It’s grilling season, y’all! Stock up on charcoal or wood chips, and be sure to grab plenty of wet naps, because today we are talking ribs: sweet and smoky, sticky, saucy, meaty, finger-licking good, fall-off-the-bone ribs.
The Daily Meal asked rib experts Clint Cantwell of Grillocracy.com and Kingsford.com, Chris Grove of nibblemethis.com, Robyn Lindars of grillgirl.com, and Melissa Cookston of Memphis Barbecue Co. for their advice and tips for making the very best ribs imaginable. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know to make professional-grade ribs at home.
The Meat: Pork vs. Beef
When it comes to a rack of ribs, beef and pork are the most common choices. Pork is milder in flavor, which means pork ribs are very responsive to whatever sauce or rub you’re using. Pork is also easier to cook to fall-off-the-bone perfection. Beef, on the other hand, has a bolder, meatier flavor; and though they’re not as common, goat and lamb ribs have unique and delicious flavors that are worth some attention, too.
The Cut: Spareribs vs. Baby Back
The two most common cuts of ribs are spareribs — aka St. Louis-style ribs — and baby back ribs. Spareribs are cut from the bottom of the rib cage close to the animal’s belly and are large and meaty. Inversely, the smaller and more tender baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage, near the animal’s loin. Regardless of which cut you choose, always look for a rack of ribs with visible, even marbled, fat throughout, because fat = flavor.
Flavor: Sauce vs. Rub
Now for one of the most hotly debated topics in the U.S.: sauce or dry rub? The decision to use a dry rub or a sauce (or both!) is ultimately based on personal preference. But if you’re looking for an expert opinion, Chris Grove, grilling pro and blogger at www.nibblemethis.com, says that for him, the question of sauce or rub depends on whether he’s cooking up beef or pork ribs. “I treat beef ribs like brisket in terms of flavor — salt, pepper, garlic, and a few other savory, salty, or smoky seasonings,” says Grove. “I avoid sweet flavors and typically don’t add any type of sauce other than au jus.” Pork ribs are another story. Chris says he uses “a good bit of sweet in pork rubs and sauces.” He also likes to add some fruity woodchips (like cherry or apple wood) to his smoker when he’s making pork ribs.
When you’re ready to cook your ribs, make sure you check to see if the membrane is still attached. The rib membrane is a thin piece of white tissue on the underside of the ribs. It won’t cook down and will remain tough and sinewy if left intact. If your butcher didn’t remove it, run a small sharp knife under the surface to help lift the membrane and then peel it away from the rack of ribs.
Next up, season your ribs and transfer them to your grill, smoker, or oven to cook. If you’re using a sauce, baste it onto the ribs periodically as they cook, according to your recipe.
For tender, fall-off-the bone ribs, cook them at a low temperature for a long time. Chris Grove says he cooks his ribs at 275 degrees F for the entire time, and never wraps them in foil. If you’re searching for a quicker method that still produces good, quality results, Robyn Lindars, BBQ competitor, judge, and voice of www.grillgirl.com, suggests the “grill-roast” method.
For this method, Lindars creates a direct and indirect cooking zone on a kettle grill and then oils the grill grates to ensure the meat doesn’t stick. When the grill reaches 350 degrees F, she places the rubbed ribs, meat-side down, on the indirect side of the grill. After 30 minutes, the ribs are flipped and rotated before being cooked for another half an hour. After a second flip-and-rotate (and 30 minutes more cook time), the ribs should be ready to eat.
Now that you have the basics and techniques, find a mouth-watering rib recipe to try. Here are 35 of our absolute favorites.
Article originally published Kristie Collado May 2015 with updates and revisions made by Cook Editor Rachael Pack of The Daily Meal.