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Ribs 101

So I've never made ribs...well I've made short ribs but that's different. I would like to try to make them this weekend, but I really have no idea what I'm doing. I have a few recipes from some books but it's always nice to get actual opinions. What kind should I buy? I would like to grill them (gas grill) if it all possible.

I perused some other threads but wanted to ask you fine folks, what is YOUR way of making ribs? Any other helpful hints, tips, tricks, etc?

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  1. it depends what you like. Pork, right? For country style, I usually simmer them in a liquid, like beer or water with onion, bay leaf, peppercorns. I finish them on the grill.
    For a rack of ribs, I usually bake them, or cook low, slow, on indirect heat on our Weber. I rub them with seasonings, first. I like dry ribs, with sauce on the side, or added at the very last minute so as not to burn.
    I don't do bone-in beef ribs (other than short ribs).

    1 Reply
    1. re: wyogal

      Pork is preferably since it's more affordable :)

      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        Nope, nor do I have the ability to build one before this weekend. Would be a fun project sometime though.

        1. re: juliejulez

          you can soak wood chips, wrap them in tinfoil and make a smoker

      2. I like to season with a dry rub overnight. You can remove the silverskin first if you like, but it doesn't ruin them if you don't. For Gas, I like to cook indirect. This means the center burner(s) is off. The outside ones are on medium or medium-low. Looking for a temperature of 225- 275 degrees. I stack the slabs one on top of the other overn the unlit burner (no more than 3 slabs). Every 30 minutes I rotate them. Bottom slab goes to the top, the rest move down one. The ribs are done when the meat starts to pull away from the ends of the bones and there is still some flex if you pickup a slab. If they don't bend a bit, you've probably over coooked them.

        5 Replies
        1. re: mike0989

          I'd probably just do one slab since it'll likely just be the two of us. Roughly how long do yours take to do?

          1. re: juliejulez

            Sorry, it's hard for me to give timing. I cook largely by the sensses, not a timer. It will depend on how hot your grill is and how meaty the ribs are. The besthelp I can stress is the two visual aides I mentioned. The meat is just starting to pull back from the end oif the bones, and the slaps are still pliable.

            1. re: mike0989

              Well I just meant like... around 30 min, an hour, two hours? More for planning purposes than when I actually go to start cooking them.

              1. re: juliejulez

                Using Mike's basic process, I cooked mine for 3.5 hours and they could have gone a bit longer. BBQ is done when it's done, of course, but I would allow yourself 4 hours or so and have your sides ready so that if the ribs are done early, you can eat early!

                1. re: juliejulez

                  Depending on ambient temp and wind, I usually figure on 4 hrs. More if I'm doing volume and need to stack them up. Temp is 225 - 250

            1. Dry rub ribs of your choice (I prefer spare ribs and Alton Brown's rub recipe), bag and seal them and let sit overnight, slow cook them in a sealed oven bag or sealed foil packet in an oven on 250-degrees for 5-7 hours until tender. Won't have a smoke ring or smoke flavor of a barbecue, but it will be great rib eating.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Rigmaster

                I do exactly this. Then I finish them on the grill to get the crust some folks like, or I finish in a smoker (stovetop is fine -- I used to use a foil lined wok with the ribs on the circular rack and wood dust in the bottom). If you keep the temp around 250 as Rigmaster suggested, your ribs will be wonderfully tender. Alton Brown unseals the foil (so ribs don't steam) and adds liquid so they braise. I do the same. I use white wine and apple cider vinegar as the liquid.

                Most of the taste is from the rub. If you smoke use mesquite or a fruit wood if you can. Don't smoke for too long, particularly if you use hickory or the ribs may become bitter. Check out Alton's recipe or video "Who Loves Ya Babyback?"

                1. re: travelerjjm

                  That's very similar to what I do. I brush the ribs with bbq sauce and put them into a Reynolds cooking bag with a few holes pierced through the top side. They get slow roasted in the oven until they are tender and then I finish them over a low flame on the gas grill just enough to give them a bit of char on the outside surface. I did this yesterday. They turned out perfect and everyone was pleased.

              2. I rigged up a gas grill to smoke ribs this weekend - it worked pretty well, actually. I turned one burner on to its lowest setting and put a foil pouch of soaked wood chips over it. The dry-rubbed ribs went on the other side, and the lid was closed. The grill maintained a temperature somewhere around 300, although I think there was a lot of fluctuation due to opening the lid, etc. Anyway, I left them in there for about 3.5 hours, opening the grill every 45 mins or so to add wood chips and rotate the racks. The finished product was quite good, although I think they could have gone another 30 mins to get really tender. Next time, I'll probably smoke for two hours and then transfer them to a low oven so I can control the tenderness and timing of the finished product more easily. Still, for smoking without a smoker, it was easy and tasty!

