Baby back ribs come from the back portion of the hog. They're small and meaty, with plenty of flavor. Count on about one rack for every three or four people. Baby back ribs are traditionally cooked over a grill, but you can cook them in the oven or use a combination of oven and grill cooking.
Grilled ribs, especially those grilled over charcoal or wood, have a smoky flavor that you can't duplicate in the oven. However, flavorful rubs can simulate that smoky flavor whether you cook ribs on the grill or in your oven. Season your ribs with a mesquite-flavored seasoning, or create your own by mixing chipotle powder, garlic, salt, brown sugar and paprika. Brush them with a sauce made from molasses, ketchup, vinegar and liquid smoke.
Grilling caramelizes the sauce on ribs, giving them a sweet, crunchy finish. If you oven-bake the ribs without roasting them, they'll never achieve the same crunch. Cover them with aluminum foil and bake the ribs for 1 or 2 hours. You can add apple juice or broth to the baking dish to help tenderize the meat. Once the meat is tender, though, crank up the heat and slather on the sauce. Watch the oven closely, though, so you don't burn the ribs.
Another difference between oven-baked and grilled ribs is the tenderness of the meat. Oven-baked ribs are usually cooked for several hours until the meat is falling off the bone. If you toss ribs directly on the grill, they'll cook within 12 to 15 minutes, but they won't be tender. One solution is to bake the ribs in the oven until they're tender and then grill them for 5 minutes or so to give them a smoky flavor and a crisp texture. Brush any sauces on them after you put them on the grill. Another option is to cook the ribs on a slow grill for 2 hours or more until tender. Then raise the heat to finish them.
Convenience and Consistency
One advantage of cooking ribs in the oven is convenience. Even when you have 12 inches of snow on the ground, you can enjoy ribs indoors. Cooking ribs on the grill -- especially if you baste the ribs with a sauce -- is a messy venture, and you'll definitely need to take a stiff brush to the grill grates afterwards. Cleaning up after oven-baked ribs is a snap. Simply line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and discard it when you're done. Another advantage of cooking indoors is that you're less likely to burn the ribs. The temperature on a grill isn't always consistent or predictable. Walk away for a minute and you might regret it. You can easily check oven-baked ribs, and they're less likely to burn.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images