Everything you need to know to make the best ribs this summer! Tips for making them in your slow cooker, instant pot, smoker , on the grill or in the oven!
Everything You Need to Know to Make the Best Ribs
Marrying Parker meant I was marrying a grill master! We have been dining on ribs and incredible grilled and smoked meats all summer long. If you’re like me, I was in the dark about cooking ribs. I wanted to know how to make the best ribs! So Parker taught me everything I need to know to make the best ribs! Here’s what he taught me…
How to Make the Best Ribs
Ribs are a classic summer barbecue food and they’re not as difficult as most people think. I’ll give you the in’s and out’s of ribs in this 101 tutorial so you can wow your family during your next backyard barbecue. You ready to learn everything you need to know to make the best ribs?
What Type of Ribs should I Buy?
Let’s start of simple. Where do you even buy a good rack of ribs? Some people may think you need to go to a fancy butcher, and you can! But we also find great ribs just at our local grocery stores! They cost anywhere from $7-$10 and can feed a whole family, so it’s actually a fairly cost effective dinner! The main types are Baby Back (these are very common and the smallest), St. Louis (which are larger and flatter than the rounded baby back), and the Spare Ribs (which have slightly less meat and are just the St. Louis with the rib tips and skirt meat). So which should you get? The Baby Back or the St. Louis would be my suggestion. Personally, I would go with the Baby Back only because they are smaller (plenty of meat though!) and are just easier to work with for beginners.
Here’s a photo comparing the large Spare Ribs with Baby Backs! The St. Louis ribs are between these sizes.
How to Prep a Rack of Ribs:
Everything you need to know to make the best ribs starts with prepping your meat. Remove the ribs from their packaging (preferably in the sink) and drain any of the extra fluids. Rinse the ribs under cold water briefly and pat dry with paper towels. Then set the ribs aside on a large cutting board. If you do not have a cutting board large enough to hold the ribs I recommend using a jelly roll pan or a baking sheet.
The next step is crucial for good ribs!
You will need to remove the membrane (sometimes called the membrane sheath, or the peritoneum if you want to be anatomically correct) which is located on the underside of the ribs. This is a thin layer of connective tissue that will not only act as a barrier preventing the rub from seasoning the meat but will make eating the ribs a more difficult and unpleasant experience. The membrane is easiest to remove from a rack of baby back ribs, but shouldn’t be too difficult on the St. Louis or spare ribs. Flip the ribs so they are bone side up and run the tip of a sharp knife down the middle of one of the bones towards the center of the rack. To separate the membrane from the meat you can use a butter knife or a flathead screwdriver to pull up enough to then grip with your fingers. The easiest method is to grab a paper towel and pinch the membrane and pull toward the end of the rack slowly, taking care not to rip it to early. It’s just like taking a sticker off of something. Repeat this process on the other half of the ribs so the entire membrane is removed.
The Secrets to the Best Rib Rub:
Depending on where in the country you are you will hear different opinions on the perfect dry rub. Some people swear by their mustard powder and others prefer to leave it out. Meanwhile, there are people who live by the simple salt and pepper rub. Either way, the rub makes all the difference! I’ll give you our secret rub recipe but also a run-down on the science behind making a rub in case you decide to venture off and create your own masterpiece.
These make up the bulk of your rub and make a huge difference.
Table Salt – Fine grain, regular table salt. Pros: incorporates best into rub mix, great for smoother rubs. Cons:
Sea Salt – Usually very coarse but you can find fine grain as well. Pros: great for finishing dishes, gives added texture. Cons: hard to incorporate into a rub, likely will not stick to meat during the rubbing stage
Kosher – Coarse and flakey. Pros: great for seasoning meats, dissolves quickly. Cons: None that I have found
Seasoned Salt – Different flavors incorporated into the salt (ie celery salt, garlic salt, sugar etc.) Pros: quick and easy since it contains many of the other spices used in a rub. Cons: you don’t know the exact amounts of other ingredients making it difficult to use as the main source of salt.
My pick: Kosher salt. It is predictable and incorporates into the rub as well as table salt but seasons the meat better.
