Ribs can be an intimidating task to undertake for even the most seasoned grill master. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone from taking the leap from hot dogs and burgers and trying their hand at a rack of ribs. All it takes is a little practice and a few helpful tips. After many years of cooking ribs, we have picked up a few tricks that help make our ribs juicy, tender and delicious every time.
Start with a Good Rack of Ribs
First, the cut and quality of pork you select makes a difference. The two most commonly sold types of ribs are baby back ribs and St. Louis-style spareribs. Back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.
The upper ribs are called baby back ribs because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spareribs. Each baby back rib rack averages 10 to 13 curved ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long and weigh about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, which feeds about 2 people. Baby back ribs are very tender and lean, but are in higher demand than St. Louis-style spareribs, so they have a higher price tag.
Spareribs are the meaty ribs cut from the belly of the animal after the belly is removed. They are usually trimmed down into the popular St. Louis-style spareribs by cutting away the hard breastbone and chewy cartilage, so the slab is more rectangular in shape.
St. Louis-style spareribs are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown. There is a lot of bone but also a higher amount of fat, making them very flavorful if cooked properly. Each slab usually weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and feeds about three to four people. St. Louis-style spareribs are a more inexpensive option compared to baby backs. However, they can pose a few more cooking problems.
For the first-time griller, we recommend baby back ribs, as their tenderness makes them a bit more forgiving. Whatever style you select, by sure to pick a rack that is darker in color and not watery. Pale, watery ribs will be tougher and may have an “off” flavor. Many of the complaints people have about the eating experience of their ribs actually comes from the cut of meat itself, rather than any cooking method or seasoning. If possible, we recommend working with a local butcher to acquire the best tasting ribs.
Removing the Membrane
On the back of a rack of ribs is a thin membrane that should be removed before cooking. This membrane is made of connective tissue that will not render down when cooking, making it a not very tasty addition to a rack of ribs. Removing the membrane is a simple process that can be accomplished in 3 easy steps:
- First, at one end of the ribs, slide a dinner knife under the membrane and over the bone.
- Next, lift and loosen the membrane until it tears away from the bone.
- Grab the edge of the membrane and pull it off. The membrane may come off in a whole piece, or you may need to remove it in smaller pieces.
3-2-1 Cooking Method
Of all the ways we’ve cooked ribs, the tastiest and most consistent technique we’ve used has to be the 3-2-1 Cooking Method. This method refers to smoking your ribs for 3 hours without being wrapped, then wrapping them for 2 hours, and finally finishing them unwrapped for an additional 1 hour.
This method can be followed using any smoker or grill that cooks with indirect heat. Depending on your smoker/grill, you may want to cut the initial 3 hours cooking time down to 2 hours. This method allows for customization for your particular cooking equipment; don’t be afraid to tweak so it works best for whatever grill/smoker you are working with.