If Ribs Had A Season
we'd be in rib season now
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I feel for anyone who has a birthday over a holiday or holiday weekend. While I’ve always complained that mine falls over Labor Day (everyone’s “at a wedding” or “at the beach” or “busy living their life”) it doesn’t really compare to my friends Michael and Chris who have birthdays over the 4th of July and Christmas, respectively. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!
Anyway, this weekend we’re all getting out of town together (to celebrate MICHAEL), and of course, we like to begin menu planning as far in advance as possible. Not in a “let’s make a prep list” kind of way, but more in a 11pm text two weeks before that says “Michael seems interested in clam pasta” and “can we have ribs?” kind of way. Michael loves clam pasta and ribs, and we love Michael, so of course we’re going to make him clam pasta and ribs. Michael, if you’re reading this, we are having clam pasta and ribs this weekend. Happy birthday!
My many thoughts and feelings on clam pasta have been expressed and shared (you can read/watch them all here, recipe included, IMO it’s is a perfect clam pasta), but ribs are not something I’ve personally explored. For no real reason other than my closest association with ribs is barbecue sauce, and (opinion incoming, brace yourselves) I don’t care for most barbecue sauce*, unless it’s of the highly vinegary Carolina persuasion. It’s not personal– I grew up in California! I don’t even like barbecue flavored chips. Blame ketchup?
*Of course, “Not liking barbecue sauce” is a not a very popular opinion, especially when there are so many different types to consider. The good news is that you can ignore my suggestion in this recipe for the perfect-to-me mustard-based, vinegar-enhanced sauce which also functions kind of like a “au jus” for dipping a la French Dip and just use your favorite barbecue sauce (recipe or bottled) to baste or serve alongside instead (if you’re on the fence, just do both).
But cuts of fatty pork, highly seasoned and slow cooked til falling apart, I like. Tender pork with crispy charred bits that effortlessly slide off a single bone, I love. Spicy, salty pork dipped in a tangy sauce made mostly of mustard, well, I would die for.
TLDR: The magic of these ribs is that before they even look at a grill*, they’re fully cooked and perfectly seasoned thanks to a considerable time spent wrapped in foil and slow roasted in the oven. This takes all the guesswork out of “are my ribs tender enough?” (probably not), plus the cost of propane/agony of maintaining the perfect charcoal grill for hours. The ribs in the oven can be done days ahead of time, too, making any sort of “entertaining” a real “breeze.” So use my sauce, use your own sauce. Use this recipe for spice blend or use leftover ham party rub (really works). Just make some ribs this way and maybe you’ll wonder why you aren’t making ribs more often.
*If you don’t have a grill, don’t despair. You can still do this recipe and skip the grill by charring them under a broiler or a 450° oven.
TANGY, SPICY GRILLED RIBS
These ribs are for people who lack the time, tools, space or knowledge to execute something that could be considered “proper” barbecue, but do possess the desire for highly seasoned slow cooked pork basted with a slightly sweet (but mostly tangy) sauce and charred by fire. While I do think this particular blend of spices is perfect for ribs and I’m not sure there’s a better combination than pork and mustard (see also hot dog party, ham party), you could also use salt and pepper and a barbecue sauce you’re loyal to– it’s the method that should be your takeaway here:
Low and slow in the oven till tender and (practically) falling off the bone, thrown on a grill (gas or charcoal) and basted with sauce of your choosing to get the ribs charred and crispy in all the right places.
For the Ribs:
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
(or about ½ cup of leftover Ham Party rub)
4-5 pounds St. Louis or baby back ribs
For the Sauce and the Grill:
¼ cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons white wine or white distilled vinegar, plus more
1 tablespoon light brown sugar or honey or molasses if that’s your vibe, plus more
¾–1 cup (approximately) drippings from the ribs
For the Ribs:
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Combine crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt, light brown sugar, paprika and black pepper in a small bowl.
2. Cut each rack of ribs in half– this is just so you can more easily maneuver on the grill, if this spiritually horrifies you, leave the racks whole. Place ribs on large rimmed sheet pan and season on both sides with the spice rub– you should use about all of it. Wrap each rack of ribs in aluminum foil and put back on the sheet pan.
3. Place ribs in the oven and roast until ribs are impossibly tender, nearly falling off the bone, about 2–2.5 for St. Louis; 2.5–3 hours for baby back. Remove from the oven and let cool a bit. Slowly (and carefully) unwrap the ribs, being sure to keep all the juices in the foil before pouring them into a measuring cup or medium bowl (the juices become part of the sauce you baste with/serve alongside). You should have about ¾–1 cup of liquid, but you’ll want to skim as much fat as you can off the top.
4. Add mustard, vinegar and light brown sugar to the bowl or measuring cup with the juices. Adjust here with more vinegar or light brown sugar as you see fit– it should be fairly tangy and not that sweet (but if you prefer a bit more of either flavor, adjust with vinegar and light brown sugar, respectively).
5. Assuming you’re grilling* the ribs after, heat your grill to medium high (gas, charcoal, whatever). Baste the ribs on one side with sauce and place basted-side down on the grill. Baste the other side of the ribs, close the grill then let cook until charred, 5-10 minutes depending on your grill and how strong it is. Flip the ribs and baste again. Continue flipping and basting until the ribs are charred to your liking.
*If you’re not grilling, you can baste the ribs and broil until lightly charred in all the right places, too.
DO AHEAD: Ribs can be seasoned 1 day ahead, cooked in the oven 2 days ahead.