What am I doing wrong with my spare ribs?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by angela09, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. angela09

    angela09

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    Okay, so we live in a very small condo where grilling is technically illegal, though we do sneak out the smokey joe every once in awhile.
    I still cook (pork) spare ribs: I cook them in the oven and then toss them on the grill at the end. This is what I do: apply dry rub, let is over night, then cook in a 275 degree oven, 1.5 hours covered in foil, then uncovered for another 1.5-2 hours, applying a mop every .5 hours while uncovered, and sauce for the last half hour. 
    The first time I did this, they were amazing, and the meat just fell off the bone.  I've done it twice since, and the meat has been okay, but not great: not tough but not tender either.  Any thoughts on what I'm doing wrong?  Do I need to cook them longer?
    For what it's worth, I used "baby" spare ribs (not baby back) because that was what the butcher had...
    Thanks!
    Angela
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2010
  2. benway

    benway

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    You'd be astonished how much the actual ribs can make a difference.  You can't really follow a timed recipe with ribs you just have to check them and keep cooking away.  Dry rub is good, if you've got a roasting pan try the ribs in there with a good half inch of apple juice/coffee in the bottom of the pan.  Only uncover to check how they're doing and let it go low and slow for as long as it takes.  When they are getting close sometimes I'll pull the pan, leave it covered and refrigerate overnight.  This does three things, lets the ribs steam in the covered pan overnight, cools the ribs all the way down making it easy to portion them without them falling apart, and all the fat solidifies on top of the braising liquid so it can be easily skimmed away allowing me to use the liquid to thin the sauce.  Next I would grill them and finally add the sauce last although this is just a preference.

    If you're not doing a whole mess of ribs, the pressure cooker works well and you can get your ribs on the grill 3x faster.
     
  3. abefroman

    abefroman

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    Too short and not hot enough (especially for bigger ribs).  Go with 350 deg and try 3 hours.  Put the ribs on a roasting rack, with some water/apple juice in the bottom of the roasting pan, and cover with foil.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2010
  4. skatz85

    skatz85

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    i would try braising them by searing the spare ribs, then remove them add your aromatics and then deglaze with stock, wine or even water and then put them back(liquid needs to be half or 3/4 way up to the ribs), cover and cook them low and slow. should be tender when done.
     
  5. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Question about your prep work: Are you removing the membrane that covers the ribs? How about that flap of meat? Their presence (or absense) can have a serious effect on cooking.
     
  6. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Too short and not hot enough (especially for bigger ribs). 

    I'm confused, Abe. On the grill I work at 225-250F for an average of about 2.5 hours. Why should that be any different in an oven?
     
  7. abefroman

    abefroman

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    Are yours fall off the bone tender?
     
  8. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    They could be if I liked them that way.

    I prefer a little pull to my ribs. When I pick up a bone I want the meat to stay in place until it meets my teeth, not fall off partway on the journey.

    Typical procedure with spare ribs:

    Remove membrane and, sometimes, meat flap. Rub with mustard. Cover with dry rub. Let sit at least an hour at room temperature.

    Using the offset grill in smoker mode, cook the ribs at 225-250F roughly 2.5 hours until tender. Brush with barbecue sauce and cook over direct heat to create a glaze finish as the sauce caramelizes. Wrap in foil to rest until serving.

    At most, depending on how long I let them go over direct heat, we're talking about 3 hours of cooking for really big ribs, mostly at the lower temperature.

    The same procedure used for baby bakes would produce the fall-off-the-bone doneness you prefer. Or I could cook the spareribs for a short while longer at the lower temp.
     
  9. abefroman

    abefroman

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    Guess I like them more tender then :)

    Speaking of ribs I just threw some in the oven.

    Picked up a couple packs of country ribs on sale yesterday.
     
  10. chefedb

    chefedb

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     Most places I have been in steam them slightly then finish in oven.
     
  11. abefroman

    abefroman

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    I just pulled mine out had them in at 350 deg for about 3.5 hours with rub, and added the sauce during the final hour, and to me they have the perfect tenderness, I started tasting it after 2 hours and its not overly tender, at least not for bbq.

    The way I do it basically steams and bakes them, as the water from the bottom the pan steams up, then drips back down after collecting on the foil covering the pan.
     
  12. venom

    venom

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    After 50 plus rib cooks on my smoker, this is what I learned.

