Barbecued Pork Ribs in the Oven

Barbecued Pork Ribs in the Oven
Finished Rib
Barbecued Pork Ribs in the Oven 
a Conceptual Journey and Inspiration
I rang up Uncle Sam of the famed Chicago Rib Joint to ask a silly question. “Sam, is it possible to make great barbecued ribs in the oven?” Sam was ever so diplomatic and replied, “I wouldn’t know how to make ribs in the oven”. Why would I even think of committing such a mortal sin, to ask a Famous Rib Master such an absurd question. I had no BBQ Grill, nor space for it to reside. I began reading everything about the multi-staged process of barbecuing baby back pork ribs. I learned about the preparation of the rack. I read about spice rub blends and their purpose. I got how slow cooking and smoke made for a tender flavorful rib. Smoke!!! How was I going to get smoke into my ribs without a smoker or a BBQ grill? I reviewed recipes for BBQ sauce and learned about complex flavor blends of more than 50 ingredients.
One day, I rolled up my sleeves and put all my research to the test. I went to my trusty butcher and purchased three racks of fresh locally raised pork ribs. Tis an ominous sight for sure, these racks of pork were nearly three feet long. It reminded me of a Nutra-trim Commercial I saw once, this almost prehistoric character saunters to the fridge, pulls out this enormous piece of meat and proceeds to devour it in seconds.

raw rack 
Remove skin
The Meat

I brought the ribs home and removed them from the butcher paper wrapping and proceeded to remove the thin layer of iridescent tough tissue from the back side of the rack. It actually comes off all in one piece, simply separate from the meat/bone gripping with a paper towel. This accomplishes two things; it helps the rub season the pork evenly on both sides of the rib and makes for a more tender rib.
 Its a wrap










The Dry Rub

Many years ago, I learned to grind my own fresh spices in a coffee grinder. I keep a coffee grinder in the kitchen, dedicated to grinding spices. I was romanced by the flavors of Fennel Seed, Korean Chili Flake, Cinnamon and White Pepper. I toasted and ground the white pepper and fennel seed into a powder and mixed them together with Korean chili flake and cinnamon and then added some brown sugar, smoked paprika (smoke without a smoker) and salt. It’s crucial that we taste while cooking, taste a pinch of your mixed dry rub to confirm the flavors translate from your palette. If not, play with the mix by adding more of one spice or another. When you’re happy with your rub, you’re ready to rub a dub, dub.


The Technique

  • Cut each rack in half for ease of storage and handling.
  • Place two half racks in a one gallon freezer zip-loc bag. Sprinkling a copious amount of dry rub over the ribs in each bag to cover all the surfaces of the rack. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Massage the ribs with the rub inside the bag until the ribs are completely covered with rub. This step is clean and simple. Once complete, place the ribs in the fridge to marinate in the rub for 8-24 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 275.
  • Take the ribs from the fridge, remove from the zip-loc bags and place each rack in a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, fold well to create a tight package with any seams facing upwards. Place all packages in a sheet pan in the oven just in case they leak during the slow cooking process.
  • Cook the ribs in their cocoons for 1.5 to 2 hours until the meat has pulled away from the bones slightly, but is still a solid rack (the rib tips will extend from the meat). Remove the packets from the oven. These ribs are now ready for their second trip to the oven. You can let the ribs cool and put in the fridge for a day or two or complete them immediately.

Decisions, Decisions…

Welcome to the fork in the road. You’ll need to decide which path to follow to reach your own personal pork rib nirvana. Many folks like to massage BBQ sauce into their ribs before giving them their final trip into the oven until fully shellacked. I’m a pork rib purist, after establishing a flavor profile in the dry spice rub and letting it mellow into the meat, the last thing I want to do is cover it up with sauce. I prefer to serve my sauce on the side and dip each rib as needed into my own homemade sauce and savor the taste of the well seasoned pork without it overpowering the meat.

Sauce Inspirations
  • Thai Chili Sauce
  • Teriyaki Sauce (Soy Veh)
  • Tomato Paste
  • Soy Sauce
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Chili Sauce (Sriracha, Tabasco or Trader Joes)
  • Brown Sugar
  • Pineapple Juice
  • Ground Ginger or Minced Fresh Ginger
  • Orange Juice
  • Japanese Seasoned Rice Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Chili Powder
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Coffee
  • Maple Syrup
  • Fresh Berries

Combine your BBQ shellack inspirations into a sauce pan and heat on low. Stir occasionally and reduce until you’ve reached the thickness you desire

Gilding the Ribs
  • Preheat your oven to 395. Remove the ribs from their foil cocoons.  Line the sheet pans with foil and lay the racks of ribs on the foil convex side up without crowding them. 
  • If you like your ribs sauced, paint them liberally with sauce all over.  If you’re like me and like the sauce on the side, simply let them do their thing and heat your sauce in a saucepan on the stove top.
  • Bake for 30 minutes until browned and ready to eat.  Remove from the oven and cut the ribs apart with a knife between each rib bone.  Stack them up like Lincoln Logs on a plate and smile at your achievement.
  • Serve extra sauce on the side in a bowl for each plate and an elegant roll of paper towels, because you’re not trashing my nice linens with those dirty hands.  Silver finger bowl with lemon slices optional.
Excellent Barbecued Ribs are possible, even in the oven.

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