
Unwrap your tenderized ribs and transfer them to a hot grill for about 10-15 minutes on each side. Whether you’re using charcoal or gas, you’ll want to add wood smoke, if possible. Cherry or pecan, in particular, will add an excellent flavor. Sear both sides of the ribs until you create a nice brown outer layer on each side. If you like wet ribs, coat with your favorite BBQ sauce before the last five minutes of cooking time. Otherwise, leave them dry and serve the sauce on the side for those who like to dip. You’ll know your ribs are ready when they have a nice brown coloring and the meat easily pulls away from the bone.
STEP SIX: THE MEAL
Remove your ribs and let them rest for a few minutes so the juices don’t run when you cut them. Then, slice and serve with your favorite fixins. You’ll never go back to that BBQ joint again.