                3 Replies
                1. re: biondanonima

                  I mentioned below that I just remembered I have a cast iron box meant for wood chips, so I think I'll try those too. What kind of wood chips did you use?

                  1. re: juliejulez

                    I used hickory, just because it was available. I quite liked the flavor, but in general I prefer fruitwood smoked meat - apple, cherry, etc.

                    1. re: juliejulez

                      Before we bought a smoker, we did ribs on our gas grill with a cast iron wood chip box. It worked out well. If I remember correctly it took about 4 hours for them to be done. We've used apple, pecan, hickory, and mesquite chips before. I can't say that I've ever really noticed a difference between them.

                  2. I live in San Francisco and no smoker here... Through Trial and Error this is my method / recipe that I posted on another message board.

                    If you're doing this on a gas gril you'll need to either get a smoking box for the gril or Put a foil pouch on directly on the burner to create the smoke. (during the smoking phase - the ribs will be off to the side or on the top rack - indirect heat).

                    I like my ribs sometimes more than I get in an bbq restaurant. At the bbq joints I go too often all I can taste is the smoke. These have just the right amount for my taste.


                    The day before rub your ribs, with your favorite dry rub Let them sit as long as you can. When you rub the ribs they should completely covered in Rub - be generous.

                    the next day - throw them in the oven with apple juice and "braise" them for about 3 hours ( 400 so for the first 30 minutes - then turn the oven down to 275 or so). One other note - I don't go to great expense on the apple juice - use whats on sale.

                    Turn the ribs once (I do 2 racks of ribs in a very large disposable alum. Pan).

                    Once complete - discard the apple juice, let cool until you can handle the ribs (you can do this a day or two in advance). Once cool enough to handle portion the ribs out. By doing this you're creating more surface area to absorb the smoke. The ribs will be fully cooked at this point. I know my ribs are done when I can see 3/8 - to 1/2 of the bone.

                    BBQ - set your grill up for indirect grilling - (10 - 15 coals to one side) Use smoking chips soaked in water for at least half an hour you want the wood to smoke not burn. You can use what ever wood you'd like - however, I suggest hickory for this. It's got a smokey flavor as you're not smoking for a long period of time you need all the help you can get. You can either do a smoking packet or put the wood chips directly on the charcoal (I often do both). If you're use a gas grill just turn on one burner and use the smoking packet or the smoke box.


                    Smoke for about 30 - 40 minutes or longer if you'd like. Close the vents on the grill. You're trying to both warm the ribs and get a fair amount of smoke on the ribs at the same time. .

                    Once the ribs are smoked - raise the heat on the grill by either opening the vents or adding more charcoal (use a chimney) to start the grilling part. on in the case of a gas grill turning on more burners. Grill as normal adding sauce to caramelize.

                    It's takes just as long to do them this way - however you can easily do in stages over a couple of days. It took me a while to get this right but they rock.

                    I am sure many BBQ purist's are rolling over at my method. But I live in SF and don't have the space for a smoker. My friends love these and so do I.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sparky403

                      This is similar to what I do although I don't bother with apple juice -- plain water works fine for me. Whatever liquid you use you don't need much -- one cup or less. I also found that being less generous with the rub led to a better end product. One last difference -- I cover the pan with aluminum foil, trapping the steam inside the pan.

                      I make my own glazing sauce by putting one can of fire roasted tomatoes and one can of chipotles in adobo in a food processor until well mixed and pureed.

                      1. re: JonParker

                        I like those Idea's I may have to give it give a tweak or two - I do like to be able to see the ribs and turn them but it's not really necessary. I use a bit more apple juice than you do water. I used to use water or stock - but I found I really liked the slight sweetness the apple cider gives.

                        I like the sauce Idea too.

                    2. If by "grilling" you mean the same process as you'd use for a steak -- don't. You'll have charred, tough ribs. The idea is to basically slow roast them -- a smoker is just a wood-fired oven that routes the smoke through the cooking chamber.

