My rib-awakening came during the world’s largest barbecue contest, Memphis in May. All it took was that first bite of a grill-smoked rib for me to recognize the real deal. There is nothing like homemade ribs.
And here is the dirty little secret: They don’t take nearly as long as the competition guys would like you to think they do. And they are much simpler to prepare than legend has it.
The most popular ribs to cook are back ribs, but spareribs and St. Louis-style ribs are gaining traction, too. Back ribs are cut from high up on the rib near the spine. Back ribs are meaty, leaner than spareribs and very flavorful.
Back ribs usually are sold in either full slabs (13 ribs) or half slabs (7 ribs), and are the most expensive cut of rib. When they come from a pig that was less than a year old, they are referred to as “baby” back ribs.
Spareribs are cut from the belly or side of the pig. Spareribs are longer and fatter than back ribs. The St. Louis cut is a sparerib trimmed to remove the flap of meat on the underside of the breast bone and squared off to more easily fit on the grill.
Once you decide which type of rib to buy, there are a few things to remember when purchasing your meat. First, make sure each slab weighs at least 2 pounds and that the ribs have a nice layer of meat covering the bone.
Second, buy the best quality, freshest product available. Go to a grocer that has high traffic and keeps the meat case rotated with fresh product every day. Beyond that, be sure to look at the expiration date on the label and give your purchases the old-fashioned smell test. If it smells “off” or a little funny, then it is probably old. I prefer buying ribs that are vacuum sealed, as they generally are the freshest choice.
The final thing that you need to know is that the best way to test for doneness is to make sure that the meat has receded from the ends of the bones and that you can bend the rack without breaking it in pieces. And remember that the only way the meat will fall off the bone is if you par-boil them first or if you way over-cook them. The best ribs should be tender, but have a little “chew” left.