Country Ribs Done Right
I come from dry-rub country. I just love that phrase. It instantly makes me sound like a real barbecue insider, or at least like a tough guy who likes rough massages. Back in the day I could participate in any conversation about BBQ with that statement and a sage nod, and then drift into a silence that hid the fact that I didn't know baked beans about how to cook anything, including barbecue.
But times move on, and I moved out of the city, and began to take a genuine interest in cooking. In my large new kitchen, I produced some rubbish and some surprisingly good dishes. I liked the process of learning, trying, studying why things worked, or didn't, and of course, the eating. Naturally, as soon as the weather started to look springy (there was still snow on the ground) I bought a grill. After all my talk about cooking this and that, I wasn't about to show my hand as a grilling novice. Besides that, I love eating BBQ. Baby back ribs, spare ribs, St.Louis style ribs - there's not a lot a don't like.
Especially country ribs. Despite all my empty comments about dry rub, I like BBQ with lots of sauce, as well, and when my friend Mike had his annual barbecue party, it was his country ribs that really sang to me. I liked them so much that whenever I ate at a BBQ restaurant I ordered the country ribs. As the permafrost had not loosened its grip on the turf, I looked at my gleaming new charcoal grill and took to studying. I was going to learn to do country ribs right, practice and enjoy the results until I had really mastered the recipe, and then I was going to have my own BBQ parties.
I had time to do some research first. What, exactly, is a country rib? Is it a cooking method, or a cut of meat? I wasn't even sure about that. Is it dry rubbed, sauced, or both? What tools and ingredients would I need to cook the ribs? The tutorial below is a summary of what I learned. I hope it helps you start grilling country ribs.
The Essentials for Cooking Pork Ribs:
1). Country ribs are a cut of pork, boneless, from near the shoulder.
2). Country ribs can be sauced, dry rubbed, or a combination of both. If you want to marinate them you'll need a nice big food safe plastic bag suitable for the purpose. Home Depot may be a tempting place to find one, but please keep the food safe part in mind! Here’s one of the tutorials on how to prepare a simple delicious marinade.
3). A Mini Tutorial for those New to Grilling:
You can choose between an electric or gas grill, coal, or natural wood as a heat source. Never, ever, add charcoal to a gas or electric grill. If that sounds like 'this coffee is hot' over advising, I actually had some friends in college who did this. They were relatively smart people, but pretty drunk at the time. And here you can learn how to charcoal grill the best way.
Charcoal comes in 'self igniting' briquettes, regular briquettes, or 'natural' chips.
Self igniting charcoal requires only lighting, preferably with one of those long BBQ lighters. You want to follow the instructions on the package (some of the packages are ignitable themselves, acting as a sort of kindling).
Regular briquettes require dousing with butane before lighting. Soak the coals well, so they are saturated, but not excessively. Don't let any fuel pool in the grill pan.
'Natural wood' briquettes take a little longer to ignite, as they are much more dense. They are not the same as the wood chips used for flavor.
In any case, let all of the fluid burn off, which may take several minutes. Butane smells and tastes terrible. Let the coals heat for long enough to become gray, ashy, and give off a steady heat before grilling.
Wood chips, on the other hand, are available anywhere that sells BBQ supplies; some people like mesquite, or apple. (Pine is never suitable, even if you have a bunch of it in your yard). They are completely dry, and you soak them in water and place them on top of the hot coals to produce smoke.
Charcoal grills will always have hot and cold spots, and you want this. (Electric grills have controls that serve the same function). The hotter spots are for quick searing, and the cooler areas are for longer, slower cooking, or even for keeping items warm.
Hardware you'll need:
- A Grill. If in doubt, see the Mini Tutorial above.
- Grilling gloves, and an apron. You can live without them, but they're fun.
- At least 2 pairs of tongs, a grill brush, an oven safe pot for sauce
- A meat thermometer
- A long oven lighter, if you are using coal
- A large casserole dish, preferably heavy oven safe glass, and enough foil and plastic wrap to cover and wrap the ribs if necessary
- Coal and wood chips, if applicable
Ingredient List For The Ribs:
1). Country ribs: Buy your ribs at a store with an actual butcher and ask for the right cut. Most butchers will special order items that they don't have in stock, so you might want to ask ahead.
You won't need as many 'ribs' as you might think, no matter how ravenous your friends are, as country ribs are boneless. You can ask the butcher to cut them, or do it yourself.
The recommended cooking style for country ribs, which are very fatty, is low and slow.
However, some cooks use a slightly quicker style, and claim they get the same results. The goal is the same: brown the outside of the ribs, sauce, and cook until you reach the right interior temperature.
2). Ingredients for marinade, optional: Some folks like using bottled marinade; it has the flavor you like, all in one simple package. Bottles of vinaigrette dressing are popular, too.
3). Spices for dry rub, optional: There are many powdered meat rubs on the market, and if you don't want to make your own, and these will work just fine. I like making my own rub out of salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, and maybe thyme or rosemary. Do be careful with the salt, pepper and cayenne. You don't want to burn anyone too badly.