                      You need to use indirect heat, so if your gas grill's burners are arranged side to side (vs. front to back) and you can have separate hot & cold sides of the grill, put your ribs on the cold side & a chunk of hardwood (if you use chips, wrap in foil & punch a few holes) on the hot side. Rearrange the slabs from time to time so they cook evenly. You can cook them all the way or remove after a couple of hours, wrap in foil and finish in a 250 degree oven. Finally, if you're thinking about sauce, add it after you're done otherwise it burns.

                      Or, get yourself a smoker like the one below

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rjbh20

                        Oh, no I know it's not the same as grilling a steak :) I just meant I'd like to use my grill... vs other cooking methods (like oven). This reminds me that I do have a small cast iron box for putting wood chips in for smoking with a gas grill. I bought it last year but never used it, so this might be a good opportunity for that.

                        And, well, a large smoker like that is on my "someday" list. Maybe we'll put it on our wedding registry when the time comes LOL!

                      2. As you can tell, there are a wealth of different opinions on how to cook ribs. I have had them steamed, stir fried braised, grilled, smoked, rotisserie, baked and dressed with any type of dry rub, wet marinade, wood, and sauce to add flavor dimensions.

                        A plank of ribs is currently on special for $1.09 a lb. so that explains why I ate them all weekend. I use a Jamaican dry rub for a couple of hours on the counter, and then for 1 to 2 hours on the grill, depending on how hot it is. I prefer a chew to my ribs, not falling off the bone. Or smoked all the way through. Just me, and I happily scarf it down when eating somebody else's ribs.

                        When buying ribs by the plank, try to find one with plenty of fat in the meat. Seems obvious, but I forget more often then I care to admit. If you have a butcher that can supply heirloom pork, you are way ahead of the curve. Get a generic plank from the supermarket to compare flavors.

                        Glad you didn't ask for sauce recommendations or we will hit 200 replies before the Fourth.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          Haha well BBQ sauce I'm good at :) I'll just be doing supermarket ribs since, well, there's a chance I'll mess this up and I'd be mad if I spent the money to buy good pork at the butcher. Looks like my store has pork back ribs on special for 3.99/lb so I'll probably go with that. They also have Hebrew National dogs on sale, so I can buy that as a back up :-P

                          1. re: juliejulez

                            If you have access to a Costco, they carry very good back ribs and the price is right.

                            1. re: rjbh20

                              Yessir I do...I know prices vary due to area etc but do you recall the price? It's kind of out of my way to go so if the price isn't at least sort of close to the supermarket it may not be worth the gas :)

                              1. re: juliejulez

                                Don't hold me to it, but less than $3/lb last time I checked. And theirs (Smithfield in my area) are the large ones (2.5 lb & up) and very meaty.

                                1. re: juliejulez

                                  My Costco almost always has regular spare ribs for $2.99 a pound and baby backs for maybe $.50 more. They occasionally have a special on one or the other, but I don't think I've seen baby backs for less than $3 a pound.

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    I just bought 9 slabs (3 to a pack) at Costco for $3.49/lb. They have become a staple at my July 4th party.

                                    My method: I loosely follow Alton Brown's recipe.


                                    I use his mixture of spices and I oven braise them for several hours. I do not, however, turn the braising liquid into the glaze. I tried it the first year I hosted a party and I thought that part was gross.

                                    So after they are fully cooked in the oven, I add my own bbq sauce and throw them on the grill just for a few minutes on each side to crisp them up.

                                    To be honest, I have never tasted them because after preparing them, they don't appeal to me! However, my guests rave and look forward to them all year long.

                              2. re: juliejulez

                                actually, ribs are fatty - and virtually impossiable to screw up.(unless you try to hurry it too much).. some are better than others and everyone has a different Idea about what the Ideal Rib is...

                                Either way, it's a cookng adventure and you'll have fun... don't worry about screwing up... as I, and others have said...(regardless of method). Your ribs will be perfect when you the meat pulls back from the bone about 3/8 or half an inch. and use that smoker box or a foil pouch to get some smoke into them.

                                I prefer pork spare ribs....you might also look for the St. Louis cut. But no wrong answer.

                                Have fun and happy 4th of July... It would be cool if you could tells us how it all works out for you... would love to hear the outcome.

                                1. re: sparky403

                                  I'll be back to report... so much good info in this thread! I'll either make them on the 4th or on the 5th, our plans aren't set yet.

                            2. I've not read all the replies. For the casual ribs, without all the charcoal and smokers....

                              I remove the silver skin and dry rub from my spice rack, including paprika, garlic powder, celery salt, or smoked salt, brown sugar, and whatever, a little cayenne or other dried things.

