In my next life, I want to be a pit-master. I want to live in Texas, preferably in the Hill Country, and dedicate my life to slow-cooking meat. I can’t imagine saying this twelve years ago at the height of my impassioned vegetarianism. Ironically, it was barbecue that brought me back to my meat-eating ways. Ribs, to be precise. My, how I’ve come full circle. I’m now not only eating ribs, I’m making them too. Twelve years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever eating meat, but now! Now one of my dream vacations involves a hands-on intensive course learning how to grill properly. Grill like I mean it – with gusto.
Sadly, in my current life, I am outfitted with an apartment sans a back yard, and subsequently without a grill or a smoker. If I want barbecue, I have to either go out for it, or make it myself. In my kitchen. Using an oven. I can just see barbecue devotees rolling their eyes as they read this – barbecue in the oven? You’ve got to be kidding! And I swear to you all that the second I get my hands on a backyard, some serious, real, honest-to-goodness grilling is going to happen. You can hold me to it. I’ll make up for lost time.
Speaking of time, the key to making ribs in the oven at home is simply ample time. You can’t rush the process – or disaster will follow. This is a thing of patience: you surrender the ribs over to low heat for several hours and you let the slow-cooking process do its thing as the meat grows tender, flaky, relaxed. [I resist using words like “succulent” and “moist” because I strongly dislike them. These, as well as the word “juicy” make me shudder and lose my appetite.] Instead of just cooking your meat at high temperature, which can yield some tough and chewy results (fail!), you gently coax it into a state of gradual submission (success!), so it practically falls off the bone when you try to bite into it.
It didn’t hurt that the meat came from one of my favorite purveyors – these ribs were perfection, with a nice layer of fat to keep them from drying out, and a healthy pink color. I’ve been to the farm where these ribs came from and you can tell – these are some of the happiest and well-cared-for animals you’ll see. The pigs were practically smiling.
I made these over the 4th of July, when the East Coast heat wave was in full swing and it was far too hot to do anything outside. I turned the a/c on, dialed the oven to 200 degrees F, and puttered around the kitchen busying myself with potato salad and pie until the ribs were done and ready for our plates. We ate them in a pinch with only a few ribs left over for the following afternoon lunch. When life gives you ribs – you fire up the grill. But when life gives you some ribs and an oven – well, you know what to do.
Oven Barbecue Ribs
2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs (you can use beef ribs here if you don’t eat pork)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Braising Liquid/BBQ Glaze
1 cup cola (preferably not with high-fructose corn syrup, but all the stores around me only had Coca Cola)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons maple syrup
Mix the Dry Rub ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.
Rub mixture evenly all over each rack of ribs, making sure to coat top and bottom. Place ribs in a roasting pan, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, preferably, overnight.
When ready to cook ribs – preheat oven to 200ºF, position the rack in the middle.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm the Braising Liquid ingredients until warm and uniform.
Place the ribs in a roasting pan (you may need 2 13x10x2-inch pans) and pour the warm liquid over the ribs, cover the baking dish with foil, and place the ribs in the oven. Mine required two roasting pans. I placed the ribs side by side – as my own size allows for it. Cook them for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If cooking on separate racks, alternate pans halfway through. If the ribs are cooking on the same level, rotate pans around halfway through.
Remove pans from the oven, throw away the foil, and pour the liquid into a medium saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, cooking until the liquid is reduced by half.
Preheat broiler and brush the reduced glaze on top of each rack of ribs. Be generous with the glaze. Place ribs under the broiler for 2 minutes until the glaze starts to caramelize. Check on the ribs after 1 minute – they can quickly overcook.
Let the meat rest for a few minutes, then slice and serve.