Friday, June 14, 2013

Best Ribs in the World

Just in time for Father's Day, I thought I would share one of my best secrets: the Best Ribs in the World. Ironically, most of this recipe came from one that my mother found, but we won't let that obstruct the degree to which this recipe is flush with paternal goodness.

So, you ask, what makes these ribs the Best in the World? Three things:
  1. They are easy
  2. They are fast
  3. They make you look amazing on the grill
Hopefully people will see this in time for Father's Day, but like I said, what really makes them great are how they'll let you make ribs a standard weeknight meal. 


The first thing you're going to need are, not surprisingly, the ribs. I've made pork ribs many times with this recipe, and I'm still wondering how they would work with beef ribs. In fact, the only time I've made beef ribs was when I purchased them to try this recipe, but bailed at the last minute because I was worried I'd ruin them (and they were so very, very beautiful in the package). 

Back to the pork: for my money, you've got two choices: Baby Back or St. Louis (aka Center Cut). Baby Back are a little shorter length-wise, but with a bit more meat per bite. Personally, I prefer St. Louis, since they not only have plenty of meat, but they're significantly cheaper. Another reason why these ribs are so great.

The first step that you absolutely, positively, cannot overlook is the removal of the membrane on the backs of the ribs. You're going to want to slide the tip of a butter knife between the membrane and a rib, move it around gently to separate it, and with a little luck, you'll be able to pull the whole thing away in a single move:

Begone, foul elastin!

Ok, some of you may be wondering why my pork ribs looks an awful lot like beef ribs. The short answer is that I was in a rush to get these ribs done, and it's very difficult to take pictures without getting your camera very, very dirty. When did I learn this? The week before, when I did the beef ribs. In any event, the method is the same, and you get a good look at it here.

On to the real ribs:

One rack cut in half on the left, another already in the foil. 

Now we get to the real trick of the ribs, which makes them cook so fast. You're not going to grill or barbecue them: you're going to braise them. Wait for it...

In pineapple juice.

Before you ask: no, not orange juice. Not lemon juice. Not Coke or stock or bourbon or anything else you think goes with pork. Pineapple juice only. Why? Because pineapple juice (and none of that other stuff) has an enzyme in it that breaks down connective tissue in a hurry. So instead of managing a fire and smoke all day on the grill or your BBQ pit (not that there's anything wrong with that--we just don't all have that kind of time), you can braise a whole rack in the oven for an hour and they'll be fall-apart tender. They'll add a small amount of sweetness to the pork, but it's nothing overwhelming--even if you're looking for a more savory final flavor, you'll be fine.

The Oven

Some specifics:
  • 1 rack of ribs (cut into two pieces to fit)
  • 1 cup of pineapple juice
  • Double layer of sealed, heavy duty aluminum foil
  • 1 hour in the oven at 375 degrees
See how easy that it? Feel free not to even write it down. 

Give each side a healthy sprinkling of kosher salt and then start wrapping them up. I'm not kidding about that double bagging of aluminum foil--between the bones and crimping to seal it up, you're got a good chance of a leak, which will be nasty business. 

As shown: not making a mess. 

Crimp up each "bag", put them on a cooking sheet for a little extra insurance, and into the oven they go. 

See? Easy. 

Once they're in the oven and your timer is set, you're ready to start phase two. 

The Glaze

There are lots of good glaze recipes out there (this one, for example, is very nice and worked out well when we tried it a few weeks ago). My own thrown-together is here (all measure in weight, unless otherwise noted):
  • 3 oz Lyle's Golden Syrup
  • 2 oz apple cider vinegar
  • 4 oz Apple Jack
  • 1 oz hoisin sauce
  • 2 oz brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all in a 1 quart saucepan and bring to a simmer until reduced to desired level (at least by a third). 

The more you reduce the glaze, the thicker it'll go on the ribs, and the less you'll have to baste. Of course, most of the point of this is to let Dad look awesome on Father's Day, brushing glorious-looking glaze onto ribs that get tastier and tastier looking with every moment, so go as you please. This amount worked perfectly for the two full racks of ribs that I made here. 

You may be wondering about one or two of those ingredients:
  • Lyle's Golden Syrup is an English sugary syrup used in baking. It is loaded with sugar, and adds a really nice toasty flavor to whatever you add it to (complete essential for this phenomenal pecan pie). Adds flavor as well as sweetness--you can replace it 1:1 with a light molasses if you like. 
  • Apple Jack is a spirit made from distilling apple cider. It shares a lot of characteristics with bourbon, but is a little more subtle (and goes well with the hardwood apple I added to the coals). Could easily be replaced with bourbon. 
  • Hoisin sauce is thick stuff, but the flavor is very savory with a tiny bit of bite. Just a bit (like used here) will add a nice tang, and work well with the soft sweetness of the pineapple, pork, and other sugars in the glaze. Can find it in the Asian section of the market--unfortunately, I really can't think of any good substitute (at least, none that are easier than going to the store). 

Whatever you do, the glaze should be a relatively simple affair preparation-wise. Make sure to set your coals about 20-30 minutes before the timer goes off on the oven. 

Now, be warned: after an hour in the oven, they're not going to look great. They're going to look so great that I didn't even take a picture of them. They'll look white and puffy, like boiled chicken, and it's really going to test your commitment, as you're probably going to want to toss them out (I still have to fight the urge myself). But don't worry, because you've come to the very best part of this recipe: 

The Grill

Shown: pure, solid, Father's Day manliness, available anytime you want. 

So how come these ribs look good when I was just saying how terrible they look? Because we've applied a glaze to the ribs (details below) and thrown them on a medium-hot grill, which will produce some nice sear and carmelization  on the outside of the ribs (though note that they shrank down a bit from the braise, exposing the bones--another good reason to double-bag them in foil). 

This is where they become an absolute must for Father's Day: not only are they simple, fast and easy to do, but the final step involves throwing them onto a grill, basting with glaze, and flipping every few minutes until they get the kind of color that you want on them. Unless you really stop paying attention or build too much of a fire (seriously, you don't need a lot--it's just to get some nice color out of the glaze), they can't burn. I wouldn't recommend more than 15 minutes on the grill, otherwise you can start pulling too much moisture out of them (and no, leaving them up on the "cooling rack" with the lid closed will still count towards this time). 

If you're up for it, you can also toss a block or two of hardwood onto the coals for some extra smoke flavor (I'd recommend soaking them in water so that they don't burn too hot too fast), but even without them the smell coming off the grill will be amazing. And in case you're wondering how tender the braise got them:

This tender. 

Another close-up shot:

This one almost broke apart in the middle just from pulling it out of the foil. 

One last thing, for those of you who already have plans for Father's Day, there are two other things to consider about these ribs: cut individually (very easy to do, given how tender they are), they make a terrific appetizer (just be sure to offer them with napkins), and they can be braised the night before and refrigerated. 

Hopefully you haven't all done your final food shopping for Father's Day already. This is a very tasty recipe (on the cheap) that lets Dad look like a boss on the grill. What more could you want?

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