“If you boil ribs the terrorists win” – Meathead, amazingribs.com
You often hear people describe great ribs as “meat that just fell off the bone”. Sorry people, these are not great ribs! The only way you can get rib meat to fall off the bone is if you braise or boil them for several hours first, and this is the cardinal sin in rib eating circles. Ribs should not be mushy, award winning ribs are firm and retain a bit of bite, the meat needs to be pulled from the bone with your teeth!
It’s all well and good me telling you that ribs need to be marinated overnight, rubbed, cooked for 6 hours on a smoker, then glazed and finished over charcoal with a homemade BBQ sauce, but 9/10 people are not going to be arsed with that level of faff. So here I’ll talk about getting some amazing ribs from a BBQ/oven combination method.
You can skip the BBQ element if you don’t have the equipment, but for me the smokiness is an essential part of the flavour profile. You can achieve it on a gas or charcoal BBQ with the right equipment, otherwise just do the first hour uncovered in the oven.
For a gas BBQ you’ll need one (or two) of these steel meshed smoker pouches – they are awesome – and a bag of wood pellets. For a charcoal BBQ you’ll need to know how to set it up for indirect cooking, and have some suitable wood chunks.
However you do these, it starts and ends with fantastic meat – that skinny pack of vacuum packed ‘spare ribs’ tucked away at the back of the shelf in your local Tescos is just not going to do. Find a good butcher, tell him you’re spending all day on this, and splash out.
Know Your Ribs!There are 2 sorts of rib cut – back ribs and side ribs (also known as spare ribs). There’s also St Louis ribs, which are spare ribs with the end bit cut off, but your average Great British butcher is unlikely to know that. Both cuts have their merits, good quality spare ribs are flatter and more spread out and are a little fattier, which some folk believe makes them tastier. Baby back ribs are from where the rib meets the spine and so are more curved and most of the meat will be on top of the rib. Baby backs will cook a little faster and are probably the better choice here in the UK unless you have a really top-notch butcher.
Phase 1: The Rub
You can get by with a pre-made BBQ rub, there’s plenty available in your local supermarket spice aisle, but if you want to make your own, something like this will work…
Method – Rub & Smoke
- Wash the ribs and pat dry, then remove the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. You should be able to slip a butter knife under it to get it started, work it loose with your fingers, then pull it away by hand (use a bit of kitchen towel if its a bit tough and slippery).
- Salt the ribs. Give them a good generous grinding on the course setting. Like you’re salting chips. (Note that this is why there’s no salt in the rub)
- Mix all the rub ingredients, then oil the ribs and apply the rub liberally to cover them. Refrigerate them for as long as possible, ideally 2 hours +.
- Go set up your BBQ
- Perfect temperature for the BBQ is 120°C. A combination of a strong wood pellet/chunk such as hickory, along with a fruity one such as apple or cherry is ideal.
- Once the BBQ is at the right temperature and the smoke is flowing, whack in the ribs. Restock with more wood after half an hour.
- After 1 hour, move to Phase 2…
Phase 2: The Steam
You could in theory continue to cook your ribs on your BBQ at this stage, but due to it being more difficult and time consuming to maintain the correct temperature, at this stage I recommend switching to the oven. If you’re BBQing, just wrap them in foil and pour in a little juice or water before sealing. Otherwise…
Method – Oven Steam
- Preheat your oven to 120°C
- Put the ribs onto a rack in a high sided roasting tin. Add a jug of water – be sure that the ribs are above the water line.
- Cover the tin with foil, ensure there’s enough room above the ribs for the steam to circulate.
- After 2 hours, move to Phase 3…
Phase 3: The Glaze
Feel free to use a good quality shop bought BBQ sauce for the glaze (you can customise it with a large slug of rum), or if you want to be a #ribskeeno you can make your own, check out the Awesome BBQ Sauce. However, if neither are on hand, you might want to try this quick no-cook mixture, it’s a superb glaze, just mix it all up ready for the end game:
Simple BBQ Glaze
Method – Glaze & Char
- Move the ribs onto a sheet of foil and paint on coat of BBQ sauce.
- Return to the oven for half an hour then remove, turn and paint the other side and put back in for another half hour – keep your eyes on them, we want them to caramelise, but if they start to burn they need to be covered
- At this stage you could make up the coleslaw and generally prep any sides you’re having
- If you’re feeling brave and they don’t have much in the way of charred bits, you may want to switch the oven to grill mode for the last 5 minutes, but for god’s sake watch them like a hawk, because burning them now will ruin your day.
- Remove from the oven and cover them with foil (if they aren’t already) then plan to rest them for 20-30 minutes before serving