BBQ Cooking Secret: Baby back vs. spare ribs& two ways to cook them

These are back ribs, done low and slow over indirect heat, with applewood smoke.

Ribs are one of my favorite things to eat. However, they really must be cooked properly, or they are a waste of time and money. I never buy the neon red wet-marinated and cut-up ribs I see in many supermarkets. I assume they are trying to replicate those Chinese spare ribs, that are on most take-away menus throughout the country. Those are belly ribs that are actually deep-fried. Now I like alot of things deep-fried, but ribs are not one of them.

I think it is best to purchase  ribs fresh, (not cured or pre-marinated) in a full rack, or sheet as they are sometimes called. There should be ten to twelve ribs in a rack of back ribs. In the case of belly ribs, I like to remove and cook seperately the sturnum, cartilage and rib tips effectively making a rectangular St.Louis Cut that looks similar to a rack of back ribs. (If you google St. Louis Ribs there any number of videos that demonstrate this procedure.) This results in a much better presentation, and also makes them easier to eat.On both racks it is important to remove the very thin membrane on the underside of the ribs, as this gets tough, dry and chewy when cooked.

If you are barbecuing the ribs in a low and slow fashion, then they should be done for about three hours over indirect heat, at about 125 celsius. It is best to use a grill thermometer that is placed on the grate, and not rely on the one in the cover of the barbecue. I prefer lump charcoal, but briquettes can be used. When using briquettes,  always be certain the coals are COMPLETELY covered in a fine grey ash, as off-flavors are a result of the fillers and binders used in their production. Cover the ribs liberally with a dry rub, ( I recommend Mikes BBQ  Spice Rub.)  If youve access to any hardwood chips or chunks, (apple, oak or beech) they can be added to the glowing coals for extra smoky flavor. Refrain from saucing until the last few minutes, as sauce tends to burn.The ribs are done when they pull easily apart. You can place a pan of water under them if desired. This is an especially good idea with back ribs, that have little fat, and are more prone to drying.

Should you only own, or prefer the convenience of a gas grill, there is an alternative method. Steam (not boil) the ribs by placing them in a pan or pot suspended over water in a vegetable steamer, wire rack or similar device. Sprinkle with a rub, cover vessel tightly, and bake/steam them at 175 celsius for about an hour or until they are tender. Dont over cook them. (If the meat falls off the bone, they are over done.)Then finish them over direct flame on the grill, brushing them with barbecue sauce toward the end, when theyre properly charred.

Both of these methods result in delicious ribs. Whether you use back or belly ribs depends on whether you are in the mood for a strip steak (back ribs) or a rib eye (belly ribs). Belly, aka spare ribs are a more forgiving cut to cook, and less prone to drying because of their increased fat content.

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