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May 2, 2010 05:41 PM

Can we talk about ribs?

It's spring. That means every girl's heart turns to the BBQ, right? Well, some of us.

I want to be able to make delicious BBQ pork spare ribs, but my last 3 tries have been epic failures. I just can't keep wasting this much meat, so I am turning to you all for help. I know pork ribs are supposed to be cooked low and slow. I am cooking on a propane gas grill and my ribs are completely drying out before they get tender.

I don't like how they taste if I finish them off covered in foil in the oven (but if I do that, they are tender). I want the outdoor smoky grill flavor. I am using a dry rub on the ribs, letting them sit overnight, and then grilling them over indirect low heat. Do I need to switch to charcoal, is that it? Why am I making so much jerky?

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  1. My experience recommends a two-stage cooking process (after the time that you already spend letting the ribs sit with a rub in the fridge). First, lay out a big sheet of heavy foil for each rack of ribs, then put the ribs on the foil, pour a up to about a cup of liquid (water, whatever) into the foil, and then seal everything up and cook at 300 or so for at least 2.5 hours, at which point the meat should be tender and fall-off-the-bone. Second, take the ribs to a grill (or if need be, a broiler), apply a thin layer of your favorite bbq sauce, and then sear on the sauce, turning and saucing some more to add layers of sauce without totally burning any of it. Never fails for me.

    When I have time, I often do an earlier stage with charcoal grill smoke (I toss in some chunks of cherry wood I have around), but for the main event of cooking to tender, nothing beats foil for keeping things moist.

    I look forward to others' ideas.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Bada Bing

      Yeah, this is good advice. Give the ribs your favorite spice rub, seal them in a roasting pan with some flavorful liquid, and slow cook for about 3 hours wrapped in foil. I prefer to do the initial slow cooking in the oven since it's easier to control temperature, and because the foil-wrapped meat is not going to pick up any flavor from the grill anyway. While you are finishing the ribs on the grill you can simmer the roasting pan juices to form a base for a really tasty sauce.

      This is of course different from true wood-smoked ribs, but just as tasty in a different way.

      1. re: Bada Bing

        Ah, I was not liking them when I braised them after I grilled them. It of course would taste better to braise them before! Thank you.

        1. re: Bada Bing

          This is how I make my ribs and they always come out great.

        2. I have used this recipe many times because people have started requesting them. It is just as Bada Bing states - ribs are a two stage dish and steaming is the answer. Grilling is only to heat the sauce. As a result, they are great for entertaining a crowd, since they can be cooked ahead and grilled at the last minute. Try this - you'll love it.

          Re the recipe I do tey and remove the membrane but if pressed for time I just score it and it seems to make little difference. I also use apple juice instead of the cider. As Bada Bing says, it doesn't matter that much. And I have never used the cinnamon stick.

          1. Go here:

            We do them on charcoal, but he tells you how to do it on a gas grill. Don't skip the "Texas crutch" step. It makes a WORLD of difference.

            We've always managed to do good ribs. But, once I discovered this site, we got much better at it!

            3 Replies
            1. re: onrushpam

              onrushpam, WHAT an amazing site! thank you for the reference. Everything is explained perfectly. I looked around the web and mostly I found discussion boards about smoking ribs while you ran your illegal still. This is the site I was looking for. I especially like this quote: "If you boil ribs the terrorists win."

              As an aside there are also the best instructions for trimming the ribs before you cook them. Thank you so much.

              1. re: onrushpam

                Lately, instead of doing the foil wrap during the last hour or so I have been leaving them uncovered but spraying them with apple juice/water/vinegar every 30 minutes. They stay moist, and pick up a nicer bark on the outside.

                1. re: TongoRad

                  This is a good suggestion. I've also used mixtures of vinegar, apple juice, salt, and spices to good effect (though you might have to strain such a mixture to keep it from clogging a spray bottle).

              2. if your rub has salt in it, i wouldn't let them sit overnight, as that will draw out moisture.

                if you want smoky flavor, you have to use wood, as grilling or using charcoal doesn't add any smoky flavor. smoky flavor comes from burning wood. as suggested below, use wood chips or chunks. put chips in a tin foil pouch and let them smolder as you cook the meat.

                filling a pouch with a liquid and cooking the ribs in it will essentially braise the meat, just as it would in an oven.

                widely accepted wisdom suggests that ribs shouldn't be "fall off the bone tender." but if that's what you are looking for by all means just braise them. braising is a fool-proof way to get that result.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tommy

                  I think you are right about the salt. I was blindly following a Neely's recipe.

                  1. re: tommy

                    tommy makes a good point about "fall-off-the-bone. While I think that tastes fine, I'd actually prefer to stop a bit short of it, just because it's hard to flip the racks on the grill during the last stage of cooking without them falling apart.

                    About salt, I would think that up to 24 hours with salt in the rub would have an effect like brining or koshering, which would help to retain moisture, no? (Something makes me doubt that the same applies to eggplant, though!)

                  2. One method I've seen is cook on the grill (smoker is better) low and slow, then wrap in foil for a couple hours in the oven, then return to the grill to 'set up'.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: amokscience

                      Basically how I do mine. One hour in the smoke. Three hours wrapped in the oven and then finished on the grill. They're fantastic.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        When you put the ribs in the oven, do you add liquid or no?