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What You Need
The meat on the perfect rib pulls away from the bone when you take a bite and not a second before. To get this result requires nearly perfect timing, but don't be intimidated, because ribs can be forgiving and the low temperature of the oven will help you slowly reach that state.
Another quick point, this isn't barbecue; barbecue needs smoke to chemically alter the flavor and surface of meats. The oven is not going to create that smoke (hopefully) and so while these ribs are a good approximation of those BBQ joint ribs, they are not the same thing. See our best tips for cooking ribs in the oven.
What You Will Need
- A rack of ribs*
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) of rib rub
- 1 cup (240 mL) barbecue sauce
- A large cooking tray or cookie sheet
- A wire cooling rack
- Aluminum foil
- A sharp knife
- A basting brush
- A paper towel
- Up to 5 hours
*The rack of ribs can be baby back or spareribs. The pictures here are spareribs. Baby back ribs are smaller, have less meat, and will require a shorter cooking time. Both sets of times are included in this tutorial. Two racks of ribs can be done at the same time without altering the cooking time as long as there is at least an inch between them.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Preparing the Rack
To get the pork ribs to cook evenly, end to end the rack needs to be uniform. With baby back ribs this isn't generally a problem since they are cut pretty much the same no matter where you get them. With spareribs, this can be an issue because they are sold in a wide variety of cuts. If possible, have your butcher trim them for you, but if not you might need to do some trimming. The ideal rack of spareribs is a perfect rectangle. Cut away any loose parts and trim the ends away where there are no bones. Frequently on spareribs, there is a flap of meat on the bone side that should be removed.
With a uniform rack, whether it is baby backs or spares, the membrane on the bone side needs to be removed. The membrane is a non-permeable barrier that blocks flavors from penetrating. It even stops water from getting through. To remove this membrane lift a corner of it with a blunt knife, like a butter knife. The membrane is slippery but can be easily grabbed with a paper towel. It can take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, peeling away the membrane is easy.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Rubbed and Ready
To get the right flavor on our ribs we need a good rib rub. This is a combination of salt, sugar, and spices that not only flavors the ribs but helps to create a crusty surface that will give the ribs the texture we are looking for. Try this Kansas City Rib Rub or Memphis-Style Rib Rub. Apply a good coating of rub. The general rule with rubs is, what sticks is how much you need. This rub will combine with the juices from the ribs and will penetrate into the surface and start the crusting process.
Our ribs need to be elevated to cook so that air can flow over and under the meat. This means that the ribs will not need to be flipped or turned during the cooking process. Line a large cooking tray or cookie sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and place a large cooling rack on top of the foil. The ribs will sit on the rack.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Generally, we could just place the ribs in the oven to cook and they would turn out great, but a quick pass under the broiler will crisp up the surface and start to caramelize the sugar in the rub. Remember that sugar burns at 265 F/130 C. It is important to keep a close eye on the ribs under the broiler to ensure that nothing gets burned. Preheat the broiler in your oven before placing the ribs under it. The rub should start to bubble and sizzle. This is the perfect time to remove the ribs before anything starts to burn and smoke.
It might be necessary to turn the rack around to get an even sear on the top surface of the ribs, but don't worry about flipping them over. We are only interested in crusting the top surface. If your oven doesn't have a broiler this step can be skipped.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Allow the oven to cool back down to 250 F/120 C. This is the temperature at which you will cook the ribs. Half the time will be uncovered. At the midpoint of cooking, cover the ribs with a sheet of aluminum foil. They don't need to be wrapped tightly, just covered and tucked around the edges. This will hold the moisture rising from the ribs under the foil and prevent them from drying out. It will not steam the ribs, however.
The Cooking Times
For spareribs plan on a total cooking time of 4 hours.
For baby back ribs plan on a total cooking time of 3 1/2 hours.
When the ribs are completely cooked, the rack will be limp if picked up on the end, but will not tear or separate. The meat will have pulled away from the bone ends by about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch. Temperature checking ribs are not easy because the bones will be at a different temperature than the meat, but if you do use a meat thermometer, look for a temperature above 165 F/75 C. If the temperature is above this, don't worry. Overcooking isn't a problem, we just don't want the ribs to dry out.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Putting barbecue sauce on ribs is always optional, but since these were cooked in an oven and not in a smoker or on a grill, there is going to be a missing flavor. Barbecue sauce will add an extra flavor, making them taste and seem a lot more like barbecue. Opt for a good quality barbecue sauce for ribs. Try a Kansas City Rib Sauce or Classic BBQ Rib Sauce. The sauce you use should match the flavors of the rub that was used at the beginning.
To sauce the ribs, remove the cooking tray from the oven and brush the sauce thickly over both sides of the ribs. Get it everywhere. Then return the ribs, uncovered, to the oven to bake the sauce in. This step can be repeated several times to layer the sauce in and to create a sticky, messy rib that everyone will enjoy. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 F/95 C for repeated saucing. Barbecue sauces, like the rub, will burn at high temperature so it is best to keep the cooking temperature low. Allow 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time between each saucing.
Barbecue sauce is also a great fix for ribs that seem a little dry.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
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With the ribs completely cooked it is time to remove them. Unlike meats cooked at high temperatures, these should go from the oven to the cutting board to the plate (or hand) as quickly as possible. The best way to slice ribs is by standing them upright on their side with the exposed bone end up. A good sharp knife should slide down between the ribs easily. If you have the bone side towards you it is easier to see where to cut.
Additional barbecue sauce can be added if desired or served with the ribs for people to add as they like.