I always assumed that making succulent, deeply flavored pork baby back ribs was rather difficult to do. I had never attempted them at home, thinking it would take serious spice mixtures, either parboiling, slow-cooking, tenderizing of some sort, then a long smoking process under low heat with lots of fragrant wood chips for maximum flavor. It was one of those dishes that I was happy to order at large barbecue places or restaurants, supposedly made by barbecue “gurus”. Of course I have never really had authentic barbecued baby back ribs as I haven’t been to the U.S. South or Texas, for that matter. So I was a bit daring when I spotted two huge racks of baby back ribs at the grocery the other day and I decided to buy them and see if I could turn out an edible rack of ribs…
Back home, I read up on various barbecue recipes and was indeed daunted by some of the more involved ones that were frankly, impossible to do with our equipment at home. So I decided on using a spice rub from one source (with alterations as I didn’t have all the spices required), Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly’s The Complete Meat Cookbook, combined with a slow bake in a low heat oven, then a finish on a charcoal grill with a slathering of commercial barbecue sauce.
First, make the dry rub, in a bowl, mix the following ingredients all together: 1/4 cup of kosher salt, 2 tbsp paprika, 2 tbsp chile powder, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, 2 tbsp garlic powder, 4 tbsp muscovado sugar, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp dry mustard, 1 tsp ground sage, 1 tsp ground oregano, 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper. I didn’t have the dry mustard (our Coleman’s had expired) so I used about 4 tablespoons of dijon mustard and slathered that onto the ribs along with the dry rub. I also didn’t have dried sage but it still turned out great. Make sure you rub the rub into all the nooks and crannies of the meat then put in a dish and cover with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, take the racks out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you are going to bake them. Set your oven at 300 degrees F, and stick the racks into the oven and let them bake for two hours. Do not turn the heat up, you need a long slow cook on this dish. Ideally, you want the racks of ribs to be sitting on a rack so that the oil drips away from them. I didn’t have a metal rack big enough so I didn’t do this. But I would recommend it. At any rate, the spicy perfume that will soon emanate from your oven will make you hungry… after two hours, or so, remove the ribs from the oven and they are ready for the grill. In retrospect, I could have trimmed a lot of fat from the racks before I put the rub on them, but I was afraid they would dry out… the fat is where a lot of the flavor is so I figured more fat, more delicious… you may opt to trim some of the fat off if desired. The second photo up top shows the ribs when they came out of the oven.
Over a charcoal fire, I slathered the baby back ribs with Bull’s Eye barbecue sauce and grilled them for a few minutes to get that caramelized, burnt barbecue crust and voila! pretty darned good looking and tasting baby back ribs, done at home. Not bad for a first attempt. Barbecue clue however, have the coals on the outer edge of the grill, so that flare-ups are minimized and you don’t singe your meat as I almost did. Eaten minutes off the grill, these were better than most ribs I have ordered in Manila restaurants. They were very tasty, salty peppery and gooey… and totally finger-licking fare. If I manage to find these ribs again before our next outdoor party, the menu will be ribs, potato salad and corn… yum! (So Lee, what do you think? Since you are the resident pork lover reader extraordinaire?! :))