4). Barbecue Sauce, or ingredients to make some: You might have a favorite sauce, bottled or of your own making. For example, here you can find a simple and delicious recipe for a home-made sauce. Mike uses a humble sounding mix of Heinz 57 and Ketchup. Adding a few spices makes it your own.
Cooking The Pork Ribs, Step By Step:
Step 1: Prepare the ribs.
You can choose a 'marinade' or dry rub for your country ribs. This process takes a few minutes, but the ribs should sit for somewhere between overnight and 4-5 hours.
Now is the time to cut your ribs, if you didn't have the butcher do it. Keep this firmly in mind: it is never advisable to contaminate your kitchen by flinging raw pork all over it. If you don't use disposable gloves, wash your hands thoroughly. Bleach surfaces and tools that the meat touches. Wash your hands or remove your gloves when opening the refrigerator door, opening a drawer, or turning on the faucet. No one wants food poisoning.
To dry rub, you can buy a mix made for this, use just salt and pepper, or make your own. If you use just S&P, it's not really a dry rub, and you should definitely use sauce.
Firmly rub the seasoning into the meat. Put it into the plastic bag, place in the pan, and let it sit.
To marinate, use a packaged marinade, bottled vinaigrette dressing, or make your own using a little vinegar, more oil, and salt, pepper, and herbs and seasonings that you like, such as garlic and onion. Place in the bag, place the bag in the dish, and refrigerate. When you're ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry.
If you choose not to marinate, at least rub with S&P right before cooking.
Step 2: Oil your grill grate and place your bare naked ribs on it. No sauce yet! The grill should be around 275 degrees, and if you are using soaked wood chips, toss them on the coals now. Put them in a fairly cool area, where the coals aren't stacked too high. Close the cover and allow the ribs to brown nicely in the smoke.
You are cooking them to sear and smoke, without sauce, not to cook them through, in this step. Use your meat thermometer, but as a rule the cooking time should be around an hour. Once the ribs are about 110 degrees according to your meat thermometer, they are read for step 2. Turn them frequently but not obsessively.
Step 3: Remove them from the heat.
Step 4: Apply your choice of BBQ sauce by dunking the ribs in it, or for a lighter coating, use a brush to sauce the ribs.
If you want dry rubbed ribs, no sauce, skip this step. In this case the ribs should be crusty with the seasoning mixture already.
Step 3: Finish Cooking. Put the sauced country ribs over a relatively cool area of your grill and allow it to caramelize nicely. Turn occasionally. The meat will be fall apart tender and the sauce very brown, (but not burnt), when they are done. Check with a meat thermometer to be careful: it should read 165 degrees at the minimum. This part of the process should take a few hours. (If it doesn't, your grill is too hot).
Here’s a video of how to cook pork ribs on the grill:
Step 4: Serve and Enjoy!
Pro Tips: I hope you enjoy your ribs as much as I do mine! After some practice runs, I had my first BBQ party, and the country ribs were a big success. I cooked some extra ribs, because they make fantastic leftovers. You can freeze and reheat them, so there's no reason not to make a batch just for yourself when you feel like it.
- Avoid pricking country ribs with a fork, ever. Like a pork chop, they can lose their juice and dry out.
- Keep a large jar of water near your grill for your tongs and tools. This will keep them from getting really sticky.
- Be careful about cross contamination during cooking. Don't use a tool on raw food and then cooked food without cleaning it. Flame is a good cleanser.
- Bristle grill brushes are like sponges, in that they can really collect bacteria. Use a different brush for raw and for cooked food. Boil your brushes to clean them after the party.
- Even though you are cooking low and slow, country ribs cook more quickly than bone in ribs.
If you enjoy grilling, it's fun to experiment with your sauces, although you shouldn't use your friends as guinea pigs. When you make a sauce or rub mix that you really like, make some extra and store it in in the fridge or freezer for later. Happy Grilling!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Country Ribs?
The Country ribs are a cut of pork from near the shoulder. They are cut from either the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin and represent the meatiest variety of ribs. They are tender and full flavored.
Are Country Ribs Boneless?
Country-style ribs can be sold as bone-in, but usually the bones are removed and they are sold as boneless.
How Long Does It Take to Smoke Country Ribs?
Country Ribs can be tough and fatty, so cooking them low and slow on the smoker is the best method. When smoking at 240 degrees F, the ribs can be done in as little as 3 hours when they reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees F. For fully tenderized ribs, the ribs can be cooked, covered, for an additional 1 to 2 hours.
Should You Cook Country Ribs Coated in Sauce?
It’s best to get a good sear on ribs before applying the sauce. This will prevent the sauce from burning to the ribs. Cook your ribs, without sauce, until they reach an internal temperature of 110 degrees F. Then, apply the sauce by brushing them or dunking them. By the time the ribs are finished cooking at 165 degrees, they will be nicely caramelized and not burnt.
What Is the Best Marinade for Country Style Ribs?
You can use bottled marinades for country style ribs, or you can make your own marinade. A common marinade is made with brown sugar, pepper, garlic and onion powders, water, Worcestershire, and soy sauce.