So you want to make ribs?
The basics are simple. First, season your meat. Next, you cook your ribs low and slow for 2 to 3 hours turning every half hour. Then you’ll finish them on high heat for caramelization. That’s really it. These steps can happen in the oven, on a grill, or some combo of the two.
There are endless variations on the above, but here’s a good way to get started: Find three or four basic recipes that sound good to you. Check out Saveur, look at places like Epicurious, if you have an old copy of Joy of Cooking or The Thrill of the Grill, thumb through them. Reading these will give you a sense of method, cooking time, and help you map out the process. Take notes from these recipes on seasoning, how often you need to turn the ribs, and what to look for to signal that the ribs are done (the bones begin to pull away from the meat and feel a little loose when you twist them). Recipes will also give you good guidelines to follow for post-cooking resting time. But also keep in mind that recipes are meant to be modified.
“Look, then take out the shit you don’t want,” says Josh Applestone. “If I don’t want as much sugar, I take out the sugar.” Sugar is almost always bad for ribs because it burns. “I try not to use premixed ingredients at all cost, but sometimes you have no choice. Really the best way to do ribs is salt and pepper or just pepper or really lightly seasoned and cook the bajesus out of it.”
Before you start cooking, you are going to want a few other things. You need meat, preferably pork spareribs. Baby back ribs are great, too, but they cook much faster than spareribs, have a different kind of bite, and are more expensive. Which cut you buy depends largely on what you’re planning for your ribs. If you’re doing, say, Chinese spareribs, you’re really going to want belly ribs. If you have access to pork rib tips, they’re really delicious, too. When considering how many pounds of meat to buy, keep in mind bones are heavy, and people tend to eat more spareribs than they say they will.
Next, decide if you’re using your oven or a grill or a smoker – or a combo. There are many great reasons to use a grill including that on a really hot day, you aren’t likely to want to fire up your oven – even if it’s only to 275 — for several hours. Most people opt for a charcoal grill, but we have made ribs easily on a gas grill. Either way, make sure you have enough charcoal or gas to last you for two plus hours. Adding a little wood or some smoking chips to your grill will give you great flavor. Keep in mind that making ribs doesn’t have to be a one-time experience! Try them out all of these ways to see what you like best. The more you barbecue, the better your instincts will be.
A dry, savory sparerib done in the oven is a pretty tasty thing. But most people equate ribs with barbecue sauce. A word to the wise: sauce is for after the ribs are done cooking – wet mop or brush it on towards or at the end of the process or you’ll have a burnt mess of ribs. Josh Applestone recently finished some spareribs with hoisin, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, and Chinese 5 spice. Barbecue sauce is beyond simple to make. Or you can have a selection of sauces (bottled or homemade) so people can choose what they want.
Dig in. And repeat.