These are the ribs of last week’s July 4 celebration. It was just my husband and me. I had been hunkered down all week long finalizing the manuscript for The Banh Mi Handbook. (I hit “Send” yesterday so it’s in the hopper, due to be published a year from now in July 2014!) It was a national holiday but I had to work most of the time. My strategy for putting together a special meal was to get my husband involved.
He’d been hankering for the kind of barbecue we enjoyed in Texas a few years ago and I was thinking of gnawing on some meaty ribs. We discussed options and settled on pork spareribs. While I don’t mind tending to a pot of pho, I’m not into tending a grill for hours. We leave that the pros to get right. I remembered a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine for “the best” barbecue ribs.
Leary of superlative recipe names, I still gave it a try. The reason is that the barbecue recipe involved oven-baking with a spice rub, then a quick grilling. My friend Hunter Lewis, a Southerner, was BA’s food editor when that recipe was published in 2012 so I had a hunch that it would be good. Hunter makes delicious food and comes up with good techniques for home cooks. I trust him.
I was right. Hunter came up with a great method for mimicking the slow barbecue quality on a good rack of pork spareribs. This is not going to be smoke-to-the-bone kind of ribs. However, you will get ribs that beats out most of the barbecue dreck out there. The porky flavor of the meat and its richness shine.
The other fabulous thing about this cheater's barbecue method is that you can roast the ribs up to three days in advance and cook them up within 15 minutes of serving. We spread one full rack of ribs over the course of two meals set days apart. I love shortcuts when they’re smart. Don’t you?
Feel free to tinker with the spice rub but do keep the dry mustard, which lent a wonderfully complex layer of flavor. We used Colman’s dry mustard but you could certainly use Chinese or Japanese dry mustard powder. Try different kinds of ground chile instead of the cayenne and paprika. Hello, Korean gochugaru ground chile?! Or, add other spices. Keep the kosher salt and pepper. If you don't have kosher salt, use half the quantity of regular salt or sea salt: 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
As for the barbecue sauce, cook up your own. My husband doctored up ketchup with sauteed shallot, chile, Chinkiang vinegar, and soy sauce. You could even use the umami ketchup and add ginger, rice vinegar, and kechap manis or soy sauce. Use dark soy sauce and sugar to get a nice color. Or, just by a bottle of barbecue sauce and focus on side dishes, beverages, and dessert.
Cheater’s Barbecue Ribs
Yield: Serves 4
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
- Generous 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 full rack (a good 4 lbs / 2 kg) meaty pork spareribs
- 3/4 to 1 cup (180 to 240 ml) store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F (180 or 175°C / gas mark 4). Combine all the ingredients for the spice rub and set aside.
- If a thick, knobby cartilage-laden part remains on your rack of ribs, cut them off and save them for making soup or simmering in caramel sauce. (If you bought a rectangular cut called “St. Louis-style” spareribs, that section will have been trimmed already.) Cut the rack in half between two ribs. Put each piece on a piece of heavy-duty foil and rub the spices all over them. Wrap each piece up and bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until very tender but not falling apart. (We baked for 3 hours and it was falling off the bone and a little over done.)
- Remove from the oven, cool for about 15 minutes, then open up the foil to vent and continue cooling. Pour any juices from the foil into a heatproof cup; reserve those juices to later add to the sauce. Let the ribs cool completely, wrap them back up in foil, and refrigerate up to 3 days.
- Return the ribs to room temperature before finishing. Build a medium-hot charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to high. Meanwhile, if you have reserved cooking juices, add it to the sauce to make 1 1/4 cups; add water if you don’t have any cooking liquid. Thinning the sauce out prevents it from burning up the ribs during grilling and helps to create a lacquered effect. If your sauce isn’t too sweet or thick, you don’t have to thin it out!
- Grill the ribs, basting with the sauce and turning frequently, until glazed looking and charred in a few spots, roughly 8 to 10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes then cut between the ribs and serve with more barbecue sauce.