How to Make Ribs in the Oven
Oven Ribs – What You Need
Barbecue ribs usually contain a bit of smoke. Your oven won’t do this, and you shouldn’t try. It is, however, possible to make some incredibly good ribs in the oven and do it without ever stepping outside.
The meat on these perfect ribs will pull away from the bone once you take a bite, but not a second before. To achieve this will require precise timing, but don’t be intimidated. These ribs can be forgiving, and the low temperature of the oven will help you to reach this point slowly.
Another quick point, this isn’t authentic barbecue. Barbecue needs smoke to alter the flavor and surface of meats chemically. The oven will not create that smoke (hopefully), and while these ribs are a decent replacement of those BBQ joint ribs, they are not the same thing.
What you will need:
A rack of ribs*
1/2 cup (120 mL) of rib rub
1 cup (240 mL) barbecue sauce
A large cooking tray or cookie sheet
A wire cooling rack
A sharp knife
A basting brush
A paper towel
Up to 5 hours
*The rack of ribs can be baby back or spareribs. The pictures here are spareribs. Baby back ribs are smaller, have less meat, and will require a shorter cooking time. Both of the required times are included in this tutorial. Two racks of ribs can be prepared at the same time without altering the cooking time, as long as there is at least an inch between them.
Oven Ribs – Preparing the Rack
Cut off any loose parts and trim the ends where there are no bones. Frequently on spare ribs, there is a flap of meat on the bone side. Remove this.
With a uniform rack, whether it is baby backs or spares, the membrane on the bone side must be removed. The membrane is a non-permeable barrier that prevents flavors from penetrating the meat. It even stops water from getting through. To remove this membrane, lift a corner of it with a butter knife. The film is very slippery but easily grabbed with a paper towel. It can take some practice, but once you get the hang of it, peeling away the membrane is simple.
Oven Ribs – Rubbed and Ready
To get the right flavor on our ribs, we need a proper rib rub. This seasoning is a combination of salt, sugar, and spices that flavors the ribs and helps to create a crusty surface that will give it texture. Try this Kansas City Rib Rub or Memphis-Style Rib Rub. Apply a good coating of seasoning. The general rule is, what sticks to the rack is all you will need. This rub will combine with the juices from the ribs and will penetrate the surface to start the crusting process.
Elevate the ribs on a rack when cooking, so that air flows over and under the meat. This means that the ribs will not need to be flipped or turned during the cooking process. Line a large cooking tray or cookie sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and place a large cooling rack on top of the foil.
Oven Ribs – Broiling
Generally, we can place the ribs in the oven to cook, and they would turn out great, but a quick pass under the broiler will crisp up the surface and caramelize the sugar in the rub. Remember that sugar burns at 265 degrees F/130 degrees C. This means that it is crucial to keep a close eye on the ribs, so they do not burn.
The rub should start to bubble and sizzle. This is the perfect time to remove the ribs before anything starts to burn and smoke. It might be necessary to turn the rack around to get an even sear on the top surface, but don’t worry about flipping them over. We are only interested in creating a crust on top.
If your oven doesn’t have a broiler, you can skip this step.
Oven Ribs – Baking
Allow the oven to cool down to 250 degrees F/120 degrees C. This is the temperature at which you will cook the ribs. Half of the time, the ribs will remain uncovered. At the midpoint of cooking, cover the ribs with a sheet of aluminum foil. They don’t need to be wrapped tightly, just covered and tucked around the edges. Doing this will hold the moisture rising from the ribs under the foil and prevent them from drying out.
It will not steam the ribs, however.
The Cooking Times
For spareribs plan on a total cooking time of 4 hours.
For baby back ribs plan on a total cooking time of 3 1/2 hours.
When the ribs have thoroughly cooked, the rack will be limp if picked up on the end, but will not tear or separate. The meat will have pulled away from the bone ends by about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch. Temperature checking ribs is not easy because the bones will be at a different temperature than the meat, but if you do use a meat thermometer, look for a temperature above 165 degrees F/75 degrees C. If the temperature is above this, don’t worry. Overcooking isn’t a problem; we just don’t want the ribs to dry out.
Oven Ribs – Saucing
Barbecue sauce on ribs is strictly optional. Since these are cooked in an oven, they will be missing some flavor. The barbecue sauce will add that extra flavor, making them taste more like a bit more authentic. Opt for a good quality barbecue sauce for ribs. Try this Kansas City Rib Sauce or Classic BBQ Rib Sauce. The sauce you use should match the flavors of the rub.
To sauce, remove the cooking tray from the oven and brush the sauce over both sides of the ribs. Get it everywhere. Then return the ribs, uncovered, to the oven to bake in the sauce. This step can be repeated several times to layer the sauce and to create a sticky, messy rib that everyone will enjoy. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F/95 degrees C for repeated saucing. Barbecue sauces, like the rub, will burn at high temperatures, so it is best to keep the cooking temperature low. Allow 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time between each application. Barbecue sauce is also an excellent fix for ribs that seem a little dry.
Oven Ribs – Cutting
With the ribs completely cooked, it is time to remove them. Unlike meats cooked at high temperatures, these should go from the oven to the cutting board to the plate (or hand) as quickly as possible. The best way to slice ribs is by standing them upright on their side with the exposed bone end up. A good sharp knife should slide down between the ribs easily. If you have the bone side towards you, it is easier to see where to cut.
Serve additional barbecue sauce on the side for those who like more sauce on their ribs.