                              I let is set overnight, and then wrap it really really tightly in ceramic wrap with a tin foil coat. Let it cook on a sheet pan for a couple of hours at 250 in the oven, and then after letting it rest, finish it on the grill with a bbq sauce. Rufus Teague has a pretty good product out,

                              1. I season them, cook them low and slow in the oven for a few hours until they are tender then baste with bbq sauce and on to the grill for a few minutes for the grill taste. I prefer not to par-boil as some do as I feel it makes the ribs taste boiled. I like the Michael Chiarello recipe below, but you can also use a good bottled bbq sauce. The difference is I then put them on the grill for the grilled taste.


                                1. I've had success with Alton Brown's recipe for whole racks of baby back ribs. Dry rub and into heavy-duty foil packet, several hours or over-night in fridge. Then liquid into packet (can't remember exactly what, but easy enough to find on line) and 2-3 hours at 250 till "bendy"... HIGHLY technical, Cheffy term, eh! Liquid reduced down and "doctored" into a tangy bbq sauce to baste while finishing (fairly low) on gas grill.

                                  Though they came out really tasty, found his rub to be a bit salty... made adjustments the next time. Didn't have equipment or inclination to baby-sit them for 5-6 hours on gas grill... this is pretty much hands-free.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                    I've always wanted to try them cooked this way, but never got around to it.

                                    But I DO recall that the various times I've seen this done, it's usually been with orange or apple juice.

                                  2. There are a few tricks I found extremely helpful from the cooking end.

                                    1st - You can turn up to about 80% of your grill surface into an indirect smoking oven by placing 9" x 4" x 1 1/4" thick refractory fireplace bricks tightly together on the cooking grate leaving about 2 inches of exposed grate all around. Cover the brick surface with heavy duty foil to keep it clean. At a "MASONRY SUPPLY HOUSE" the bricks are cheap at about $1.25 ea. They last forever & when done cooking, let them cool and they stack in a bucket or plastic milk crate for easy storage.

                                    2nd - I like using a cheap ($7.00) chrome wire rib rack (Home Depot) to hold the ribs upright so that the bone tips are down and the fatty chine side is up. This allows the fat from the fatty chine end to drip down and baste the ribs as they cook. The rack also fits nicely in the dishwasher.

                                    3rd - A full rack has a thin lighter end and a thick heavier end which finish at different times so I cut the rack in half. I pull the thinner end when the meat pulls about a 1/4 inch up from the bone tip and I pull the thicker end when the meat pulls up just about a 1/2 inch.

                                    1. Julie, I don't have any advice, but just wanted to thank you for posting this as I was about to do the same. I'm looking forward to reading all of the responses!

                                      1. Well, the ribs only turned out so-so. I bought a rack of spare ribs.I used hickory wood chips in my smoker box, and set it over the "active" burner, which was the left hand one (my grill has 3 burners). I cut the rack in half because it didn't fit too well on the other side. The fatter half I put in the back since I know that's hotter on my grill than the front.

                                        I had my oven thermometer in there and tried my best to keep the temp around 200-225. But about an hour into it the wind picked up (happens a lot out here, such a pain!) and made it hard to keep it even at 200. I would turn up the burner but then it would go over 250. After it being in there for 4 hours, I moved the racks to the middle and turned on the right burner too because it was after 8 and we were starving :) So, the meat ended up being a little dry and tough.

                                        I'll try it again sometime, giving myself more time, and will hope for less wind.

                                        On a side note, I used the Memphis rub and basic sauce recipes from Barbecue Bible and both of those were excellent :)

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                          Try the cheap firebricks & rack mentioned above. The fireplace bricks will help stabilize the temp spikes & limit the direct flow of dry air moving over the surface of the ribs and the rack will allow for down drip self basting and also makes for easy spray bottle misting.

                                          1. re: Tom34

                                            Yeah when I try again I'll give myself more time to stock up on the equipment :) I was lucky my grocery store at least had wood chips!

                                          2. re: juliejulez

                                            With a gas grill, I think I would rather just slow cook the ribs in the oven, then finish on the grill. Do them ahead.
                                            Tom34's suggestions sound good.

                                            1. re: wyogal

                                              Great first try. At least they were edible. Something I have not attained on too many occasions. Like Beef Wellington. The beef had the consistency of a Wellie. Or the boullaibaise (sic) that I put the fish in reverse order. Don't give up!!!