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Food & Drink

Rocco's Oven-Baked Ribs

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 (AP)

Who can resist good barbecue ribs? They are the ultimate comfort food — juicy, tender pork that has been smoked and bathed in a sweet and savory glaze until the meat falls from the bone.

Eating doesn't get much better than that.

It may also have something to do with the fact that you eat ribs with your hands, and get messy in the process. The sauce coats your fingers, your face. Real caveman stuff. Wear a bib if you want to, but I like the gooey splatter.

But eat enough ribs, and you won't be able to see your own. The calories on a typical plate of barbecue ribs can surge to more than 900 calories, and more fat grams than I can count. That's a lot of punishment to inflict on your scale, not to mention your cardiovascular system.

Am I saying that you have to eat salad instead of those endless slabs of ribs? Not at all. If you want to keep enjoying ribs while making sure your own stay lean, break out my smoky rainy day ribs. They're made with baby back ribs, which are the leanest cut of pork ribs because they come from the back not the belly. They also cook up tender relatively quickly compared to spare ribs

For the rib aficionado, the outdoor smoker or barbecue is the traditional method for cooking ribs, but my recipe is made in the oven. And while these aren't true smoked ribs, they are healthy and delicious. I always say you shouldn't taste what you're missing and for most people (excluding you grill snobs out there), it's hard to tell the difference between these and proper smoked ribs.

And though you cook them slowly, these ribs require little hands-on time. Just throw the sauce together, dump it over the ribs, then pack it all up in a big foil pouch and throw it in the oven.

As for the sauce, it's not just any sauce. It's a homemade, calorie-saving barbecue sauce you won't mind licking off your fingers. The trick is to use a combination of liquid smoke and smoky spices to infuse the meat with that grilled flavor. Do not use commercial barbecue sauce. A lot of those sauces are loaded with sugar, laced with preservatives and full of artificial flavors, artificial colors and thickeners, the kinds of stuff that works better as a primer coat for a fender.

Once out of the oven, expect tangy and tender ribs that are full of flavor. These are the fall-off-the-bone kind of ribs. The best ribs are tender but not submissive. They make you labor just a bit for their reward — succulent meat with a little tug. Before too long, that plate in front of you is a vast wasteland of bones. And you've only worked your way through 327 calories.

Mmmm. ribs. What's not to love?

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SMOKY RAINY DAY RIBS

Start to finish: 2 hours (20 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1 rack baby back ribs (12 ribs), about 2 pounds total, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 4 equal pieces

Salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sweet and smoky rub (such as McCormick)

1 1/2 tablespoons liquid smoke (such as Stubb's)

1 cup reduced-sugar ketchup

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 large Spanish onion, chopped

12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 stalks rosemary (about 6 inches each)

Heat the oven to 425 F. Set a 2-foot sheet of heavy-duty foil on a rimmed baking sheet.

Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the sweet and smoky rub, liquid smoke, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, onion and garlic. Add the ribs to the bowl and toss to coat completely. Transfer the ribs and marinade to the foil, then top it with the rosemary stalks. Place another sheet of foil on over the meat. Fold up the edges of the bottom sheet of foil and crimp them together with the top sheet to make a tightly sealed package.

Place the ribs in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 F and bake until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Spoon some of the sauce from the foil packet over the ribs to serve.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 271 calories; 19 g fat (63 percent of total calories, 7 g saturated); 68 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 1 g fiber; 438 mg sodium.