Ribs are a “project” dish — or they have that reputation. Perhaps it’s their intimidating appearance: a big rack of bones. Perhaps it’s because they’re part of that culinary tradition know as “barbecue,” which can be overwhelming if you are used to doing all of your cooking indoors or don’t have a grill. But you can make ribs in the oven, even if that oven is in a tiny apartment, and they will taste very good.
Oven ribs won’t taste exactly like ribs that have been smoked over coals, but that’s alright. There are ways to imitate that smokey flavour (right down to the pink ring), but there’s also nothing wrong with ribs that are simply sweet and sticky, with tender, supple meat that pulls cleanly off the bone.
Imitating smoked-on-the-grill ribs requires liquid smoke and Prague powder, only one of which you are likely to have in your pantry. You can read the AmazingRibs.com guide on how to utilise those ingredients but, again, there’s nothing wrong with making tender ribs that taste only of pork and your favourite rub (and BBQ sauce). And it’s easy.
There are three stages to cooking ribs in your oven:
- Foil-wrapped roasting (keeps them tender without drying them out)
- Naked roasting (keeps them from getting wet and mushy, promotes bark development)
- Broiling (caramelizes the sauce)
The first two steps take two hours each; the last takes all of five minutes. But before you get to that, you need to do a tiny bit of prep work.
How to prepare your ribs for the oven
First things first: You gotta get rid of the membrane that runs along the back of the rack, unless you wish to spend valuable mouth minutes chewing on a tough membrane. (You don’t.) To recap, this membrane is easy to spot and even easier to remove (you don’t even need a knife):
If you look on the less fleshy side of a rack of ribs, you may notice that is a little shiny — almost like there’s a gossamer-thin gauze stretched over the meat and bone. That’s because there is, kind of. It’s a membrane (called the peritoneum, yum!) and, unlike collagen and connective tissue, it doesn’t soften when cooked…To remove a rib membrane, all you need is your hands and a paper towel. Flip the rack over so the meaty side is facing down, then, starting at the smaller end of your ribs, use your fingernail to separate the shiny membrane from the series of meaty bones. Once you’ve got a little piece peeled up, grab it with a paper towel, hold the smaller end of your rack down with your other hand, and pull.
Once that’s done, move on to seasoning.
How to season your oven ribs
Unless you are partaking in the liquid smoke and Prague powder method, you only need two things to flavour your ribs: a rub and a sauce. Both can be store-bought, but if you love mixing your little powders and/or liquids together to create a bespoke rib experience, be my guest — there are a ton of good recipes out there for both rubs and sauces.
For a rub, I used Meathead’s Amazing Smoked Pork Seasoning and Dry Brine, because Meathead is a friend and he sent it to me, and because it’s really good. For a sauce, I used Sweet Baby Ray’s, another fine product.
Shake the rub all over the ribs to create and even, opaque layer. If your rub contains salt, skip salting your ribs; if it doesn’t, season each side of the rack with 1 teaspoon of coarse Kosher salt before adding the rub.
If your oven cannot accommodate a full rack of ribs, cut the rack in half. Wrap each section (or the whole rack) in foil, and you’re ready to roast.
How to cook ribs in the oven
Heat your oven to 100°C. Place the foil-wrapped ribs on sheet pan and roast for two hours. Unwrap the ribs, place them back on the pan (meat side up) and roast for another two hours. To test for doneness, grab the middle of the rack with tongs and give them a jiggle. If the surface cracks to reveal an inch or so of meat, they’re ready (read more about the rib bend test here).
Once the meat cracks, it’s time to sauce ‘em up. Brush the bony side with your favourite sauce, then broil for 2-5 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble and caramelize. Flip over and repeat with the other side. There. You just made a rack of delicious ribs without stepping foot outside.