Spicy Baby Back Ribs

There’s a fine line between good and bad baby back pork ribs. When it comes to bad ribs, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to boil the meat first. All this does is boil away the flavor.

I’ve eaten my share of baby back pork ribs. Some of the best I’ve had were at the annual rib fest in Oslo, Minn., the past two summers. I’ve also had some pretty bad ones there, too.

I got a taste of some pretty good baby backs Friday night at the new Whitey’s in East Grand Forks. The meat was fall-off-the-bone. Along with some nice au gratin potatoes (the portion was a bit small), it made for a real tasty meal. The dinner was my first at the recently opened restaurant under new management, and I came away impressed.

Speaking of baby back pork ribs, here’s a recipe I came across recently that readers who still are grilling might find interesting.

Spicy Baby Back Ribs with Orange Glaze
1½ cups orange or tangerine juice
½ cup Asian-style sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon chipotle chili flakes
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 slabs (2 pounds each) baby back ribs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
In a glass measure, combine all the marinade ingredients. Remove half of the marinade and set it aside in the refrigerator. Place the ribs in a sealable plastic bag. You can fold them or cut them in half to fit better. Pour the marinade over the ribs. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat or prepare the grill for indirect heat over low to low-medium heat. The heat should be at a constant 250 to 275 degrees with the heat source at one side of the grill.
Remove the ribs from the marinade (discard the marinade) and let the ribs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.
Brush the cooking grates clean and oil them. Place the ribs, meaty side up, on the grill away from the heat source. Close the lid and grill for about 2 hours (for whole racks). Check periodically that the heat is not getting too high.
Meanwhile, place the reserved marinade in a small saucepan. Whisk in the Dijon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until it’s slightly reduced and has a glaze consistency.
Check the ribs for doneness. The bones should start pulling away from the meat and the meat should be tender, but still hold together.
Brush the ribs with the glaze and close the lid. Continue cooking another 10 minutes or until the glaze sets in. Glaze the ribs several times this way. Remove from the grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving. Serve with additional glaze if desired.
Note: You can adjust this marinade to your liking, adding more chili sauce and chipotle flakes for a more pronounced spicy kick.
Yield: Serves 4 (generously).
Approximate nutritional analysis per 6½ ounces of rib meat: 529 calories, 63 percent of calories from fat , 37 grams fat (13 grams saturated), 18 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 1,217 milligrams sodium, 132 milligrams cholesterol, no fiber.

3 thoughts on “Spicy Baby Back Ribs

  1. Sorry, Jeff, but I disagree highly on your pre-boiling comment. Let me preface by saying that this is one of those perennial cooking opinions that “pits” (yes that’s a barbeque pun) great ribmasters against each other. Toss out the sauce/no sauce topic and it will generate just as many comments either way. Now on to my comment:

    I feel that with pork baby back ribs, boiling has its place. You have to start with a quality rib. A good rub is also essential, and the boil must happen in a relatively shallow pan in a slow oven, covered. The boil brings the fat out and tenderizes the meat. it also seals the rub flavor into the deeper portions of the meat. Finally if you save some of the boil water to mix into the sauce it will add a ton of “natural” flavor.

    Yes I think boiling can be done incorrectly and ruin a good product. But I think if it is done intelligently it can make for a much better tasting end product. Thanks for the great recipe and columns.

  2. Well, I’m going agree with Arleigh and disagree with both of you. The agreement comes from the part about this being a topic that divides rib cooks. The disagreement is that you’re both wrong about the cooking method.

    Both the grill/roast method and the pre-boil method have advantages and disadvantages. The solution is to find a cooking method that has all of the advantages with none of the disadvantages. First, we need to know what’s going on inside the meat before, during and after cooking.

    Within all meats(and especially BBq style meats like ribs, shoulder & brisket) is stuff called connective tissue. There are three types, but we only need to be concerned with one of them: collagen. Collagen is nasty stuff unless you treat it just right. If you give it three things, it turns into the wonderful stuff called gelatin. Those three things are low, constant heat, moisture, and time. Also, we need to know what happens to meat fibers as they cook. As heat is applied, proteins coagulate and then eventually curl up into little balls that squeeze out every bit of moisture that was trapped inside. Ever eat a turkey that was roasted for over four hours? That Sahara Desert texture? That came from overcooked little balls of proteins.

