Skip to main content

Labor Day Grilling: Perfect spare and baby back ribs

Written By | Sep 4, 2015

WASHINGTON, September 4, 2015   – This writers recipe for the perfect ribs is always evolving. Some things never change including the preference for spare ribs, over baby backs, the use of dry rub and sauce and giving them a good hot bath followed by a dry sauna.

There are two basic cuts of ribs most people find in the grocery store. The spare cut is from the underbelly of the pig. They’re the least meaty and most fatty of all pork and contain long bones with a thin covering of meat on the outside and between the ribs.

Although they have the least meat, they are considered the most flavorful due to the amount of fat. I have found that the Nature’s Place ribs found at Food Lion are perfect (note: if you are also offering chicken, I find I prefer the Nature’s Place over all other retail store products.)

They are vacuum packed and as I have discovered that I like to freeze and then 3/4 defrost my ribs (the process of defrosting helps to break down tough cartilage and connective tissue) before preparing and cooking, not only do I appreciate the packaging that wards against freezer burn, but also the quality of the product.

Summer Beet Salad: Roasted golden beet and goat cheese salad

St. Louis-style ribs are among the most popular types. These are a further trimmed sparerib with the breastbone removed as well as cartilage and tips, creating a rectangular shaped rack of ribs.

Baby back, also known as loin back or back  (when small), are short, easy to hold and meatier than spareribs.

Containing loin meat, back are less fatty and usually smaller; a whole rack of back ribs weighs between 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 pounds. Baby back are a narrower slab of the back cut from the rib end and are sometimes called riblets.  These are increasingly popular due to their flavor and price.

St. Louis style ribs will most often be available from a butcher; shopping at the supermarket you will most often find your choice limited to baby back and spare.

When it comes to flavor and tenderness in meat, it’s all about the fat content. The spare ribs are hardier to cook than baby backs as the meat won’t shred during the cooking process.  A favorite way to barbecue spare ribs to a perfect tenderness includes a period of time in a low temperature bath.

Spare ribs have less meat per rib so you want to plan 3/4- to a whole rack for a moderate to heavy eater.

My preferred method of cooking ribs is a warm, slow bath for spare ribs before a warm sauna.

Begin with your frozen ribs and let them sit on the counter between paper towels to defrost.  Once you can “push” on the meat, but it is still very, very cold, rub the ribs with a dry rub of your choice.

To bath, or parboil your ribs, put them in an oven-safe dish (I use a large Dutch oven) deep enough to submerge them beneath a combination of water with 1/2 can of beer or a shot or two of bourbon, basil, mustard seed, garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Place in oven, covered, at 200 degrees for two hours and then check.  The meat should actually be fork tender.  You do not want them falling apart.

Remove the ribs from the bath, dry with paper towel and let them cool.  You can either wrap them in foil and place in the refrigerator to grill “tomorrow” or wait until they cool before you remove the “membrane” from the back of the ribs.

Using a thin or boning knife, carefully slip the blade between the membrane and the back of the rack.

The following video shows removing the membrane from raw ribs.  I find it much easier to remove the membrane from the parboiled ribs that have cooled.

Once the membrane has been removed, season your ribs.  I prefer a dry rub at this time, adding a wet sauce prior to grilling.  Your dry rub can be made at home or purchased.  Ingredients, depending on your tastes, will include garlic powder, paprika, mustard powder, salt, pepper, dried coffee grounds, cumin, onion powder and brown sugar.

The following can be added to create your own special rub.

For one rack of 12-15

  • 1 tablespoon of coffee beans (freshly ground)
  • 11/2 teaspoonss kosher salt
  • 11/2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (coarse-ground)

Massage the ribs with a bit of olive oil and then sprinkle the rub liberally both side and massage it into the meat.

Then wrap in foil and place in refrigerator overnight or place back in a 200 degree oven for up to four hours while you create your sides and prepare for your family and guests.

When you open the foil the ribs should be cooked, and there will be a bit of liquid fat that is literally steaming the ribs.  I pour off the juice to use in my bbq sauce putting the ribs back on the foil and cover with wet sauce then place back in the oven at 200 degrees while I prepare my table, set out sides, our lemonade, etc.

Recipes for spicy cold lemonade and sorbet

Start the grill but have the charcoal pushed to the side so it is not directly beneath the ribs.  Unwrap the ribs and coat with more  sauce — either commercial, home-made or “doctored” from the store. I like to start with a good sauce that does not have high-fructose corn syrup.  Right now my favorite is Patti Labelle’s

Or make your own.  In a sauce pan mix some favored store bought with a couple of shots of bourbon, a handful of brown sugar, salt, pepper and spices to your taste.

