Tuesday 13 May 2014

Barbecue Spare Ribs

Barbecue ribs are a favourite in the south but enjoyed the world over. I'm using a rack of spare ribs for this recipe but you could just as easily use baby back ribs instead. Baby backs don't take quite as long to cook so while I recommend 80 minutes on the grill for spare ribs, keep it to just an hour for baby backs. I go to a great butcher shop that spares very little effort in trimming and prepping all of their cuts. The rack that I got from them was all ready to use. You can ask your butcher to trim it for you if it isn't already. Otherwise, all you really need to worry about is ensuring there is no excess bone or cartilage on the ends and remove the membrane on the inner, exposed bone side. The membrane is just a pale, flavourless layer of tissue that covers that side. All you would need to do is use a butter knife to free up one corner, grabbing it, getting a good hold then pull the whole thing off with one, even stroke. It should peel away from the ribs with little resistance. 

There is more than one way to barbecue ribs. This is only one method. You could use any sauce and dry rub you like. I used a premade barbecue sauce that my butcher recommended when I bought the rack but made my own rub. Feel free to experiment with this technique to suit yourself. 

My barbecue (well, rightly so my roommate's barbecue) is a gas grill. If you have a charcoal grill (lucky you) all you need to do is put the hot coals to one side of the barbecue. Cooking with indirect heat allows the ribs to cook slower and more evenly for a juicy, fall-off-the-bone texture.

When cooking ribs, allow about a pound per serving. One rack of ribs is generally good for 3-4 people, depending on their appetite.  


1 rack of spare ribs
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground fennel
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
Salt & Pepper 
Neutral cooking oil

This is what a rack of spare ribs looks like. They will vary in size and thickness depending on the pig. 


This is the flip side of the rack where the bones are exposed and the membrane has been removed. There will be spots of fat visible on this side. Lightly score the fat with a sharp knife in a cross hatch pattern as I've done here. It will help the fat to melt off more efficiently and allow the flavours from the dry rub to seep into the meat. 

To make the dry rub, combine the cumin, fennel, paprika and chili powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For best results, grind your own cumin seeds, fennel seeds and peppercorns. If you can be bothered, for even better results still, lightly toast the spices in a dry pan over medium heat, moving constantly, for 30-45 seconds before grinding them.

Generously coat both sides of the rack with the spices and rub them in with your hands. Any excess dry rub can be stored in an air tight container and used the next time you grill pork or chicken. Allow the ribs to marinate in the dry rub for one hour to overnight.

If using a gas grill, preheat the barbecue on high heat with the lid down. Lift the lid and turn one side of the heat off and turn the other down to medium low. If your barbecue has three dials, then turn off the center dial and turn the two on the ends to medium low. Use a little oil to soak a paper towel and using a pair of tongs, lightly oil the area of the grill where the rack will be placed. Never pour or spray oil directly onto a burning grill. This will ensure that the ribs do not stick to the grill. Use a scraper to lift the grill up and place a recyclable cooking tray under the area where the rack will be placed. This will catch any juice or fat that will run off and possibly cause flares that will scorch the meat. Be careful as the grill is preheated and you could burn yourself.

Place the rack, bone side down, on the grill over the tray. 

Close the lid of the barbecue and allow the ribs to grill for 50 minutes. Remember that we are using a slow cooking method on a lower heat, so resist the urge to lift the lid and allow most of the heat to escape. If you need to check on the ribs during this stage of cooking, do it only once and briefly.

After 50 minutes, lift the lid. You may see that the meat is shrinking a bit and exposing the tips of the bones. It didn't so much with mine here, but if you're using a larger rack you will likely see this. Generously brush the exposed side of the ribs with half of the barbecue sauce. 

Close the lid of the barbecue and allow the ribs to finish their last 30 minutes of cooking. During this time the barbecue sauce will caramelize and create a reduced, sticky coating on the ribs. Any longer than 30 minutes and it will burn and create an undesired, blackened crust.

After 30 minutes lift the lid and check on your spare ribs.

To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer and place it into the middle of the rack (meat obviously). The internal temperature should be at at least 160F/71C. Then remove the rack from the grill.

Since we cooked the ribs on a lower temperature using indirect heat it won't need as long to rest as, say, a grilled steak. Give it a couple of minutes before slicing into it.

Here I sliced between reach rib but you may prefer to leave 2 or 3 or even 4 ribs per piece. All depends on your preference.

Brush the ribs generously with the remaining barbecue sauce and serve.

To accompany these ribs I threw together a red cabbage slaw and some buttered dinner rolls. Other great accompaniments to ribs are (but not limited to) potato salad, french fries, mac & cheese, pasta salad, corn bread, roast potatoes, corn on the cob, grits, wilted greens or even just simple, leafy salad. This is a great recipe/technique to try this summer. I would love to hear about your favourite ways to eat ribs and what you like to serve them with. Please feel welcome to leave any questions or feedback below.

There's nothing like sweet, smoky, sticky, juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs. They may not be the healthiest dish to prepare, but they're worth the treat once in a while. Just remember to have lots of napkins available when you dig in.


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