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What's the best way to cook fall-off-the-bone baby-back ribs?

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11 Answers 11

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I rarely ever recommend boiling the heck out of meat. You are washing away all of the flavor. Remember water is a solvent and remove everything from the meat if it is left to boil long enough. For the most tender ribs I would recommend a braise. The slow, low, moist cooking of a braise is perfect for breaking down connective tissue in the ribs without drying them out or washing away natural flavor. Even in smokers I haven't had great luck with baby back ribs as they have a tendency to dry out.

Here is a easy to follow braise for ribs by Alton Brown video, 1, 2. It's a decent place to start and work on your preferred methods from there.

Please avoid boiling your meats, you will be so happy with other methods, even if they do take a bit longer.

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+1 Boiling is a bad idea. No seal! –  Josh Stodola Jul 16 '10 at 22:40
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The secret is simple: Cook them slowly, at lower temperatures.

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The key is to slow-cook them on low heat, and keep the lid/door closed for at least two hours. Here's my fool-proof method for fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs that anyone can do...

  1. Make sure you know where to get good fresh pork (pay the cost to be the boss)
  2. Cut membrane off the bone-side of the slab (optional, I don't like its chewiness)
  3. Use your favorite rib rub on both sides (or just pick one in the store)
  4. Wrap the slabs in aluminum foil tightly (shiny side outward)
  5. Refrigerate overnight or for a few hours (if you have the time)
  6. Preheat oven to 275 degrees (rack in the middle)
  7. Put ribs on a cookie sheet (bones down, meat up)
  8. Leave the door shut for at least 2 hours and 15 minutes (very important)
  9. Take ribs out and let sit for about five minutes (and savor the aroma)
  10. Remove the tin foil and put your favorite sauce on the ribs (I like whiskey in mine)
  11. Broil/grill the ribs for an additional 10-15 minutes (makes the sauce stick, restaurant style)

This works every time, and the meat really falls off the bone! The key is really to get good meat, though. If you are cooking ribs that have been frozen for many months, they obviously aren't going to be as good.

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For ribs or for that matter most anything you need to go to "the source" for food related questions: Harold McGee

He did an excellent post in the New York Times about cooking ribs: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/dining/30curious.html?scp=1&sq=Curious%20Cook&st=cse

Here is his recipe for Smoky Oven Spare ribs: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/dining/30curiousrex.html?ref=dining

The basic idea is slow taking about 6 hours. Start initially at 200 for the first 4 hours then reduce to 175 for the final 2 hours.

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Thanks for posting the link to Harold McGee's article. His directions are great! –  I Like to Code Feb 2 at 21:37
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The best way is very involved, but here are the cliff notes:

  • cover in yellow mustard, add your choice of rub
  • cook 250 degrees, either in the oven or on the grill with offset coals.
  • after 2 hours wrap in foil, add about some pineapple or apple juice
  • cook 1 hour in foil
  • remove from foil, put on high heat, glaze with sauce and bake it in for 15 - 20 mins.

Guaranteed to be extremely tender. Keep in mind that "falling off the bone" is a marketing term, and ribs that tender are very overcooked.

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If you are only concerned with tenderness, boil the heck out of them, then sauce them and put them on the grill. They don't get smoky that way, though.

My dad's first experiment with his smoker was a pile of baby back ribs. Here is what to do:

  1. Obtain baby back ribs. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Remove membrane from the bony side of the ribs. A paring knife or straight-blade screwdriver helps get you started, and then grab the loose corner of the membrane with a paper towel
  3. You may wish to sprinkle seasonings on all surfaces. I use either a simple combo of salt, pepper, and garlic; or Magic Dust.
  4. You may wish to prepare a mop sauce. This will help keep the ribs tender, especially if you don't have the equipment to smoke at 200°F. You will take a BBQ mop or basting brush, soaked in mop sauce, plop it all over the ribs every 15 minutes. This sauce should be acidic without any sugar.
  5. Get your grill or smoker somewhere between 200-350°F. If you can use wood or charcoal for your heat you are better off in terms of flavor. Higher heat requires more moisture.
  6. Grill or smoke your ribs until the internal temp is 160. You may baste the ribs in BBQ sauce for the last half hour to an hour of cooking for a nice glaze.

Specific decisions on anything general in the above instructions may be controversial. I am just a Yankee who loves BBQ, FWIW. I have no horse in any regional BBQ argument. It is all delicious.

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Yea, it's very rarely a good idea to boil meat. –  atfergs Jul 19 '10 at 20:36
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You have to do them low and slow. By going slow, you allow the fat and connective tissue to turn into tender awesomeness.

Here is what I do:

  1. Get your smoker/grill (with indirect heat)/oven to 215F.
  2. Remove membrane from back of ribs.
  3. Put a dry rub on you ribs. I use a store bought one.
  4. Put ribs standing up in either a rib rack or an inverted v-rack. This will prevent the bottom of your ribs from getting scorched if you are cooking in a grill/smoker.
  5. Cook for 3 hours
  6. Increase temp to 250F
  7. Cook another 1.5 hours
  8. Check to see if ribs "fold" easily when you pick them up with the tongs. Cook until they fold.
  9. Sauce the ribs with sauce of your choice and cook for an additional 15-30 minutes until the sauce is stick and awesome.
  10. Done.
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Since you specified the 'bbq' tag, I'm assuming you're asking about barbecue. I use what's called a 3-2-1 method, and it produces amazing results, every time.

  1. Apply dry rub to the ribs 4-6 hours before smoking.
  2. Prepare smoker for ~225*, and place ribs in smoker with water pan (ribs do not go IN the water pan), and add water-soaked wood to firebox.
  3. Every hour, apply mop and water-soaked wood to firebox.
  4. After 3 hours, wrap ribs in foil, and leave foil packets vented. Pour a little mop into the foil packets.
  5. After 2 hours, remove the foil. Apply mop.
  6. After 1 hour, perform bend test. When ribs are done, remove from the smoker and apply thin layer of sauce.
  7. Place the ribs in a broiler until sauces starts to bubble and caramelize.
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Try this method:

  1. Trim the silver skin connective tissue, that stuff will never break down into gelatin unlike the other soft tissue around the bones.
  2. Rub with your favorite BBQ rub.
  3. Smoke heavily with unsoaked fruit wood (apple, cherry, etc.) for 1 hour on indirect heat.
  4. Wrap tightly in foil, and pour mix of your rub & cider vinegar inside package.
  5. Bake in 250 oven for 3-4 hours.
  6. Take out of wrap and glaze with BBQ sauce and finish over direct heat for 5-10 minutes until it looks fabulous.

When you boil ribs, the terrorists win.

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I generally cook ribs with the same idea in mind but there are a couple of ways to achieve the tenderness and smoke grilled flavor.

  1. Rinse meat
  2. Season with rub or marinade of your choice (I use a vinegar base marinade, Wicker Sauce)
  3. Wrap them in foil and bake at 350 degrees or slow cooker if time allows
  4. Grill/broil until desired
  5. Brush with sauce (optional)

or

  1. Grill seasoned/marinated ribs until done or mostly done
  2. Wrap grilled/broiled ribs in foil or place in slow cooker until tender
  3. Take out of oven or cooker and brush with sauce (optional)
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What I do is peel of the skin, then boil in a mix of 75% Pepsi / 25% water until almost cooked. Let rest for a couple of minutes and smother them in sauce and under the grill they go.

Awesome every time!

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