Learning how to make ribs at home is a trial-and-error endeavor. It’s not quite as easy as slathering a rack of ribs with sauce and flopping them on the grill. The good news is that once you dial in a method and recipe there are few dishes as crowd-pleasing. Nothing else has the ability to bring your guests together like a meal of well-seasoned and fatty meat still on the bone and just off the flame. There’s something almost primordial about the whole experience that fits perfectly at a backyard barbecue.
The beauty of a great rack of ribs is found in the versatility. You can go a lot of directions during each step of the process –from picking out the best meats, how you pre-season, your sauces, and then how you slow-cook and eventually sear the rack. You can go big or more nuanced with flavors. The options are virtually endless.
To help you make these big, meaty decisions, we thought we’d assemble a list of the tried-and-true tricks and practices we like to employ when grilling up a rack or two of ribs. Are these hard-and-fast rules? Not so much. Think of these tips more as guidelines that will help you find your own path and dial in your favorite recipes.
Sourcing Your Meat
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It’d be really easy for us to recommend you buy locally sourced, grass-fed bison. Bison ribs are as American as it gets and we’re talking about a 4th of July barbecue here. But we have to be realistic. Sourcing bison ribs is not as easy as it should be, sadly.
Unless you have access to bison, our recommendation is to stick with pork. Organic and free-range is the way to go here. The lean and fat will be a higher-quality by design. Plus, you’ll be supporting your local farming community by sourcing what’s likely to be more local and non-industrial meat. Sounds pretty American to us.
We recommend going with a rack of spare ribs. They’re very forgiving when cooking. The fat content is medium. You also get a little more even meat-to-bone ratio here, as spare ribs are the bottom cut of the rib cage. Comparatively, baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage and have a bit more meat and fat on them. In the end, you do you.
Lastly, know how much you’ll need. A full rack of spare ribs has 12 bones. Figure on one serving being a portion with two bones attached to meat (that’s a serving, not per person because people are definitely coming back for seconds here). You can do the math from there.