Warning: There is going to be a lot of meat in today’s post!
Let me start by saying that I love pork baby back ribs. My dad had a way of cooking them that will forever be stuck in my mind, and which I have not yet managed to achieve.
He would marinate a huge bowl of ribs for a day with soy sauce, brown sugar, and LOTS of fresh garlic and ginger. Then he would light charcoal in a huge built-in grill in the back yard and let it get well burned-down and mellow before he’d even start. Next he would spread out the charcoal in a thin layer and crank down the coal bed so it was as far from the grate as possible. Finally he would start grilling the meat – super-low temperature – for hours. When they were done, those ribs were incredible; a slight asian flavor and all of the fat rendered right out. Tender and perfect. Yum.
Our grill here at home is gas. It just isn’t possible to get the same low temperatures. Even with only one of the four burners on and the meat at the far other side, the grill just gets too hot to do a slow cook. …Not that those things have stopped us from grilling ribs! They just have never turned out “right” to my way of thinking.
Well, I found some great ribs at the store last week and thought I’d give ‘er another go. But I decided to see what the smart people at Cook’s Illustrated had to say about cooking ribs. I am a loyal and avid fan of what I call their “Meat Book”; it has consistently led us to incredible meals.
Lucky me, one of the options for cooking ribs was in the oven, at super-low temps for almost 4 hours. I’d found my next Rib Attempt! The instructions for these slow-cooked delights had a few interesting steps, so I thought I’d show you my process. (And the results!)
First: Baby back!
Really great looking ribs, starting without much fat. These were a very nice cut. (Safeway, surprisingly.)
Second: Dry Rub
This is something that I’ve not tried with ribs before. I used the recommended dry rub from the Cook’s Illus. cookbook, and followed the ingredients almost exactly except I 1) cut down on the cumin by more than half because a little cumin goes a long way on my taste buds, and 2) added some onion powder because I am addicted to onion powder and it goes in everything in this house except apple pie, fruit salad, and hot chocolate.
This sat out for 1 hour and then in the fridge for another 3.
Third: Into the Oven
First in foil, then without.
Fourth: Baste with BBQ Sauce
Cook’s Illus. gives several recipes to make your own, but I’m a big fan of Sweet Baby Ray’s, so I slathered that on.
Sixth: Bag It
This was a completely new and unheard-of step for me. After the oven cooking is done, you wrap the rib slabs (whole) in foil and then stick them in a paper bag, of all things, for an hour. This step is supposed to make the meat even more tender.
Uh, mommy, what’s in THERE?
I only lasted 47 minutes. (That’s when the mac and cheese was done.)
I seriously cut the fat/dairy for this and the result was still incredibly yummy and cheesy: Used only 2c. of milk and the rest chicken broth, used only ~3 oz of Tillamook sharp cheddar (the recipe called for a gut-bombing 8 oz). Also, I didn’t season the crumbs. Only downside: I was not a fan of the breadcrumbs – didn’t like the texture and even though I used only 1c. and not the 1-½c. called for, there was just way, way, way too much of it. Definitely will be nixing those the next time around.
This turned out better than any mac and cheese I’ve ever made from scratch. The sauce was smooth as silk, the perfect amount of ‘gooey’, and had a wonderful cheese flavor without being overpowering. And it was fast and easy. I can tell this is going to quickly come in to the regular meal rotation around here.
Back to the ribs – I opened up the bag and removed the foil-wrapped packets, surprised at how hot they still work. Perfect temperature for finger-holding and eating. They looked incredible. And, when I went to slice them, they were a perfect example of something that could be cut ‘like a hot knife through butter’. Seriously. I just set my knife at the top and gently pressed down, and the blade slid right through the meat with almost no effort. Zero cutting involved. THAT was the moment when I knew that this technique had me as a loyal follower.
These ribs were incredible. All of the fat had rendered out and the meat was perfect, tender, and flavorful. The sauce had carmelized perfectly in the low heat. The meat fell right off the bone. Not quite like my dad’s ribs, but definitely the closest I’ve ever come to replicating his results.
The only thing I didn’t completely love was the flavor of the dry rub. The chili powder and cumin just didn’t work for me – it was like a mexican-food flavor under the BBQ, and the two didn’t quite work together. But… that was just a minor flavor detail. The overall result was incredible, and I will definitely be using this for ribs in the future. A few tweaks to the flavor details and these Babys will be perfect.