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How To Cook Pork Ribs Three Ways

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#PigOutOKC is brought to you by the Oklahoma Pork Council. Twice a month we’ll be delving into restaurants and recipes that bring home the bacon (among other delicious cuts of pork). Experiencing your own pork-fueled adventure? Use the hashtag #PigOutOKC to let the rest of us in on the fun.

Here are the levels of barbecue, as I, a human man, have experienced them through my lifetime:

1. More barbecue sauce on these chicken nuggets!

2. More barbecue sauce on this chopped brisket!

3. Maybe barbecue doesn’t need that much sauce?

4. Ooh, I’ll get my brisket sliced.

5. Ooh, I’ll get the sampler plate.

6. Ooh, forget all the other stuff, I just want ribs.

I still enjoy every kind of barbecued meat. I still love pulled pork and brisket and sliced turkey and smoked ham (drool emoji), but there is just something about ribs that I cannot get over.

And the degree of difficulty has to be factored into the score, too. Ribs are daunting to cook—though I’ve tried a few times, with varying success.

But if there’s one man I know who loves a challenge (and loves feeding friends), it’s Travis Nance. So when we got to talking about ribs, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: he’d cook them for me.

But wait, says the TV announcer: There’s more!

Travis doesn’t do things halfway. He decided that slow smoking ribs was absolutely necessary, but also not the only option. He was also going to roast ribs in the oven. And, heck, since Uptown Grocers had them on sale, he cooked another rack in the slow cooker, too.

I mean...everybody needs a friend like Travis.

Here’s a rundown on the ribs, followed by his recipes for each style.

Traditional smoked barbecue ribs

One look at that black-as-midnight bark and I knew these ribs were going to be amazing. With a rub of brown sugar, cayenne, and paprika (among others), these succulent bones spent six hours in the smoker, bathing in hickory that infused each bite with a lovely smoky char.

Crack them open and you’ll find a nice smoke ring and something I’m even more impressed by: meat that isn’t falling off the bone.

I won’t go into my full hysterical meltdown here, but I am of a mind that meat should come away from the bone when you pull on it with your teeth.

But! Some of you disagree. That’s totally fine. If you like your meat literally falling off the bone, there’s a recipe waiting for you, too.

Oven-roasted ribs

Everybody loves the idea of smoked ribs, but not everyone has the time, equipment, or self confidence to attempt them. And what is a smoker, really, but an outdoor oven fueled by charcoal and wood? So using an indoor oven, where smoke is generally a no-no, means finding ways to bump up the flavor. That’s why Travis opted for a combo method of dry-rubbing the ribs and then basting them with barbecue sauce as they cooked. The heat of the oven reduced the sauce, creating something closer to a glaze, and concentrated flavors. This is why, when cooking with barbecue sauce, you need to choose a quality product. The subtle undertones are likely to be lost while the driving flavors will be amplified. Travis chose Rufus Teague’s “A Touch of Heat” and I quite enjoyed it.

The upside to this is cooking is so much more straightforward—the temperature doesn’t have to be constantly monitored or have fuel added regularly.

The texture is going to be a little softer, because the liquid cooking off the ribs steams them a bit as well, but they’ll still hold on to the bone.

Slow-cooker ribs

This is by far the easiest cooking method—kind of a “set it and forget it” sitch (shoutout Ron Popeil)—but there are downsides. The ribs will be fall-off-the-bone tender. And when I say “fall” I’m not being hyperbolic. Even pulling them out of the cooker inevitably leads to a few clean bones staying in your tongs while a pile of meat drops back into the cooking liquid.

The wet method used here imparts a lot of flavor via cooking liquid, but that same liquid definitely means a much softer final product.

(If you’re not doing the Herculean task of cooking three styles of ribs simultaneously, as Travis was, you can combine the slow-cooker method with the oven to crisp up the meat under the broiler and firm up the texture of the ribs.)

