Inspired by California-Mediterranean cuisines and farmers markets, I cook healthy, flavorful dishes that are easy-to-prepare yet elegant. I write for Zester Daily, One for the Table, Luxury Travel Magazine, Huffington Post & New York Daily News. My latest Amazon eCookbook is 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes. My handcrafted chocolates are available at www.dchocolates.com.
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Dry rub pork ribs cut apart after slow roasting and ready for serving. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
The summertime debate is on. What is the easiest way to cook pork ribs? Boil, roast or grill? High heat, low heat, wet sauce or dry rub? I’ve tried them all. Now the question is settled, at least for me. Slow roasting with a dry rub. To avoid summer’s heat, I put the ribs in a 250 F oven before I go to bed. When I wake up, the ribs are moist with a bacon-thin, sweetened crust. And these best-ever ribs cooked while I was fast asleep.
My mother taught me to make pork ribs with a thick coating of sauce sweetened with brown sugar and raisins. Eating those finger-licking ribs was one of my favorite childhood memories.
Everything changed on a busy research trip to Abilene and Fort Worth, when I ate at 25 restaurants in 36 hours. I fell in love with West Texas BBQ.
At restaurant after restaurant, I watched grill masters lay bundles of mesquite into their subcompact-car-sized smokers. With the heavy metal doors open, the wood crackled as flames enveloped the logs The grill masters seasoned their racks of pork ribs with thick, grainy coats of brown sugar and spices rubbed onto the meat. Waves of dry heat radiated from the smokers. But the heat that would cook these ribs would come not from an open fire but from smoldering mesquite embers.
When the doors were closed, the blazing logs were starved of oxygen. The flames died and a delicate smoke filled the air. At that moment the grill masters loaded in the racks of ribs coated with sweetened dry rub. Hours later, the ribs were removed, their outer coating thickened to crispness, creating what grill masters call “bark.”
I loved those ribs even more than the ones from my childhood.
At home, without the benefit of a smoker, I experimented for years to duplicate that sweet-crispness. Nothing could ever recreate the wonderful mesquite smokiness but I did succeed in making ribs with bark as good as any I enjoyed in West Texas.
High heat versus slow cooking
Mix of kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, cumin, coriander and cayenne for dry rub slow roasted pork ribs. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking with high heat is exciting. There is great pleasure in watching the pyrotechnics of an outdoor grill as sizzling fat catches fire. Roasting at low heat in the oven lacks that excitement.
And yet, what happens in an oven set at 250 F has its own kind of magic. In the darkness of the oven, the waves of steady heat melt the fat inside the rack, tenderizing the meat and gently fusing the dry rub to the outside of the ribs.
The best magic of all is that the oven does the work. No standing over a blazingly hot grill on a hot day. Once the oven door closes, there is nothing to be done.
Walk into the kitchen and a savory-sweet aroma scents the air. Pull the baking tray out of the oven and press a finger against the outside of the rack. The soft pliancy of the meat has been replaced by a jerky-like crust as sweet as a crème brulee topping.
Slow-Roasted, Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs
Rack of pork ribs, trimmed. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking time depends on the size and thickness of the rack.
Buy good quality pork. Asian and Latin markets are often a reliable source of fresh pork products. Unlike the ribs sold in upscale supermarkets, the ribs in these markets will most likely be untrimmed.
Above the actual ribs, the rack will have a top portion with boneless flap meat and a section with thick bones similar to country style ribs. Another smaller piece of flap meat will stretch across the back of the rib bones.
Requiring only a sharp filleting knife and a few minutes, removing the flap meat and the top portion is not difficult. The flap meat is excellent to use in stir fries, slow roasted in the oven or grilled on the BBQ.
A white membrane is attached to the outside of the flap meat. Use a sharp filleting knife to separate the meat from the membrane and discard.
The flap meat and country style bones can be prepared in the same manner as the ribs. They will cook more quickly and should be removed from the 250 F oven after a total of 2 to 3 hours depending on thickness.
While the rack of ribs does not have to be turned over, the flap meat and country style bones should be turned over after one hour for even cooking. After another hour, use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece of meat to test for doneness. Return to the oven if the meat is not yet tender.
To eat the country style ribs, have a sharp paring knife handy to help cut out those hard to reach tasty bits tucked between the bones.
