Brined and Baked Pork Ribs

9 Sep

ribs_iconNow that we’re fully into September, much of the rest of North America is starting to think about the approach of fall. However, here in San Francisco, our “summer” is just beginning. For the next month, month-and-a-half if we’re lucky, the promise of sweltering-hot 85°F days leads to a brief flurry of outdoor concerts, festivals, and BBQs every weekend until the fog retakes us once again.

Of course, nothing says outdoor BBQ like a good rack of ribs, which is what brought today’s recipe to mind. Conveniently, though, this is a recipe that only uses the oven, so technically it can be done year-round. I am extremely proud of this recipe, since I came up with the protocol myself just by messing around in the kitchen. Everyone who has tried these ribs has raved about them, including a group of paleo people at a potluck a few months back. I’ve heard them called “delicious meat-candy” and “like bacon on a stick, only the stick is bone!”

ribs1INGREDIENTS

  • Rack of pork baby-back or spare ribs
  • 8 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (optional, see note below)
  • 3 Tbsp dry rub of your choice (my default spice rub lately has been Balanced Bites’ smoky chipotle spice blend. I made a big jar of it and I put it on everything, no joke.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

MATERIALS

  • A bowl large enough to hold all the brine and meat and still fit in your fridge
  • Cooking racks that will lift the ribs up and off of any drippings

STEP 1: SEPARATE AND BRINE THE RIBS

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  • Using a well-sharpened knife, slice through the meat between each rib to separate them into individual ribs. Be careful along the backbone, sometimes it can be tricky to maneuver your knife between the bits of bone and sinew. For this rack, I resorted to twisting the last bit apart with my bare hands.
  • Put all of the dry ingredients for the brine into the bowl then dissolve in cold water. Add the ribs, making sure they are all submerged in the brine.

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MY COMMENTS ON USING BROWN SUGAR IN THE BRINE: Before everyone goes into paroxysms of panic here, first off, note that it is optional. I based this recipe on other pork brine recipes I found online. Most have sugar but many do not. So it helps, but is not absolutely necessary. Basically the sugar helps add to the caramelization of the meat and probably helps meld some of the other flavors of the brine. And, frankly, I have already reduced the proportion of sugar in this brine by about 1/2 to 1/4 the amount of sugar recommended for other brines. Some other things to keep in mind:

  1. Just because you are adding 1/4 cup of sugar does not mean you will be eating 1/4 cup of sugar. Some of the sugar will diffuse into the meat but most of it will be thrown out with the un-absorbed brine when you dump it. So only a relatively small amount of sugar is absorbed and is spread across an entire rack of meat.
  2. If you eat bacon or ham regularly, unless you are going out of your way to track down sugar-free versions, you are likely already eating a small amount of sugar involved in the curing process of those meats.
  3. If I was eating these ribs every day I might be a little more worried, but these are a special treat I consider on-par with the desserts I make that have honey in them.

I have also read a couple other paleo bloggers express acceptance of a small amount of sugar in home meat preparation. It really does help the cooking chemistry and since you can control the proportions yourself, it’s going to be way ahead of sugar-and-HFCS-drenched stuff you might get if you were eating out.

But, once again, if you’re not comfortable with using it, feel free to leave it out!

STEP 2: REFRIGERATE THE RIBS IN BRINE FOR WHILE

Bonus points if you have to clear out a bunch of your roommate's rotting fast food in order to make room for the bowl in the fridge.

Bonus points if you have to clear out a bunch of your roommate’s rotting fast food in order to make room for the bowl in the fridge.

  • I find that the best minimum is 5 hours. 8 hours is more what you want to shoot for, though. I tend to leave mine in overnight.

STEP 3: SET BRINED RIBS ON BAKING SHEETS AND BAKEribs5

  • Make sure to leave enough space between the ribs that the hot air can circulate on all sides. I like to sprinkle some fresh-cracked pepper and extra pinches of the dry rub over them as well.
  • Bake at 400°F for about 20-30 mins, or until the outsides are nicely seared (ideally they should be just starting to turn red but if you don’t use sugar your color results may vary).
  • WARNING: Things may get pretty smoky as the fat and brine cook off (or, like in my case, if there’s a bunch of grease built up on the cooking racks cause you were too lazy to give them a good cleaning before). It helps to be proactive and open some windows or turn on the vent fan as soon as you start cooking. If you are worried about the smoke levels, you can try turning down the heat to about 385°F and leave the ribs in about ten minutes longer.
  • After the high-temperature baking, turn down the heat to 300°F and continue to cook for about 1.5-2 hours. Different thicknesses of ribs may require different times (I’ve found that spare ribs tend to require more time than the baby-backs). The ribs are ready when they are all nice and red, crispy on the outside, and the meat flakes to the bone.

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Best enjoyed while they’re warm and crispy. They reheat pretty well too, especially in an oven or toaster oven, but honestly unless I am cooking a full batch just for myself I rarely have leftovers, they disappear so fast.

So there we have it. By sharing this recipe I have let a coveted baby loose upon the world. 😉 Treat it well. I do hope you try them and let me know how they turned out!

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2 Responses to “Brined and Baked Pork Ribs”

  1. Lari katz September 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Wish I had seen this sooner – i just popped a rack in the oven with a simple seasoning as I’m so tired of BBQ-flavored ribs. Next time, next time.

  2. Bali Tour January 6, 2014 at 1:10 am #

    It’s Amazing
    Thanks for the recipe 🙂

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