What I love about this method, other than how easy it is, is that it’s a great way to make meat for other uses. Like...smoked ribs stay on the bone and deserve to be eaten that way. Slow-cooker ribs fall off easily, making it simple to chop up the meat for sandwiches, stews, chilis, and the like.

Now let's get cooking!

Dry Rub Recipe

(Based on Alton Brown’s dry rub)

Makes enough for three racks of pork ribs.

12 T light brown sugar, tightly packed

5 T salt

1.5 T chili powder

½ T black pepper

½ T cayenne

½ T thyme

½ T rosemary

¾ T onion powder

½ T garlic granules

½ T smoked paprika

1 t cumin

1.5 T ground mustard (powder)

1 t cinnamon

Pinch sage

A few dashes celery seed

A few dashes nutmeg

Braising Liquid Recipe

1.5 cups  white wine

3 T white wine vinegar

4 T worcestershire sauce

2 T honey

2-3 garlic cloves, plus a few shakes of garlic granules

1-2 T lemon juice

Rib Preparation

Use for all three varieties. Prepare 20 minutes to a day before cooking. I like to give it a day.

1. Using a knife and a paper towel, remove membrane from bone side of ribs. This allows the smoke flavor to penetrate more deeply and will make ribs easier to cut and eat later.

2. Pat ribs dry, rub with a binder (I used oil, but you can also use a thin layer of a condiment like mustard).

3. Sprinkle dry rub liberally on both sides and press/pat the rub into the binder, do NOT actually rub or you’ll end up knocking off the rub.

4. (optional) If not cooking immediately, wrap in a couple layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Ideally get the extra-wide sheets so it won’t leak into your fridge.

Smoked Ribs Recipe

Travis uses a vertical charcoal smoker and the “3-2-1” method—smoke three hours unwrapped, two hours wrapped in foil, one more hour unwrapped.

1. Soak wood chunks (not chips, they burn too fast) for 30 minutes before using.

2. Start coals in a charcoal chimney (15-30 minutes, coals are ready when they’re white).

3. Put ribs in, bone side down. You can cook other meats below them to catch fat drippings. Be sure to keep adequate water in your water pan.

4. Maintain temp at 220-250 degrees Fahrenheit as consistently as possible throughout.

5. Trust your thermometer, don’t open the smoker unless you need to add coals/wood or make a change, as it’ll take a bit to get it back up to temperature.

6. Add more coals when temperature starts to dip, add more wet wood chunks at 90 minutes & after unwrapping the ribs from the foil. Watch your temperature after adding coals, as the temp will flare up for a little while.

7. At three hours, wrap ribs in aluminum foil. Before sealing final side, pour in some of the braising liquid.

8. At five hours, unwrap the ribs & put them back.

9. Take out at six hours. Rest in foil ~10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Oven-Roasted Ribs

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place ribs on a rack in a baking sheet to catch drippings and allow it to cook from both sides.

3. At 90 minutes, wrap ribs in aluminum foil and, before closing, pour in some braising liquid or apple juice, beer, or whatever else you have on hand.

4. At two and a half hours, remove foil and brush top liberally with barbecue sauce.

5. At three hours, removed from oven and rest covered for 10 minutes, then serve.

Slow-Cooker Ribs

1. Insert slow-cooker liner to prevent caramelized sugar from sticking to the pot, making it difficult to clean.

2. Mix ~can Coca-cola and ~bottle barbecue sauce. You can also add spices, juice, jelly, or whatever else you want for this, but I kept it simple.

3. Cut rack of ribs in two or more pieces to make them fit. Place in slow cooker.

4. Set heat on low and cook for 6-10 hours. Most guides say to cook your ribs 8-10 hours. Nine was probably too much in my cooker. You probably need six hours or more, but at nine they fell apart and lost some firmness.

5. (optional) Place cooked ribs on foil-lined baking sheet and cook under the broiler until the meat crisps and forms a light char.

The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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