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The Next Best Thing to True Barbecue
In some parts of the country, making barbecued ribs is serious business where the ribs can only be cooked in a smoker. But if you are not of that camp and are open to some nontraditional cooking methods, then oven roasting may be for you.
The rib meat will pull away from the bone when you take a bite, but to get this result requires nearly perfect timing. Don't be intimidated, though. The ribs can be forgiving, and the low temperature of the oven will help the ribs to slowly reach that state of fall-off-the-bone.
It is important to keep in mind, however—and those serious rib barbecuers will agree—oven roasting 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 pork ribs are a good approximation of those BBQ joint ribs, they're not exactly the same thing.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Gather the Ingredients and Supplies
To oven-roast ribs, you will need:
- rack of ribs
- 1/2 cup rib rub
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- large cooking tray or cookie sheet
- wire cooling rack
- Aluminum foil
- sharp knife
- basting brush
- paper towel
The rack of ribs can be baby back or 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 cooked simultaneously without altering the cooking time as long as there is at least an inch between them.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Prepare the Rack of Ribs
To get the pork ribs to cook evenly, the rack needs to be uniform from end-to-end. With baby back ribs, this isn't generally a problem since they are cut pretty much the same no matter what. With spareribs, however, this can be an issue because they are sold in a wide variety of cuts. If possible, have your butcher cut them for you; 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 4 of 10 below.
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Apply a Rub
To get the right flavor on your ribs, you need a good rib rub. This is a combination of salt, sugar, and spices that not only flavors the ribs but also helps to create a crusty surface that will give the ribs the ideal texture. Try a Kansas City rib rub or Memphis-Style rib rub.
Apply a good coating of the 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.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Arrange the Ribs
The ribs need to be elevated to cook so that air can flow over and under the meat. This way, the ribs do not need to be flipped or turned during the cooking process. Line a large cooking tray or cookie sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup) and place a large cooling rack on top of the foil. Place the ribs on the cooling rack.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Broil the Ribs
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. (You can skip this step if desired.)
It's important to keep a close eye on the ribs under the broiler to ensure that nothing gets burned (remember that sugar burns at 265 F/130 C). Preheat the broiler before adding the ribs. Once the rub starts to bubble and sizzle, remove the ribs.
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. You are only crusting the top surface.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Bake the Ribs
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, the ribs 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.
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 is 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 of 165 F/75 C. If the temperature is above this, don't worry. Overcooking isn't a problem—you just don't want the ribs to dry out.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Sauce the Ribs
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, a sauce will add an extra flavor, making them taste and feel a lot more like barbecue. (Barbecue sauce is also a great fix for ribs that seem a little dry.) Opt for a good quality barbecue sauce for ribs, like a classic BBQ rib sauce. The sauce you choose 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 thickly brush the sauce over both sides of the ribs. Make sure to 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 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 a high temperature, so it is best to keep the cooking temperature low. Allow 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time between each saucing.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Cut the Ribs
With the ribs completely cooked, it's time to cut them. Unlike meats cooked at high temperatures, the ribs 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 facing toward you, it is easier to see where to cut.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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