If there’s one thing that we definitely don’t mind licking our fingers for, it’s ribs. Juicy, succulent, and downright messy, ribs are one of the few dishes in life that we’re happy to pull apart with our bare hands and bite into right off the bone.
So what makes a rack of ribs so good? Sure, there are marinades you can use and special rubs to try, but no matter what flavor combination you’d like your ribs to have, there’s a set of standard rules to apply when making ribs that can take them from being just a good rack of ribs, to a great one — and we’ll show you how.
Erin Coopey, chef and author of The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook, never starts cooking her ribs without tending to the silver skin, and she has some pretty firm beliefs about how to avoid a charred, bitter crust, too. If you were to ask barbecue master Melissa Cookston, co-owner of Memphis BBQ Company and a judge on Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters, she’d tell you to never make ribs without smoking them, and our friend Clint Cantwell of Grilling.com has some pretty sound advice about how to sauce ribs, too. There are a bunch of guidelines for making ribs that are simple in nature but when applied, make a world of difference, so don’t miss out on reading them before you get your ribs out.
And once you have the method complete, we’ve got some recipes for you to try. There’s Coopey’s "never fail" baby back rib recipe, which uses a handful of spices and the low-and-slow method to cook a rack, and there are Canal House’s ribs, that are doused in a hoisin sauce that is so good, it’s hoi-sinful. There’s even one that brings us back to our college years, created by the liquor connoisseurs at Jägermeister, who enlist their rich, syrupy liquor to create a rib sauce that has true depth of flavor.
These helpful tips and recipes will take your rack of ribs from being just a good one to a finger-licking great one. Oh, and, don’t forget the wet naps.
1. The Silver Skin
When you take your ribs out of the package, you’ll notice a light, white skin across the bones. This is called the silver skin, and Coopey recommends cutting it away prior to seasoning and cooking.
2. Seasoning Your Ribs
Like with most meats, it’s important to season them well prior to cooking. Coopey recommends a dry rub of seasonings or a vinegar-based "mop sauce," which could be your favorite barbecue sauce with a little vinegar mixed in. This step of the process has even more of an impact when you cut away the silver skin, allowing the meat to be submerged in the rub or the sauce thoroughly.
3. Aluminum Foil
Everyone has a different way to start their ribs, but most believe in the slow-and-low method first. Coopey and Cookston both agree that for incredibly moist, tender ribs, slow-roasting your ribs wrapped in aluminum foil really helps you achieve the tenderness you want. Cookston’s rule of thumb is with any ribs with longer than two hours of cooking time, whip out the aluminum foil and cook them for at least two and a half hours in the foil and the rest without. It helps tenderize the meat and give it a beautiful flavor.
4. Cookston’s Flavor-Enhancers
Cookston has a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to enhancing the flavor of her ribs. She likes adding adding a few tablespoons of apple juice, grape juice, or even cola to her ribs wrapped in aluminum foil to give them great flavor. In addition to flavor, the chemistry behind these ingredients help the ribs get that perfect tenderness you’re looking for. When using dry rubs, she stresses that the spices will lose their potency very quickly when cooking, so make sure to season your ribs well before wrapping them in aluminum foil.
5. Grilling Ribs
Coopey explained that one of the most common mistakes with ribs is when they’re grilled over too high of a heat. This creates flare-ups that will scorch the ribs, burning the outside while the inside is still undercooked. If you’re going to grill your ribs, make sure you do so over medium heat.
6. The Perfect Grill
Cookston is a fan of grilling her ribs, but she doesn't just grill them — she smokes them, too. Don’t stop reading just because you don’t have a smoker, though, because it’s easy to make one with a charcoal or gas grill.
"Almost any grill can be made into and indirect smoker for longer cooking times. For a charcoal grill, simply build your fire to one side of the grill and cook on the other. Placing a small pan with water or apple juice underneath the ribs to enhance the smoking effect," she says. For gas grills, just place the pan directly on top of the heat source, and cook your food on the other side.
7. How to Get the Perfect Smoke
"When smoking meats such as ribs," says Cookston, "the smoking wood you use should be used in moderation, just like [with] salt." If you overdo it with the smoke, you’ll overpower your product, she warns, and fruit wood such as apple or cherry are her favorites to use so she doesn’t drown out the flavor of the ribs.
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