As a BBQ and Grilling enthusiast I am often times told by friends they know how to cook the most awesome ribs. Many times their description of the meal includes the declaration their ribs are “so tender they fall right off the bone.” They are eager to share the super secret family recipe with me at the drop of a hat. More often than not the recipe includes some form of par-boiling ribs. I’m not a spare rib snob, like some of my friends, I don’t mind using the oven to get a nice finished rib. As a matter of fact they can come out pretty tasty. But under no circumstances are pans of boiling water involved. And just for the record ribs that fall off the bone aren’t tender…they’re overcooked.
A bite of ribs should come off the bone clean with just a little resistance from the meat. If you’ve cooked them so much the bone slides out of the rack of ribs then you’ve cooked them too much, that’s not tender it’s pork that’s close to mush. Now, I’m all about cooking food the way you and your guests want it. So if overcooked ribs is what you like just keep cooking them the way you prefer. But if you’d like to try a different technique that will give you tender ribs that won’t fall apart when you eat them then I’ve got a technique for you. They’ll have more flavor this way and the flavor won’t be dependent on slathering your ribs with sauce.
This technique, in the BBQ world, is known as they 3-2-1 Method. Cooking ribs this way takes time, about 6 hours, but it’s worth it. If you plan a head you can have great ribs for dinner without much hassle. You can even cook them the day before if it’s easier.
Pre-heat your oven to 225°. Lay your St. Louis cut ribs out on a rack. (Details on how to cut a rack of ribs to St. Louis cut can be found here.)
Cover all sides of the ribs with your “rub” of choice. If you don’t have a BBQ rub you can make one of your own. (Download 1,800 BBQ recipes, including many rub and sauce recipes here) Let the rub sit for a couple of minutes and then rub it into the pork. There’s a reason it’s called rub, massage the seasoning into the ribs. Some cooks like to coat the ribs with a layer of plain yellow mustard prior to the rub. The thought behind this step is the mustard will help the rub adhere to the pork. I’ve tried it and don’t really notice a difference, but some excellent rib cooks swear by it. You can’t taste the mustard when it’s all done.
Put the ribs into the oven, at 225°, set your timer for 3 hours and then go do something else. Seriously, don’t even open the the door to the oven for three hours. If you’re looking…you’re not cooking!
After three hours your ribs should look something like this. You’ll start to get a little pull back on the rib bones and a “bark” should start to form.
Lay out a sheet of foil and put a layer of honey on the foil. Make sure the foil is big enough to completely wrap your ribs up in a tight package. Sprinkle a little of the rub you used in the beginning over the honey.
Lay your rack of ribs, meat side down, on the honey covered foil.
Wrap three side of the ribs up tight in the foil. Add a splash of apple juice to the rack through the unwrapped end and then seal that side up too. Put the foil wrapped ribs back on the rack and put them back in the oven. Set your timer for 2 hours and walk away. Make sure the meat side is down when you put the ribs back in the oven.
After 2 hours unwrap the ribs and put them back onto the rack you’ve been using. Use a little care because the ribs will be a little soft at this point. Put them back in the oven for 30 minutes. This step will firm them up so don’t shortcut this.
After 30 minutes brush a light coat of your favorite BBQ sauce over both sides of the ribs. Only use a light coat. It’s about the pork flavor and not the sauce, so use a light hand on the sauce. Put the ribs back in the oven for 30 minutes to set the sauce.
Take the ribs out of the oven and let them rest for 10 to 12 minutes. Slice and serve.
Six hours to cook ribs? I know some of you are thinking this is a long time, but I believe if you take the time to cook your ribs in a true “low and slow” way you’ll love having ribs with full pork flavor that doesn’t squish between your teeth when you bite into them.
Give it a try…