Runner-up: Table salt
White Sugar – From refined cane or beet sugar. Pros: gives the same sweet flavor needed in barbeque. Cons: burns at higher temperatures.
Brown Sugar – White sugar combined with molasses during the manufacturing process. Pros: gives you the classic BBQ flavor and a noticeable crust on the meat after cooking, blends well with spices Cons: none
My pick and the safe bet: Brown sugar
There are spice snobs who know their stuff and can tell you exactly how to make a rub and guarantee success. Follow them or the rub recipe below and you’ll get a safe, great tasting rub. If you want to venture out of the ordinary and make your own, here’s a list of the most common ingredients and how each changes the rub.
Here are the essentials:
Black Pepper – A necessity in any rub. Can be coarse or fine, pre-ground, or freshly cracked. If you’re making a large batch of rub to keep and save for later you may want to give your arms a break and use the pre-ground pepper.
Cayenne Pepper – Whether you like it spicy or not, add this to the mix to accentuate the rest of the flavors in the rub. The more you add the more heat you’ll get. Cayenne provides a direct noticeable heat, but keep in mind it is one of many spices so you really have to add a lot if you’re trying to make it obvious.
Chili Powder – A blend of various spices and ground chile peppers. Gives your rub a more earthy and sophisticated flavor. You can find different varieties such as chipotle chili powder
Paprika – You can’t forget this one! It gives a distinct red color to your rub and meat and will help develop that gentle smokey flavor. If you like a noticeable smoke flavor then grab the smoked paprika.
White Pepper – Light in color and offers a mild pepper flavor. Helps add a little heat but more as a background flavor.
Cumin – Common in Latin American foods but gives barbequed meats a flavorful earthiness with a light but noticeable warmth and aroma.
Onion Powder – Adds a subtle onion flavor without being overbearing.
Garlic Powder – Because everything needs garlic!
Mustard Powder – For a, well, mustard flavor. Complements the rest of the blend.
The Special Flavors:
If you want to get creative there are plenty of additional spices and seasonings you can add to give your meat that special secret flavor.
Ground Ginger – Tangy and fresh with a mild heat but noticeable sweetness.
Dried Oregano – Adds a pungent and sharp peppery flavor.
Coriander – Gives a roasted nutty flavor.
Thyme – Gives a slight mint flavor with a gently dry aroma
Keep in mind it is all about balance. The goal is to have a blend where all the components work together without having one overpower the other.
The Go-To Rib Rub:
1 C Brown Sugar
1/4 C Smoked Paprika
3 Tbs. Kosher Salt
2 Tbs. Black Pepper
2 Tbs. Garlic Powder’
2 Tbs. Onion Powder
2 Tbs. Cumin
2 Tbs. Mustard Powder
1 Tbs. White Pepper
1 Tbs. Chipotle Chili Powder
1 Tbs. Cayenne Pepper
Mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl or shake in a large ziplock back. This rub will give you enough to season 3 regular size racks of ribs. If you are making less you can save it for later or halve the recipe.
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Now that the hard part is over it’s time to rub those ribs! Get out your pre-made Go-To Rib Rub and sprinkle it over the ribs evenly and then gently pat or rub it around so it has a nice even coat. Flip the ribs and coat the bottom. You don’t have to be as precise or thorough on the bottom since it is mostly bone but you definitely don’ want to miss it! It generally takes about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of rub to season a rack.
Let the ribs rest for anywhere from 1 hour to 72 hours. If you plan to let them rest for longer than an hour put them in the fridge to keep them fresh. I usually just do one hour but a lot of people recommend 24 hours as the perfect amount to let the flavors sink in deep. If you are in a bind and need to cheat the time, you can get away with 30 minutes and I won’t tell anyone.
The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Ribs:
Meat thermometers are incredible for cooking! We cook ours too 200 degrees to melt all the connective tissues… that makes them super tender! We could go on and on about meat thermometers but we’ll get back to everything you need to know to make the best ribs.
