I’ve met cooks all over the globe who have rhapsodized over the primal pleasure of eating ribs, holding them in hand and eating the charred meat straight off the bone. Ribs take as many forms as there are places where they’re cooked, and it’s easy to replicate lots of them at home: Blast a rack of baby backs with garlic and fish sauce and they’ll taste just like ones you’d find in Cambodia; marinate a lamb rib with ginger and yogurt and it takes on an Indian tandoori flavor. What a delectable way to keep such an ancient way of eating alive.
Baby back ribs, from the pork loin, cook quickly, are generously marbled, and are easy to handle. Spareribs are longer and thicker, with a handsome curvature perfect for gnawing. They’re meatier, though, so they’ll take longer to cook.
Ignore those who tell you to boil or bake ribs before grilling: Both methods draw out that precious meaty flavor you want in a rib.
The Flavor 3-Step
Build flavor at three key points: with a rub, marinade, or brine before grilling; by basting with a marinade, mop sauce, or butter during cooking; and with a sauce or salsa when serving.
Rack ‘Em Up
A metal rib rack, which cradles the ribs vertically above the grate, allows fat to drain off and leaves room on the grill for other foods.
When ribs are ready, the meat will shrink back from the end of the bone ¼ inch on baby backs and ½ inch on spareribs. Another test of doneness: You should be able to pull the meat apart with your fingers.
Steven Raichlen is the author of Best Ribs Ever (Workman Publishing, 2012).
See the recipe for Chrong Chomnei Jrok Oeng (Cambodian-Style Ginger Lemongrass Baby Backs) »
See the recipe for Tandoori Champ (Indian Lamb Ribs) »
See the recipe for Costillas Adobadas (Mexican Pork Spareribs) »