In & Out of the Kitchen: A foolproof method for barbecuing ribs

Plate of ribs

Finished ribs, cut in two rib portions for serving. 

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FOOD – Who doesn’t love barbecued pork ribs, sticky from sweet sauce and falling off the bone?

Husband Eric likes ribs that way. I never prepared them like that, but now I do.

Last summer, my niece Ann Marie sent me a video, made by Bon Appetit Magazine Test Kitchen, of Claire Saffitz making barbecued pork spare ribs. She is no longer with Bon Appetit but the video is still out there.

I use her method, and oh boy does it work. The ribs do most of the cooking in the oven. I often do that the day before. Then Eric can stroll out to the grill in front of our guests, baste and flip the racks a few times, and get all the credit.

You can’t not like Claire, with her direct, confident gaze, you-can-do-it-too attitude and naturally gray-streaked hair. And she knows what she’s doing.

Start with good ribs. I get mine from the fancy market in Latham when they’re on sale. They come three racks to one Cryovac package. In the vacuum-sealed Cryovac, the ribs can keep in the refrigerator up to 30 days from packing date. You don’t always know that date, so ask at the meat counter — they’re always helpful.

It’s a lot of ribs. There’s usually some left over to freeze. Recently, I was preparing one and a half racks. Cutting them in half makes them easier to handle.

This is how Claire’s method works: First, rub seasonings on the patted-dry ribs, both sides. Then wrap them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, wrap them again and bake. The sealed double wrap helps hold in all the juice, and you can collect it after cooking and use it to make your sauce. Claire says, “It’s all flavor; you don’t want to lose it.” Finish on the grill.

You can season your ribs however you like. I mixed two tablespoons of kosher salt in a small bowl with a few shakes each of paprika, cayenne and garlic powder, and added a teaspoon of sugar. It’s not a lot of cayenne, but a hint of it carries through to the plate.

Some of the ends of the bones might be quite sharp, so pay attention when you’re wrapping. One of my packets needed a third layer of heavy-duty foil.

It helps to have the extra-wide roll of foil. Pull the foil up around the rack, roll down and fold the ends in toward the middle. Then place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees.

How long? Two racks takes about two hours. You want them to be very tender. Poke through the top of a foil packet: If your cake tester or skewer passes easily through the meat, they’re done.

My ribs smelled done at one and half hours. I sat on my hands and let them go a little longer, another 20 minutes.

Let them cool a bit until you can pick them up. Then poke a hole in one end of each packet and collect the juices in a cup. I got about 3/4 of a cup from the two racks. Claire whisks in commercial barbecue sauce and some water to thin it out. I did that, too.

You’ll have more than you need, but save that sauce — it’s all cooked and safe to eat. It’s nice to have extra at the table.

As you unwrap the racks, feel around the ends of the ribs. Sometimes you’ll find tiny bone shards from untidy butchering. Remove them; they’ll come away easily.

My ribs were falling apart already. I put them into the refrigerator. When they’re cold, they firm up and are much easier to grill and turn. Eric turns and bastes each side about three times.

My ribs held together, mostly, on the grill. Cooked on low, they took about 20 minutes to baste each side and turn.

Let them rest so they firm up a bit, and slice. My ribs were picture-perfect if falling apart. I sliced them into two-rib portions, which helped them stay together until they got to the plates.

They were out of this world, said one guest. Claire’s method is foolproof — your ribs will be great every time. I’ve even finished them in the oven under the broiler. That works, too.

I have some intel from the fancy market: Their ribs are on sale every weekend until Labor Day. If you like ribs, give this method a try.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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