Spare ribs could probably be considered the red headed step child cut of pork right now. I mean, everyone is still going ape shit crazy over bacon and pork belly. Pig face is showing up on quite a few restaurant menus along with pig ears (although even my dog has kissed that trend good bye). Then there’s your usual cuts of pork like chops (soon to be known as: porterhouse chops, NY chops, ribeye chops or T-bone chops – this is progress?), butt/shoulder, tenderloin and of course ribs. But people only go for those tender, fall off the bone, baby back ribs. How about if I told you that you can make those less expensive spare ribs just as tender and juicy as those expensive baby back ribs? You just have to know how to cook ribs.
Having spent a few of my college years slinging ribs at Tony Roma’s, I have had more than my fair share of wearing, smelling like and learning about baby back ribs, spare ribs and beef ribs. This will probably come as no surprise then when I tell you that it took me about 10 years before I ate another rib, after spending so much time around them.
Since summer, aka grilling season, is fast approaching (at least according to the calendar) I thought it might be a bit helpful to do a post about how to cook ribs in the oven, specifically spare ribs. See, spare ribs can be some pretty tough pieces of meat but just cuz the meat can be tough, doesn’t mean that it can’t be made tender and juicy with the right cooking method (think braised meats). Just like me, and my bad attitude. With the right coaxing method, I too can be made tender and (but that’s probably best left with no further discussion). The other benefit of buying spare ribs over baby back ribs is price. There’s waaaayyyy more meat on the spare ribs and the price per pound can be 50% less than the price of baby backs. Got your attention now?
Like perfectly cooked baby backs, you can’t just slap spare ribs right on the grill. Well, unless you’re looking to create some rather pricey chew toys for both you and your dog, you don’t want to do that with a slab of ribs. No, ribs require a bit of tlc to coax the tender flavors from them.
So how do you make these luscious flavor bombs of oven roasted ribs? Believe it or not, it’s really quite simple. Unfortunately, like with a lot of things, it requires a bit of advanced planning. Now I’m only talking about 24 little hours, but I fully realize that a lot of times that’s 23 hours and 59 minutes longer than you normally plan. Sometimes you just have to put on your big girl/big boy panties and be a grown up and actually think ahead in order to get good stuff.
And c’mon…don’t you just want to tear into those spare ribs?
These spare ribs get their intense flavor from basking in a dry rub that stays on them overnight. The added flavors come from a liberal coating of tomatoes and garlic that sits on top of them during their long slow braise in the oven. One of the really cool things about this pork recipe is that you can really amp up the flavors with just a couple of changes. Want to make the flavors a bit richer? Add a cup of dry red wine to the braise. Want more of an herbal touch? Add a couple of rosemary sprigs to the braise.
The only silverware you need for these is a fork (to pick up the pieces of meat that fall off the bone when you pick them up to eat). Oh, and here’s what I was contending with when I opened up the ribs and started plating them to take pictures. Yes, that area is as small as it looks.
So now that you know the secret of how to cook ribs in the oven, when are you cooking up your first batch?
- 3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
- 2 Dried Pasilla Peppers (ground - minus stems and seeds)
- 1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
- 1 Tablespoon Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
- ½ Tablespoon Dried Thyme
- ½ Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- ¼ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- ¼ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
- 4 - 4½ Pounds Pork Spare Ribs
- 42½ Ounces Canned Diced Tomatoes
- 5 Cloves Garlic (chopped)
- Cayenne Pepper (to taste)
- Combine the first 11 ingredients in a small bowl and thoroughly mix to combine.
- Lay rib rack out on a long piece of foil.
- Spread half of the spice mixture on one side of the ribs and pat down.
- Carefully flip rack over and apply remaining spice mixture to other side of ribs.
- Tightly wrap ribs in foil and refrigerate overnight. (you may want to place rack on sided pan in case any juices escape)
- Pull ribs from refrigerator and unwrap.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
- Place ribs in a pan large enough to hold them or create your own pan by using heavy duty foil (which is what I did).
- Place rack of ribs, bone side down on the foil.
- Mix the garlic into the tomatoes (and a bit more cayenne if you like) and cover the ribs with the mixture.
- Tightly cover pan with foil (or cover ribs with foil and crimp the edges together if making your own pan out the foil - make sure to turn edges up so that liquid doesn't escape and place the wrapped ribs on a baking sheet).
- Bake for 3½ hours.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into ribs.
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