Baking baby back ribs can be a great way to make one of your favorite meals at home without having to use a grill or smoker. You can still get the same, authentic taste with just a few little tricks and tips. No matter how you cook them, the first trick to the perfect ribs is to choose the right ones.
Choosing the Best Baby Back Ribs
Like the name implies, these are smaller, more delicate racks of ribs. Unfortunately that means that there is a risk of being less meat and a risk of ruining their taste and texture with improper cooking methods. Choose the meatiest rack of ribs that you can find, steering clear of the packages with a lot of exposed bone or tough looking gristle. The meat should be a deep reddish color- so avoid any that is overly pale or brown in appearance. If the package feels sticky or there is an unpleasant odor coming from it, tell the meat manager so that it can be removed from the counter.
If you are buying meat from a butcher, ask him to cut the ribs as you would serve them.
To Pre-cook or Not to Pre-cook: That is the Question
Because baking can be very drying, it is important to minimize the time that the ribs spend in there. It is equally important to make sure that the ribs are cooked all the way through. To minimize drying and the risk of getting tough, some cooks like to par cook their rack of ribs. One method is to gently simmer them in a bath of your choice of liquids. One choice is a bottle of good beer. Another choice is a mixture of white wine, liquid smoke and garlic. It is important not to boil the ribs or to cook them for too long or they will get tough and stringy.
Giving the Ribs Some Good Flavor
A favorite method of flavoring baby back ribs is with a dry rub. You can make a dry rub out of whatever combination of spices and flavors you would like. Start with brown sugar and add a little garlic powder, a pinch of mesquite blend spices and even a touch of coffee grounds. Grind all of the flavors together and then liberally rub them into the ribs, making sure to cover both sides. For more heat, add chili powder or dried cayenne. You can take the flavors in any direction that you want. Your ribs can be Indian ribs with a curry infused dry rub. Make Asian ribs with a little Chinese All Spice.
How to Bake the Baby Back Ribs
The actual baking should be done on a shallow pan, preferably one that is nonstick. If you have any doubts about the surface of your pan, a very light spray of olive oil based cooking spray will help the ribs cook without sticking and will not change their over all flavor. If the ribs are very meaty or you are cooking a lot of them, you can go low and slow. If the ribs are a little on the sparse side or you are making a relatively small amount, you should stick to a 350 degree oven for only as long as it takes to cook them completely through (Around 15-20 minutes).
You can cook them on a rack on the pan so that the heat circulates on both sides evenly which will also speed up cooking time slightly.
Finishing the Ribs Off
If you want to sauce the ribs while they are cooking, wait until the last few minutes of cooking time and then brush the sauce on. You should plan on flipping them and brushing the opposite side as well. Some people prefer to serve several dipping sauces, a la carte alongside the finished ribs so that people can choose what kind of flavors they are interested in. If you plan to do that, offer sweet based sauces as well as a sauce or two with a little more fire to it.
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