    So what does this mean for our ribs? Let’s look at Jeff’s method. First thing, the marinade isn’t really doing much for us. A better way would be to separate the wet and dry parts and turn the latter parts into a dry rub. One of the things a dry rub does is pull a small amount of moisture out of the meat. The amount is tiny(it’s not going to dry out the meat or anything) but it has some benefits. It’s the salt and sugar that are coaxing the moisture to the surface(hygroscopy). But it’s not just water that’s coming up. Contained in that water are proteins and other substances. These substances mix with the salt, sugar and other spices to create a thin, sticky surface to the meat. This surface is like velcro for smoke particles. Even if you don’t plan to smoke the ribs, it’s still a good thing to have. If you marinate the ribs instead of dry rubbing them, this layer just gets washed away by the marinade.

    As for the cooking, there are two problems. First, the temp is too high. The collagen to gelatin conversion prefers temps closer to 200 degrees. 225 is as high as I would go(2.5-3hr cook time). Second, there isn’t enough moisture present in the ribs to use a straight dry heat cooking method. The ribs will dry out enough that the collagen conversion is going to stop prematurely.

    But boiling isn’t the answer, either. Sure there will be enough moisture, but boiling is way too hot and violent for this application. Water conducts heat vastly faster than air. This heat will dry out meat even as it’s surrounded by water. Want to waste good money and a good steak on an experiment? Take a beautiful steak and drop it in boiling water for half an hour. When you pull it out, you will have a piece of shoe leather that is dry as a bone. How can this be when the steak was surrounded by water the whole time? It’s because the proteins overcooked into the little balls and squeezed out all the juices. The same thing can happen to ribs when you boil them(though some of it is covered up by the gelatin).

    The option behind door number three is a moist cooking method that is not as violent as boiling. We’re talking about braising. Take a rack of ribs that sat in the fridge overnight with a dry rub. Create a pouch using a long sheet of extra-wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil. Put the rib rack on the sheet, curved side down. Fold over the foil and crimp the long edge and fold it tight against the meat. Then crimp one of the short ends. Then open up the other end into a “mouth” and pour in about two cups of some sort of liquid per rack of ribs. I think I’m going to try a version of Jeff’s marinade the next time I make ribs. I’ve used OJ as part of my braising liquid in the past(w/ margarita mix), but I like the idea of the sweet chili sauce and mustard to give it a little more kick. Other options could include wines, other juices, broths, vinegars, honey, salty sauces like soy or Worcestershire, etc. Really, most anything can work in the right combination. After you’ve added the liquid, crimp the mouth closed and roast for 2.5-3hrs at 200-225F.

    Now we have the best of both worlds. We have the moist heat from the braising liquid without the violence and excessive heat transfer from boiling. After the cooking is done, we now go back to Jeff’s instructions with a small twist. Open up the end of the foil pouch and drain the liquid into a container(heatproof). There will be more liquid than you started with because of the fat and other juices from the meat. If there is a lot of fat, separate most of it out before transferring the rest into a saucepan. Reduce it to a glaze and brush it on the meat(just once). If you are using a grill, put the curved side down over direct heat until the glaze caramelizes(bubbles and browns). If you are using an oven, do it curved side up under the broiler until the same. Serve with any extra glaze.

    Give this method a try with a recipe you already like and see if it produces a better product. I can almost guarantee that it will. And cleanup is easier than boiling since you can throw away the “pans.”

  3. Never boil your ribs, but a beer steam works wonderfully.
    With a very deep foil pan, put in some cooling racks, to keep the ribs out of the moisture as much as possible, put in a layer of dry rubbed ribs, layer with onion slices, put in another layer of rubbed ribs, more sliced onions until you have used your supply of ribs and oions. Add one can of beer, cover with foil, and put on a hot grill ,about 250 degrees, to start for the first half hour, then throttle it back to around 200 degrees. I usually do my ribs like this for four (4) hours, take them out of the pan, arrange them back on the grill and smoke them for an hour, I preferr using a combination of hickory and cherry wood. Then using your favorite barbeque sauce glaze once, wait 1/2 hour; glaze again, wait another 1/2 hour, and then serve.

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