All About Babyback Ribs: Preparing, Grilling and Smoking

If you don't know anything about babyback ribs, you should at least know this - they are meaty, tender and juicy, and perfect for barbecuing! Compared to spare rib slabs, baby back ribs have more meat, and it's leaner too.

Baby back ribs are cut from the upper section of the porker's side, near the backbone, where the lean, flavorful pork loin lies. That's one of the reasons these pork ribs are so darned good. They are usually more expensive than spare ribs, but you get what you pay for.

If you want to cut some of the fat from your diet these are a good choice. And being lean,baby back ribs take less time to cook than the fatty spare ribs.

Each slab weighs in the neighborhood of 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds. For big appetites figure on one slab feeding two people. With smaller appetites, or if you're serving several side dishes, a slab can easily be enough three or four.

Preparing Baby Back Ribs For the Grill or Smoker

Preparation is usually complete when you buy these ribs, but do check for the white membrane on the bony side. If it's still intact, it should be removed. When the membrane is peeled off you'll see deposits of fat that should be scraped off as well.

Removing the membrane has several benefits. First, it makes the ribs more tender and easier to eat, since the membrane can be a little rubbery when cooked. Second, by removing the membrane you're able to remove excess fat. And last, your dry rub goes right on the meat, so the ribs have better flavor.

Now the ribs can be seasoned with a good dry rub mix or soaked in a flavorful marinade. When using dry rubs, you can cook them immediately after seasoning, but the flavor will be more intense if you let them rest for an hour or two before you start barbecuing. Just wrap them seasoned slab in plastic wrap and hold in the refrigerator.

When using a barbecue marinade to season the ribs, give them at least one hour of marinating time. When using marinades that are low in acid (marinades containing little vinegar or lemon juice), the ribs can be safely marinated overnight. When using marinades high in acid, keep the marinating time to just an hour or two. Otherwise the acids will cause the meat fibers to break down, creating an "off" texture.

How to Barbecue Baby Back Ribs

When barbecuing baby back ribs on the grill, use indirect heat, trying to maintain the temperature between 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit.

To add smoke flavor, position foil packs of smoker wood chips directly over the heat source, replacing with fresh foil packs when they finish smoking. Two or three foil packs of wood chips is enough to give the baby back ribs a nice, smoky flavor. It will take from two to three hours for the ribs to reach the perfect level of doneness.

When using a smoker, maintain the temperature in the 225-250 degree range. At the lower temperature, the ribs will take from 4 to 6 hours to finish. And whether grilling or smoking, be sure to baste the ribs with a little apple juice every 30 minutes for added flavor.

When placing the ribs in your cooker, lay them bone-side down to protect the meat from becoming dry. To make better use of the space in your cooker, you can use a rib rack, which holds the slabs upright, on edge. Another method I like is to roll up the seasoned slabs, securing with bamboo skewers. They cook nicely when rolled, plus look great when served.

To know when the ribs are done just grab a pair of the rib bones and pull them apart. The meat should readily tear, but still have a bit of firmness remaining. Or you can do what I do, and just slice a rib from a slab and sample it!

Serving Baby Back Ribs

When done, be sure to allow your barbecued ribs to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, which helps keep the meat juicy. After the rest they can be cut into one or two rib sections, and served with all the great side dishes you made. And one thing about babyback ribs, grilled or smoked, they really taste great with a generous dollop of homemade barbecue sauce.