     
    • BBQ cuts such as ribs, pork butts and brisket are not the best cuts of meat. However, when they are cooked “low and slow” these cuts can turn into the most scrumptious, finger licking, delicacies. Low and slow is key to these cuts of meat.   
    • Depending on whose ribs you buy can play a role in your final product. The majority of BBQ folks shop at Sam’s or Costco and I only buy baby backs in the three packs at Sam’s. Sam’s Excel ribs are usually very meaty and great. Their Smithfield ribs are terrible IMO and taste like their hams.    
    • “Baby spare ribs” are the same as “St. Louis spares”. Some butchers rename them to take advantage of the name popularity of baby backs. Baby spare ribs (St. Louis) are full spares with the rib tips removed. Baby spares (St. Louis) are bigger and have more fat then baby backs. Size is important in cooking time. The bigger the ribs, the longer the cooking time.
    • I use apple wood for smoking ribs but all these processes can be used on any cooker as long as you can hold the temp. If not smoked that incredible smoke flavor and smoke ring will be absent but the ribs should still be good.
    • Get your cooker to 225-230 and I do this before anything else. I like to have my smoker to temp for an hour or more so it’s stabilized. Putting a ton of cold meat on a cooker that’s not stabilized will force you to adjust your cooking time. Some cookers (not all) can take awhile to get back up to temp. This can screw you up if you plan on serving at a specific time.
    • Remove the ribs from the packaging and wash and pat dry. Remove the peritoneum which is the tough abdominal lining on the inner side of the ribs. The seasonings and smoke flavor don’t penetrate that lining very well. I hate being served ribs with the lining as it’s just lazy cooking to me.  
    • Bring the ribs up to room temp for an hour or so before applying the slather and rub.
    • As others stated, a generous amount of mustard is then applied to all surface areas. No need to use expensive mustard as it’s more a glue for the rub as it is for flavoring.
    • Apply a generous amount of rub to all surface areas. Some others stated to apply the rub the night before and refrigerate which I don’t agree with. It’s not necessary for seasoning the ribs and if you apply the rub that far in advance, most of it will liquefy and run off only to be discarded.  
    • I like the temp around 225-230 and the cooking time really depends on the size of the ribs and some other factors such as the amount of meat in the cooker. I only smoke baby backs because I don’t like real fatty ribs. My baby backs usually cook 5 to 6 hours with the 3-2-1 rule. Three hours into the cook, rotate and turn the ribs, spray with apple juice. Cook 2 additional hours, rotate, turn and spray again but check to see if smaller ribs are done. Cook 1 hour more and any sauce gets applied before the last hour of cooking.
    • I usually don’t use sauce but my rub has plenty of sugar so my ribs are already sweet enough for my taste.
    • Some people foil their ribs in the middle of the cook which helps render the fat. I don’t use fatty ribs and my smoker retains a ton of moisture so I never needed to foil. Be careful with foil during and after the cook. You can steam a ton of flavor out of those ribs depending how you cook and/or hold them in foil after cooking.
    • Properly cooked ribs should have a little pull to them and the meat shouldn’t just fall off the bone. To check the ribs for doneness, pick up the rack by one end and if the weight of the ribs break the rack nicely, they’re done. If they don’t break, they need more time to cook.
     
  13. dmdaniel

    dmdaniel

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    Venom, I basically follow the same process that you do.   Some things I will add to you insight are that I also do not put my rub on until I am ready to start cooking.  I feel that if you put it on too far ahead that the salt will draw a lot of moisture out of the meat.  

    I smoke my ribs over apple, cherry, apricot woods for the most part.  I also use a water bath to help keep the moisture level high within the smoker to help keep my flavor/moisture within the meat.  I shoot for a sustained temp of 220 +/-.  I only smoke for the first 3 hours, and make sure I have enough airflow that I don't' get that bitter creosote taste.  The last two hours I flip the ribs every 30mins so I get an even coloring on my bark.  My dry rub is 3 parts brown sugar, 1 part sea or kosher salt, 1/2 part smoked sweet paprika, 1/2 part garlic powder, 1/4 part onion powder, 1/4 part sage.
     
  14. dmdaniel

    dmdaniel

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    Oh, I pull the ribs when done and tent in foil to rest for at least 15 minutes.  I do serve a sauce table side for those that want some.  But for me the ribs are perfects with that caramelized bark,
     
  15. deltadude

    deltadude

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    Lots of varied advice above....

    If you don't have a smoker, then cooking in the oven and finishing on the grill is perfectly acceptable. One thing is not acceptable, and that is parboiling, which simply boils the favor out of the meat.

    Low and slow is the way to go.

