Ready for ribs?

Once you remove the excess fat and membrane from your racks, the rest of the job - the actual cooking - is easy to pull off

Cooking 101

August 06, 2008|By Russ Parsons | Russ Parsons,Los Angeles Times

There are a couple of tricks to preparing ribs. I prefer spareribs to baby back, because they are a little fattier and don't dry out during long, slow cooking. But spareribs do need to be trimmed before the rub goes on. Still, that's not hard.

First, cut away any excess fat or meat that isn't supported by a rib. You'll also notice there's a flap of meat that stretches diagonally across about half of the ribs. If you want, remove it; that way the meat will all be done about the same.

(Cook the removed bit and the rest of the meaty scraps along with the ribs and you'll have a good griller's treat that will be done about halfway through the smoking period.)

Most important, you must remove the thin, tough membrane that is attached to the bone side of the ribs (the membrane would prevent smoke and seasoning from penetrating, and the ribs would be tough).

To get rid of it, slip a thin, sharp knife between the first rib and the membrane and cut away, leaving a flap of membrane. Use a paper towel to get a firm grip on the flap and pull gently but firmly across the rack. The membrane will come up with a tearing sound.

If it comes up in strips (as it probably will the first couple of times you try it), just repeat the process until it's all gone.

After that, the cooking is easy. Build a charcoal fire and let it calm a little. Add soaked hickory chips to cool it more and get the smoke going. Then put on the ribs (if you're doing more than one slab, you can buy one of those metal racks to hold them upright and create more space, or you can do what I do - turn an oven-roasting rack upside down and stack the ribs between the supports).

You'll know when the ribs are ready because the meat will be so tender that when you wiggle one of the bones in the center, it will almost pull free. That can take two hours or more.

Don't sweat the details: If the meat gets a little overdone, you'll have more of the burnt ends that are so crisp they practically shatter when you bite into them. Maybe you'll even prefer it that way.

Russ Parsons writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Naked Ribs

Serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup mild, finely ground dried chile

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon dark-brown sugar

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 (4 pound) racks pork spareribs

In a jar, combine the chile, salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cumin and coriander, crushing any chunks of brown sugar. Cover tightly and shake well to combine thoroughly.

Trim the ribs, cutting away any excess fat pieces and loose ends without bones. Lay the ribs flat with the bony underside facing up. If you prefer, remove the flap of meat that covers part of one side. Use a small knife or skewer to poke through the thin, tough membrane that covers the rib bones, lifting a corner of it.

Use a clean kitchen cloth to get a good grip and gently but firmly pull the membrane away from the ribs. It will come up in sheets; you may have to repeat the process a couple of times to get it all.

Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with the dry rub mixture, using about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons per side. Rub to distribute evenly, and then seal tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour to overnight. Soak 3 cups of hickory chips in enough water to cover generously. Start the coals in a chimney and when they are lightly coated with gray ash, about 20 minutes, empty them into the grill, arranging them in a gentle slope against one side.

When those coals have cooled slightly, about 20 minutes, add 2/3 of the wood chips, replace the grill rack and brush it with oil. Arrange the rib rack well away from the heat and cover tightly so that the lid's vent holes are over the ribs, opposite the flame. Smoke, turning every 30 minutes or so, until the meat begins to pull away from the rib tips and is so tender that a center bone can almost be pulled loose, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. After about an hour, you'll need to replenish the smoke, adding the remaining wood chips on top of the coals. Remove the rib racks from the fire and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour to rest. Serve at room temperature, or reheat briefly on the grill, off the fire, before serving.

Per serving (based on 8 servings): 851 calories, 62 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 64 grams fat, 24 grams saturated fat, 255 milligrams cholesterol, 1,337 milligrams sodium

Analysis provided by the Los Angeles Times.

Watch a video on how to prepare ribs for a charcoal grill at baltimoresun.com/cooking101

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