A basic recipe for sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced
1 14 ounce bottle of fructose corn syrup free ketchup or BBQ sauce
2 tablespoons of light brown sugar
2 tablespoons of yellow mustard
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of Mom’s Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tablespoon of hot red pepper sauce or ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon of ground hot red pepper
½ teaspoon of liquid smoke
Also add…
Liquid from cooking meat

In a pot, mix the above ingredients and reduce to form a thick sauce. I like to thin the sauce with a couple shots of bourbon or whiskey (I like Pritchards for my rib sauce due to its smokey core; its also the perfect bourbon to add to your favorite French Onion soup recipe)

Spare Ribs

› Spare Ribs

Liberally cover the ribs and let rest until room temperature if they have been in the refrigerator or until they cool from the oven.  Start your grill with the natural wood charcoal or low heat if using gas and let it warm well.  Your ribs are already cooked so you are just warming and carmelizing the sauce.

Have extra sauce to brush on them as you carefully turn them.

Paired: BBQ Ribs | Chef Mary Moran

Paired: Baby Back BBQ Ribs | Chef Mary Moran

Baby back ribs are “finger-licking good,” and they are ideal to serve because they’re small, tender and flavorful.  They are often more tender than spare ribs, but require extra care so that they do not overcook and fall off the bone.  Because of this, I do not suggest that you parboil baby back ribs, instead going straight to the warm oven with them with a little sauce and dry rub liberally massaged on both side.

First we rub the baby backs with a good drizzle of barbecue sauce and then a dry rub.  After wrapping them in foil, place them in a 225 degree oven for three or four hours, being careful to NOT overcook them.

I know of people who warm-cook ribs overnight at low temps (175).  I always wrap the ribs so that there is an easy place where I can check the doneness by touch or thermometer.

Amazing offers some great tips to determine whether your ribs are done, but in general a temperature between 180 and 190 degrees, which is why they cook for a long period of time in a 200 degree oven that will gently cook the ribs, melt the collagen and render the meat tender, but still firm.

Because your baby backs have more meat, you might want to grill without sauce at first.  When they start to get very warm, add your sauce with just a few minutes left on the grill so the sauce doesn’t burn and ruin the ribs.

Prepare the ribs for your guests by cutting them into three’s (three bones per serving). The easiest way to cut them is by placing the ribs on a cutting board meat side down. Use a very sharp knife to cut between the ribs.

However, when you are plating them serve them meat side up.

Pair your BBQ with a summer beer like Dog Fish Head Brewer’s Namaste,  a rich Cabernet or other summer wine.

Your guests are going to rave about your ribs.  Just make sure to hand them wet towels at the end so your hard work doesn’t end up all over your house and walls.

Here is Communities Digital News very own Chef Mary Payne’s Quick and Easy BBQ Ribs Recipe (for when you don’t have hours)

Time: 90 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 2 slabs baby back ribs
  • 2-½ c BBQ sauce (I always go for a sweeter BBQ sauce made from molasses)
  • 1 onion peeled and halved
  • 1 carrot peeled
  • ½ c Mary’s BBQ Spices*
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • ¼ c chopped parsley

*Mary’s BBQ Spices

  • 1 T garlic powder
  • ½ T paprika
  • ½ t chili powder
  • ¼ t cinnamon
  • ½ T salt
  • ½ t pepper

First cut the top and the bottom off the onion. Then peel the outer layer of the onion. Next cut the onion half.

Cut the top of the carrot off and peel it. Then cut it into large chunks.

When you’re ready, remove the ribs from the package and wash and dry them.

Next in a large pot, fill it almost to the top with water (leave enough room for the ribs).  Add the onion and carrot to the water.

Bring the water, carrot and onion to a rapid boil and add both slabs of ribs.  Boil for 35 minutes. When you are finished remove them from the pot and set them on a cookie sheet.

In a medium mixing bowl add all of the spices and mix thoroughly and set aside until you are ready to spread it on the ribs.

Next heat your grill to a medium high heat.  Rub your ribs with Mary’s Spices and a bit of canola oil. Place the ribs on the grill, presentation side down (turn down the heat directly under the ribs). Cook them for 15 minutes and then flip. Cook for another 10 minutes and then baste every few minutes for an additional 10 minutes.

Once they are golden brown remove them from the grill.

When you are ready to serve the ribs cut the them into three bone segments (it’s easiest to cut the ribs from the underneath rather than the top), garnish them with chopped parsley and serve them with more BBQ sauce.

Tags: , , ,

Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning writer and wanderer. She turns her thoughts to an eclectic mix of stories - from politics to sports. Restless by nature and anxious to experience new things, both in the real world and online, Jacquie mostly shares travel and culinary highlights, introduces readers to the chefs and creative people she meets and shares the tips, life and travel information people want to read.