    Here is a link to BDL's excellent rib guide.
    Here is Alton Green's oven ribs

    So rather than write another guide I will address, what I think are variations that may be helpful clarifications.

    Temp,  can you cook higher than 220-250º?  Sure you can, but will it be enough time to break down the connective tissues, or do you end up with a chewy piece of  meat?  On the reality series BBQ Pitmasters, Myron Mixon -- Jack's Old South likes to cook at 300º, Myron is one of the biggest all time money winners on the BBQ Comp circuit.  However Johnny Trigg -- Smokin' Triggers BBQ, who has won more money for Ribs disagrees and like 225º.  My recommendation is if your not a pro, then stick with the tried and true, low and slo 225-250º, after you gain experience then try something else.

    Foil or Not to Foil, this is a frequent discussion topic on many BBQ or Smoking meat forums.  The fact is most BBQ competition cooks use foil, there are many reasons, but the biggest is it WORKS!  The bigger question in my opinion is When to Foil?   321, 221, 1111111, ten four hut, hut.  Yest 321 for spares, and 221 for BBack ribs are great rules of thumb, unfortunately we are all using different cookers, cooking at different outdoor ambients (if cooking outside), etc.  What I look for is Pullback, how far has the meat pulled back from the rib tip?  I'm looking for about 1/4" "pullback" on a majority of the ribs, any more and when you finish the foil stage, the meat will be falling off the bone before you get to the saucing stage (not a good thing), any less or no pullback, and the foiling stage may not produce the desired tenderness and instead still be a bit chewy or even tough.  If you are a NO foil cooker, then you have to tend ribs more and spritzing would be in order.  Again if your not a pro on inexperienced then foiling is one method that will not only help you achieve the desired result, but will also allow you to be consistent always serving tender delicious ribs.  (BTW, don't waste that juice in the foil packets, I use it in my BBQ sauce, or as a baste on dry ribs (no sauce).)

    Rub the night before or NOT?   Again a preference thing, I have done both, there is a difference.  I prefer the night before.  Also flavor flavor flavor, every opportunity to add flavor is a good thing, so I prefer a light coating of a strong mustard like "jack daniels", or poupon's mustard, or I take regular yellow mustard and kick it up with hot sauce or something else.  I then apply a health coat of rub both sides and on the tips & ends.  The next day when I get ready to cook, I take the ribs out and allow to come to room temp, but as soon as I do, I hit them with another coating of rub, but this one is slightly lighter.

    Ribs selection,  Johnny Trigg in one of the episodes shared many of his winning secrets, he always picks ribs with lots of marbling fat.  That fat is a self baster and will add a ton of flavor.  As a result low n slow is critical to have enough time to cook out that fat.

    Remove the membrane, absolutely! 

    When are they done?   A common phrase is "fall of the bone tender", however according to the experts, "fall off the bone" is NOT a correctly cooked rib.  The meat should reguire a tug and then tear clean from from the bone.  If you pick up the rack and the ribs are falling apart, you overcooked them ribs, if the meat isn't tearing clean away from the bone after that tug then they are under cooked.  I like to do the U test with tongs, pick up a rack of ribs while holding the rack lengthwise tongs tips about mid way.  The rack should almost without falling apart (do this over a tray in case the rack starts to come apart).

    Ribs are really fairly easy to cook because they are very forgiving, unlike a steak or hamburger where the time window is a minute.  I like to cook ribs and then hold them for a couple of hours.  In the final stage of cooking depending on how tender the ribs are after the foiling stage, I will put a light coat of sauce, and seal tightly two racks per foil packet, wrap in plastic wrap, then in paper town (insulation barrier), then in in plastic wrap again, then put in a preheat ice chest wrapped in warm towel.  About 30 minutes prior to serving I will heat them on the grill and add more sauce for the racks getting sauce, for about 30 minutes.  That extra wrapped time really allows the ribs to achieve a very tender doneness without the higher cooking heat,

    Hope this helps
     
  16. angela09

    angela09

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    Wow!  As always, you guys are amazing!  Thanks for all the help.
    KYheirloomer, I did remove the membrane, but not the flap.  I cooked them membrane side down, as the bbq bible said to do.
    Deltadude, your post makes me feel a little bit better: I thought they were *supposed* to fall off the bone!  The bones on mine came clean, but I had to cut the meat away; the other rack (I didn't eat them so I don't know) might have been less done. 

    At any rate, this is a wealth of helpful information and gives me lots to experiment with. 

    I'll just keep feeding my husband ribs until I get it right!
     