The ribs can be cooked ahead and reheated. In which case, do not cut apart the ribs until ready to serve. Reheat in a 300 F oven for 15 minutes.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6 to 8 hours
Resting time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 35 minutes to 8 hours, 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 rack pork ribs, 4 to 5 pounds, washed, dried
3 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cumin
¼ cup coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 250 F.
2. Select a baking pan or cookie sheet that is 2 inches longer than the rack of ribs. Cover the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on top of the aluminum foil.
3. Lay the rack of ribs on a cutting board, bone side up. Use a sharp filleting knife to remove the tough membrane on the bone side of the rack. Let the knife help you lift the membrane. Use your fingers to pull the skin off the bones and discard.
4. Do not cut off any fat.
5. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
6. For easy cleanup, lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the cutting board. Place the rack on the cutting board. Layer a thick coat of the dry spices onto both sides, covering the meat and bones.
7. Reserve left-over dry rub in an air tight container and refrigerate for later use.
8. Carefully place the rack of ribs on the wire rack meat side up.
9. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven.
10. Roast six hours. Remove from oven. Use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece and taste.
11. The outside should have a jerky-crispness. The meat inside should be moist and tender. The tapered end of the rack where the bones are small will cook faster than the rest of the ribs. Use the kitchen shears to cut off that section before returning the rack to the oven for another one-two hours. Be careful not to dry out the meat.
12. Once the ribs are cooked, remove from oven and let the meat rest five minutes.
13. Cut between the rib bones and chop into pieces any flap meat without bones. Serve hot with a green salad, Cole slaw, baked beans or freshly steamed vegetables.
Main photo: Dry rub pork ribs cut apart after slow roasting and ready for serving. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt.
Sure it's a cliche, but one you can hang your hat on: most guys like meat.
On any other Sunday, you'd probably find dad in front of the grill, doing damage to burgers, dogs, shrimp and steak. With red hot mesquite or briquets supplying the fuel, dad happily flips his victims until he's got caramelization underway and char marks in all the right places.
But not this Sunday. Oh, no. This is Father's Day when everyone else should be rolling up their sleeves and doing due diligence in pursuit of dad's favorite food.
What's special about this day is that dad can rest. Drinks and food will be laid on the table without any effort on his part.
As a dad, myself, I enjoy this day. My sons, Michael and Franklin, are very good cooks. They grill and saute with the best of them and, like their dad, they fill the table with lots of choices.
Recently I visited West Texas and enjoyed myself immensely at the Wildcatter Ranch, a delightfully rustic resort, about an hour and a half north-east of Abilene.
Chef Bob Bratcher, self-taught and a cowboy at heart, showed our group how to break down a beef tenderloin and cut ribeye steaks out of what he called the "stick".
For two days we feasted on chef Bob's creations, not the least of which was a magnificent 14 ounce, bone-in ribeye steak with a peppery crust on the outside and perfectly medium-rare, juicy inside.
One of the other memorable dishes he shared with us was his baby back pork ribs, coated with the Wildcatter Ranch dry rub he makes himself.
The ribs were tender and sweet. The bone side of the rib had a thick coating of chef Bob's dry rub. Unlike traditional powdery, dry rubs, his was thick with cracked black pepper and celery seed. That added a pleasing crunch as we gnawed on the bones.
Chef Bob was kind enough to share the recipe with us and it's perfect to make for Father's Day.
Wildcatter Ranch Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs
Cooking the ribs at low temperature for a long time is the secret. Slow roasting brings out the sweetness of the meat.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Marinating Time: overnight
Cooking Time: 3 hours
2lbs pork baby back ribs
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups Rib Rub (recipe below)
Bob's Rib Rub
The rub can be made ahead but because the garlic is fresh, use within 24 hours of preparation.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
1 cup dried oregano leaves
½ cup paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon celery seed
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon (ground)
2 teaspoons dry minced garlic
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
Mix all ingredients together in bowl and store overnight in airtight container until ready to use.
Pull the silver skin off the backs of the ribs. Season the racks liberally with fresh lime juice and the rub.
If you have a barbecue grill or a smoker, get it hot on one side and place the ribs on a rack over an aluminum lined pan on the cold side of the grill.
If you're using the oven, heat until 250 degrees.
In either case, cook for 2 ½ hours. Fork-test the meat to confirm it is tender.
The ribs can be cooked ahead of time, even the day before.
30 minutes before serving, wrap the rack tightly in foil, and bake in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.