Pork Sparerib Tips
This Rib Tips article, recipe, and photos were shared with me by Eric Turner and his very informative website Meatshop 101.
Sometimes called ’side ribs’, there are a few names in the pork world that simply stand out above the rest in terms of familiarity and popularity, and ’spareribs’ is certainly one of them. They are guest stars at uncounted backyard gatherings and almost synonymous with ‘food’ in a handful of your classic American towns where barbecue is king!
Would anyone care to know, incidentally, where spareribs get their name? It has been suggested that the extension of the rib cage coming from the back ribs connected to the spine, is unnecessary to the hog and almost like a second set of ribs, thus the designation ‘spare’ ribs. But consensus has it the name is actually an English alteration of the German term ‘rippenspeer’, which is their practice of roasting pickled pork ribs on a spit.
OK so that may be where the word ‘Spareribs’ comes from, but how about the meat itself? It didn’t start out vacuum sealed and lying neatly in your supermarket meat counter, I don’t think. No actually, spareribs are the section of the pork rib cage between the loin back ribs (near the spine) and the sternum or breast bone. Commercially, sparerib racks contain from 14 to 16 bones, but sometimes if bones are damaged at processing level (before they reach the supermarket), these may be removed before packaging, so a rack in your butcher’s meat counter might contain fewer than this. Spareribs is commonly the name given to this entire ‘rack’ of ribs positioned as I have described, but it is often further portioned by butchers into a couple other inventions, if you will, that are very popular among many shoppers.
Grilling and smoking are by far the most common methods of cooking pork spareribs. It is just a matter of tradition that they go hand in hand with warm weather occasions where these cooking methods are most prevalent. But it is not as though spareribs have never seen the inside of an oven. In fact, the broiler is commonly used also, especially during the colder months when many have put their smokers and grills away for the season. Because the spareribs do not possess the natural tenderness of the loin ‘baby’ backribs, they can use a little encouragement to make them as tender as they can be. Please refer to my Shoppers’ Tip below for a little help with this.
Parboiling Ribs: Whatever cooking method you choose, it is often a good idea to follow the lead of many pork rib afficianados who like to ‘parboil’ their ribs before the real cooking gets started. This gentle boiling (a high simmer), along with a little salt added to the water, helps to soften up and break down the meat tissue for a great head start to grand tenderness!
Slow Cooing Ribs: It is worth mentioning, however, that many self-proclaimed rib authorities feel this method of tenderizing is kind of like cheating, and that the only ‘real’ way to achieve true tenderness is by the tried and true method that has become almost a proverb when cooking somewhat tougher meats: "slow cooking over low heat makes for maximum tenderness." But you know, not everyone is headed to Memphis to compete in the annual national barbecue competition or has half a day to stand over a slow cooking smoker, right? So if you’re in this category, I recommend parboiling.. I have personally had good success with this method and enjoyed outstanding ribs in a relatively short time.
I hope these 'rib típs' will be of use to many of you before snagging your next
rack from the butcher's meat counter. Enjoy, and save a slab for me, will ya?
Memphis-Style Smoked Spareribs
Check out Eric Turner's website Meatshop 101.
6 racks pork ribs (4 to 5 pound racks pork baby back ribs or 6 to 8 pounds pork spareribs)
Prepare the ingredients for the Dry Rub Seasoning and the Basting Sauce; set aside.
To prepare the ribs - Wash the ribs and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the ribs bone-side down. Optionally, you may remove the rib tips from along the base of the rack, as they are cartilaginous and easily cut through. Remove the membrane from the underside of each rack of ribs. You can use your fingers for removing, but you may find it easier to use a paper towel for a better grip.
Generously rub the ribs on both sides with the Dry Rub Mixture. Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil and place in refrigerator overnight to let the rub soak into the meat. This will give the rub plenty of time to work. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator about 1 hours before cooking.
To prepare the smoker: Presoak your wood chips in water for about an hour. Place a drip pan in the center of your smoker with plenty of water. A charcoal chimney is ideal for getting your coals started. Once the coals are white-hot, spread them out and cover with a generous amount of your wood chips.
To smoke the ribs: Cover the grill or smoker rack with aluminum foil before placing the ribs onto it, and then another loose piece on top of the ribs. Place the ribs in the smoker, over the drip pan, and be sure to close the smoker. After 30 minutes, begin applying basting sauce (recipe above), and repeat every 20 to 30 minutes. NOTE: You will likely need to replenish the coals and wood chips from time to time as needed.
Pork ribs should be cooked low and slow. For maximum flavor you will need to keep a temperature of approximately 250 degrees F. Figure 1 hour of smoking per pound of ribs. One (1) full rack of ribs can be smoked in about 4 hours. Ribs are done when they are tender enough to easily pull from the bones and the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F. on your instant-read meat thermometer. To judge the doneness of the ribs, watch for the meat to shrink, exposing the bones at the ends of the rack. At an average temperature of 250 degrees F., your ribs should require approximately 4 to 5 hours on a traditional, medium-sized smoker. When dove to your liking, remove ribs from smoker.
When done, remove from smoker and let the smoked ribs rest for approximately 10 to 15 minutes before cutting them. If you would like to add barbecue sauce, then brush sauce over the ribs shortly before you remove them from the smoker. Cut down the middle of each strip of meat between each rib bone.
Dry Rub Seasoning: