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Foolproof Baby Back Ribs for Barbecue Season

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Summer grills are all greased up and ready to get to work, and my side-by-side charcoal-and-gas grill is no exception. When it comes to summer grilling, baby back ribs are always on the menu. My go-to ribs come straight to my door from Chop Box. They come frozen, so I stock up for the whole season. 

I always start from a recipe I discovered in 2012, from Alton Brown. It calls for steaming the racks of ribs in foil packets in the oven for two-and-a-half hours, low and slow. Then I finish them off over hardwood charcoal for some nice smoke and caramelization. 

The steaming really keeps the meat moist, which results in falling-off-the-bone ribs. And the method is pretty foolproof. 

First We Rub

Take the time to give your ribs a good rub. It imparts a ton of flavor and also helps to tenderize the meat. There are a million and one rubs and rub recipes out there and they are similar in many ways. You will find brown sugar, salt, and pepper in most rubs. From there, the ingredients can vary. The following recipe is my favorite and most of what it calls for is probably right in your pantry. 

Dry Rub (Makes enough for 2 racks)

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground mustard
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. Mix all dry rub ingredients in a small bowl and apply liberally to your uncooked ribs.
  2. Rub in the mixture until it is very well incorporated and has a wet sheen to it.
  3. Wrap each rib in plastic wrap and keep in the refridgerator until ready to cook. (If you have time let them rest overnight in the fridge. At a minimum I would let them rest 3 hours.) 

Alton Brown’s recipe calls for a braising liquid which accompanies the racks in the foil packets. It’s very simple and keeps the meat moist. Plus it creates a fantastic base to homemade barbecue sauce in the end. 

Next up, Braising Liquid

Ingredients

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a glass measuring cup or bowl and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir well afterward to make sure everything is incorporated. 

Cooking the Ribs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. 
  2. Tear off long pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil. They should be about 6 inches longer than your ribs, on each side. (I double up the foil because sometimes a bone will poke through and your braising liquid ends up leaking out all over your sheet pan.)
  3. Place each rack on its piece of foil and pull up the short ends crimping them together tightly. 
  4. Pour the braising liquid into the open ends of the foil then crimp the foil closed. 
  5. Place racks side by side on a large sheet pan and place in the oven on the middle rack for 2½ hours. 
  6. When it’s time, remove the ribs. Using potholders, carefully open one end of each foil packet and pour the liquid into a sauce pot or large nonstick skillet. I prefer the latter because the liquid reduces more quickly and the nonstick helps with cleanup. 

Alton’s recipe relies on the braising liquid reduction as the sole barbecue sauce, but I felt it needed more. I like a more robust sauce with some sweetness. The tablespoon of honey in the braising liquid doesn’t cut it. Here’s how I added to it.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce 

This recipe is inspired by a recipe I discovered back in 2010. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup beer
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp hot honey
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke

Directions:

  1. Add ingredients to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently for 25 minutes, or until reduced to 2 cups.  
  3. Add the reduced braising liquid to the barbecue sauce. It should be very thick. Stir to combine. 

Reduced braising liquid

Grilling for the Finish

Carefully lift your racks of ribs using large tongs so as to keep them together for the grill and brush on your delicious barbecue sauce. 

This step takes 10 minutes at the most. You are just there to caramelize the sauce. This can also be done under the broiler if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Now it’s time to dig in! Serve with your favorite barbecue sides. Try these Jersey Bites favorites: orzo with tomato, basil, and feta and corn, black bean, and avocado salad.

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