My grill loves Summer. After being ignored for much of Winter, it gets all of my attention during the warmer months and it is already enjoying its second tank of fresh propane. The steel grates have already tackled mountains of hotdogs and hamburgers, loads of vegetables from our farmer’s market, and a whole hogs-worth of succulent ribs.
My first exposure cooking ribs was a disaster. I grabbed a slab from the grocery store, lathered it with a random store-bought barbeque sauce, and threw the ribs right from the refrigerator down on to the hot grill. By the time the ribs were done cooking, they were charred, jaw-achingly tough, and altogether inedible.
Where did I go wrong? That’s exactly how it’s done on television, but on television the meat is falling off the bone, and everyone around the picnic table is asking for more, not “accidentally” dropping their ribs to the floor for the dog (which sniffed the first few ribs with a cringe before giving up all together). I knew there had to be a trick, a system, something that I could do to create tender, sweet, juicy ribs at home.
I learned years later that the idea that every type of food can be cooked on a grill in ten minutes is not entirely true. Ribs, it turns out, are one of those proteins that need a long, slow cooking time to get fall-off-the-bone tender. That’s where your grill’s tag-team partner “Mr. Oven” comes in. It has a handy dial on the front that allows you to set it for a certain temperature, say, 225 degrees, and it will keep it at that temperature forever, really, but certainly for the 3 hours you’ll need to properly cook your ribs. Yes, of course, you could slow cook ribs on a grill, but for most people, the amount of propane required to keep things lit for 3 hours would be quite expensive, and regulating the heat for that long, whether with propane or with charcoal, isn’t really practical for a lot of people.
And that, friends, is the secret. Ribs aren’t made in ten minutes. They’re made slowly, very slowly, with the low heat of an oven (or smoker), then they are sauced up and finished on the grill to caramelize the meat and the sugars in the sauce. Those ten minutes on the grill are “Showtime!”, letting your guests know that what is about to hit their plates is something that deserves their attention. They don’t need to know that the ribs have already been in the oven for hours. Like a good magician, you’ll be able to impress your friends with your tender 10 minute ribs without having to reveal the truth behind the illusion.
Happy Independence Day!
DIY Spice Shaker
The original recipe had a great tip for making your own spice shaker by drilling holes in to the lid of a mason jar. It worked our really well, but because I wanted to use so much of the dry rub on the ribs, I went back after I took this picture to make the holes bigger.
With your handy-dandy spice shaker in hand, it’s time to get started!
Braised and Grilled Baby Back Ribs
Adapted From Food Network’s Alton Brown’s Who Loves Ya Baby-Back?
2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs
8 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Sprinkle each side generously with the dry rub and pat the rub in to the meat. Fold the long edges of the foil together,then roll up the ends, forming a packet around the ribs, and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.
In a microwavable container, combine all ingredients for the braising liquid. Microwave on high for 1 minute.
Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Open one end of the foil on each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into each foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet to equally distribute the braising liquid. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
Transfer the braising liquid into a medium saucepan. Bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce until it has a thick syrup consistency.
While the sauce is reducing, fire up your grill on high.
Brush the glaze on to the ribs. Place the ribs on the hot grill just until the glaze caramelizes lightly.
Slice each slab into 2 rib bone portions. Place the remaining hot glaze into a bowl and toss the rib portions in the glaze.
The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon jalapeño seasoning. Instead of purchasing a jar of seasoning to get the 1/2 teaspoon called for in this recipe, I doubled the cayenne pepper.
The dry rub recipe makes a few batches of seasoning. I used about half to cover my two slabs of ribs.
Remember to remove the membrane from the rack of ribs so that the rub permeates from both sides.
High heat on the grill is your friend to get a nice caramelization. Flame, though, is not. Keep an eye on the ribs and move them around if flames start to spike.
The four biggest tips on getting this recipe right are:
- Use a lot of the dry rub. And by a lot, I mean A LOT. Most of the flavor is going to come from the rub, so use at least 1/2 of the mixture, maybe more.
- After you apply the dry rub, keep your ribs in the refrigerator for at least an hour to let the spices and salt work their magic. Don’t skip this step!
- Make sure you braise the ribs long enough until they fall off the bone. The grill won’t do any cooking, so if they aren’t done when you take them out of the oven, they aren’t going to get done.
- Push the reduction of the braising liquid as far as you can. You really want it to be thick and sticky so that it clings to the ribs.
The heavy-duty foil is wide enough to accommodate the ribs while still allowing you to fold it over to crate the braising pocket. If you don’t have the heavy-duty foil, you can carefully fold two pieces of standard foil together, but that can be tricky to do securely enough to prevent the braising liquid from running out.