by Rick Rodgers
from Fine Cooking #118, pp. 38-43
Let’s talk ribs. Like most people, when I say “ribs,” I mean pork ribs. I think that their sweet, succulent meat far surpasses beef ribs and trendy lamb ribs, and they’re easy to find at the market, too. Throughout more than 20 years of cooking pork ribs at home and teaching cooking classes on how to grill them, I’ve found that the key to pork rib success is understanding the differences among the three most popular kinds-baby backs, spareribs, and country-style ribs-and knowing the best cooking method for each one. The recipes that follow illustrate just that, and they’re so tasty, you’re sure to have a hankering for ribs in no time. In fact, I bet you’ll drop everything and head out to the store before you’re even done reading thi…
Found at the top of the rib cage, lying underneath the loin meat, these small, curved ribs are the same ones attached to rib pork chops and roasts. The bones are narrow, with tender, lean meat. They have much less fat and cartilage than spareribs, and they weigh less, too, which means they cook up relatively quickly and are ideal for grilling.
|Learn more about baby-back ribs
||Hickory-Smoked Baby Back Ribs with Apricot-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce|
These are actually chops from the shoulder blade end of the loin. They often include part of the upper rib bones, hence the misnomer, but they can also be found boneless. This flavorful cut, which is thicker and meatier than spareribs and baby backs, takes well to moist cooking methods, like braising, which melt its connective tissue into tenderness.
|Learn more about country-style ribs||Braised Country-Style Pork Ribs with Mustard-Beer Sauce|
Located below the baby backs, in the belly section of the rib cage, they’re so named because they’re what’s left over (or spare) after cutting away the belly meat for bacon. These wide, flat ribs have lots of fatty, flavorful meat and tough connective tissue, so they need slow cooking, preferably with moist heat.
There are two cuts of spareribs: standard and St. Louis. Standard ribs have the skirt flap meat and cartilaginous rib tips still attached. When they’re trimmed off (as shown below), the slab becomes the St. Louis cut.
|Learn more about spareribs||Herb-Rubbed Pork Spareribs with Honey-Lemon Glaze|
Whichever type of rib you choose, avoid those that are treated with sodium solutions, which many producers use as a measure against drying from overcooking. The sodium makes the pork overly salty. Labels like “Extra Juicy” or “Extra Tender” are tip-offs to the presence of added sodium.
Spareribs and baby backs have a tough membrane (or silverskin) that covers the bone side of the ribs. If left intact, it keeps seasonings from penetrating the meat and cooks into an unpleasant, leathery skin. Some rib racks are sold with the silverskin already removed, but if you buy a rack that still has it, it’s easy enough to peel off. Here’s how:
Position the ribs bone side up. Slide a table knife under the silverskin anywhere along the rack. If it resists in one spot, try another. Lift and loosen it with the knife until you can grab it with a paper towel (which will give you a better grip) and pull it off. If it tears, repeat the process until it’s completely removed.
Photos: Scott Phillips