How to Smoke Ribs:
Smoking the ribs is my personal favorite because it gives that classic barbecue taste. You might even be able to convince your kids you picked them up from a nearby barbecue restaurant. Follow this simple procedure to guarantee yourself some tasty ribs that fool-proof:
1) Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees
2) Place the ribs bone side down for 90 minutes, spraying with apple juice or cider every 30 minutes. The juice will keep the ribs from drying out and add to the flavor of the rub.
3) Pull the ribs off and wrap them in foil. Brush 2 tablespoons of honey butter (equal parts honey and room temperature butter mixed) over the top of each rack before sealing the foil.
4) Place the ribs back on the smoker in the foil, bone side up, for an additional 90 minutes.
5) Pull the ribs off the smoker and place them in a cooler for 15-30 minutes to let the juices redistribute in the meat. Don’t worry the ribs will still be piping hot!
6) (Optional) Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Brush your favorite sauce over the top and put them under the broiler for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce tightens with the ribs and becomes nice crust.
Takeaways for Everything You Need to Know to Make the Best Ribs in a Smoker:
Smoking ribs (and any meat in general) is all about low and slow. Keep that heat low to ensure your ribs stay tender and full of flavor. I prefer to smoke with hickory because it is a versatile wood and works well with ribs. Just be sure not to over smoke the ribs because too much hickory can result in a slightly bitter flavor. Oak is another good option and is very easy to work with.
How to Grill Ribs:
The grill is the classic way to go and there’s no better place to be during the summer than out on the back porch grilling. Follow this guide for the perfect grilled ribs:
1) Preheat your grill to 325 degrees using an indirect heat method. If you are using a gas grill using only half of your burners leaving one side of the grill off. If you are using a charcoal grill, keep the coals on one side of the grill and add soaked, drained, hardwood chips to the charcoals.
2) Arrange the ribs on the grill away from the direct heat and fire.
3) Cook the ribs until you can easily insert a toothpick between the bones, or the internal temperature reads 200 degrees on a thermometer.
4) Brush the ribs with your favorite sauce and finish them over the direct heat for 3-5 minutes.
Takeaways for everything you need to know to make the best ribs on the grill:
Indirect heat is crucial. If your grill is too hot or the ribs are over direct heat your ribs will cook quickly and be tough. Or worse, your ribs will burn on the outside will the inside is not yet done. The last few minutes over direct heat will give you a great crisp texture on the outside with perfectly juicy, tender ribs.
How to Cook Ribs in a Slow Cooker:
This is the perfect solution to great ribs without having to babysit the smoker or the grill! Toss the ribs in before leaving the house and come back to great smelling delicious barbecue. It doesn’t get easier than this:
1) For one rack of ribs, cut the rack in half and put the first half in laying flat. Coat ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce and repeat with the other half laying on top of the first. For two racks of ribs, place the ribs standing up against the walls and brush with sauce (see picture).
2) Place the lid and set the slow cooker to low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
3) Spoon the sauce at the bottom of the pot over the ribs before removing and cutting.
How to Cook Ribs in an Instant Pot:
Craving ribs and you only have an hour? This is your solution. Break out your instant pot and follow this simple guide:
1) Pour 1 cup of water into the Instant Pot.
2) Place the trivet in the Instant Pot (the wire rack that should have come with it) so the ribs aren’t touching the bottom of the cooker.
3) Place the ribs on the trivet.
4) Place the lid on the cooker and cook for 25 minutes on Manual > High-Pressure Cooking.
5) Once finished, allow the steam to release naturally (about 10 minutes).
6) Finish the ribs on the grill or under the broiler for 5-10 minutes (optional).
How to Oven Bake Ribs:
Just as easy and convenient as the slow cooker, baking ribs a good alternative if you don’t feel like firing up the grill or smoker:
1) Preheat your oven to 275 degrees
2) Wrap the seasoned ribs in foil and bake for 2 hours
3) Remove the ribs from the foil, brush with sauce and rewrap
4) Continue baking the ribs for an additional 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat falls off the bones
How to Cut Ribs:
I find it easiest to turn the ribs on their side so you can see the bones clearly, and then run a knife between each bone. Now your ribs are ready to devoure!
So there you have it, everything you need to know to make the best ribs this summer!