  17. teamfat

    teamfat

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    Maybe I should dig out my post from last fall, I think it was, regarding boiling ribs.  The short version is I use the boiling liquid as pork stock and throw the ribs away, they no longer have any flavor or pleasing texture to them.

    One thing to keep in mind is 'deep marinating' as I believe the meat industry calls it.  It is legal to sell raw pork with up to a 15% saline solution.  This gives you guaranteed tenderness, or always moist and tender or whatever catch phrase a particular food factory uses.  Basically you are paying for a pound of pork but getting 13.5 ounces of pork and 2.5 ounces of salt water.  Check the labels, if there are any.

    Sometimes that is not an issue but when dealing with low and slow cooking like ribs or butt on a smoker you can end up with the meat being somewhat 'hammy'.  This curing effect can also happen with using a high salt concentration rub and letting it sit on the ribs overnight.

    I'm also in the camp that believes "fall off the bone" usually means overcooked and mushy.  I like having a bit of tooth or pull to the meat.  If I want baby food soft, I'll buy baby food.  But to be honest I'd prefer ribs that have gone a little too far past the 'perfectly done' window over those that are not quite to it yet.

    It has been a while since I did loin backs in the smoker, they go on the Weber for indirect grilling.  Spares I usually remove the membrane, once in a while do a St. Louis trim, they go into the smoker.  I'm still waffling about whether or not a mustard slather prior to the rub is really better or not.

    Just had a thought, wonder why it didn't occur to me years ago.  I love making carnitas which involves braising chunks of pork shoulder in an orange juice and garlic mixture.  I should experiment with citrus on ribs and shoulder in the smoker.  I've served grilled pineapple as a side, but ... hmm....


    mjb.
     
  18. angela09

    angela09

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    Just an update...

    I took your advice, and the ribs turned out great on the second go-round!

    Thanks,everyone.  Those websites were particularly helpful, deltadude, as was your advice about the 1/4" pullback.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2010
    abefroman likes this.
  19. rbcheftalk

    rbcheftalk

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    Hi,

    New to the forums!  Thought I'd attach my question to this existing, related thread ...

    I've been exploring (the) various methods/procedures of oven rib preparation.  With my most recent variant, using StLouis slabs, I tried to maintain flavor in the meat, and get the tooth & finish I want.  To that end, I

    flavored brine, 24 hours

    wet mustard + dry rub marinate, 2 hrs

    tent, 250 deg, 1hrs

    drain/reserve juices from tent, add 1/2 c. vinegar/sugar/garlic liquid

    tent, 250 deg, 1hr

    drain/reserve juices from tent, add 1/2 c. vinegar/sugar/garlic liquid

    tent, 250 deg, 1hr        ( max rib temperature, ~182 deg )

    drain/reserve juices; de-fat

    transfer ribs to racks

    roast, 275 deg, 1 hr, flip & mop every 30 minutes with reserved juices

    roast, 325 deg, 1 hr, flip & mop every 15 minutes with reserved juices

    glaze with finishing sauce

    roast/carmelize, 360 deg, flip/glaze every 8-10 mins

    rest >= 10 mins

    Although the process was arguably (over)fussy, I was very pleased with the result ...

     good flavor throughout the meat

     ~1/4 inch pullback, clean separation after a bit of tug

     moist & tender, w/ a 'faux' smoker crust -- dark carmel, not charred, flavorful & tender

    So after all that -- a good attempt, imo.

    One question -- about tenting/braising after long-brining ...

    In the tenting steps, the ribs give up a *significant* amount of moisture.  I'm assuming it's "just" the absorbed brine liquid  ...

    After removing the ribs from the tents, I checked the meat -- and it was, frankly, 'scary dry'.  Looked/felt like overcooked supermaket pork chops.  Clearly, the subsequent steps started melting collagen, etc, and the addition of the mop, got the meat moistened again, but I'm wondering:

    Should that braising step be modified so as NOT to have such a 'dry' intermediate stange?

    Thoughts?

    Thanks!

    rb
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2010
  20. gunnar

    gunnar

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    curious, why are you draining and reserving juices? and I would say , yes, a bit over fussy but hey it's what you like to do.  I usually add my liquids in the front and retain juices under the tent during the first half of a dish like this and allow to roast off during the final phase. turning meat  at least twice. this helps even temp, moisture and flavor absorption. In the end I am left with a nice pan sauce that has been reduced either perfectly (IMO) or needs a bit of water (or wine , i'm not fussy) to loosen up.

    otherwise, I am going to have to insist you ship me some of those ribs for further analysis. feel free to pm me for my address.