In my younger days, I would have stood in the rain. In the thunder. In the lightning. I would stand there proudly in front of my grill, cooking whatever meat that deserved to be slaughtered and sold for my consumption.
I have aged. I have mellowed. I have…softened. There’s no way in hell you will catch me during a storm in front of a electrical conductor cast from steel and hooked to a tank of very combustible propane. You will likely not catch me in front of a grill as it rains either. I’m simply not willing to make the sacrifice of personal comfort (I write this from my 74-degree living room, lit only by the glow of my laptop and the television across the room). And it’s not about grilling. This statement applies to all facets of my life, except parenting. I sacrificed my personal comfort when The Wife announced she was pregnant (and before you scoff, I’m very happy to sacrifice said comfort). That is about as far as I am willing to go in that department.
While it never did storm on Independence Day, it threatened and the radar was menacing. The last thing I wanted to do was get caught in a storm while slow-roasting 4 lbs. of pork ribs, so I decided to scrap cooking over fire for the hot air of my oven. I do own a stovetop smoker, but I wanted to give oven-roasting a try from start to finish.
WHAT WORKED: The base. Ribs need a good base coating of spice. I made my own dry rub using Chinese five-spice and paprika, but also incorporated a dijon mustard base to keep things from drying out too much.
WHAT DIDN’T: The lack of smoke. Smoking is about flavor, but it also makes a difference in cooking. The smoke permeates the meat, flavoring it and breaking down the fibers into something more tender. Liquid smoke is nice, but only good for flavor. Plus the smoking chamber tends to be smaller and, combined with the steam created by the heated drippings, maintains a fair amount of moisture. The oven dries things out a little too much.
WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “These are really tough.” See above.
WILL THEY MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Yes, but with more emphasis on tenting the ribs to lock the moisture in. I have adjusted the recipe accordingly.
- 4 lbs. ribs (baby back or St. Louis-style)
- 2 tbsp. Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- Generous palmful of kosher salt
- 3-4 twists of a pepper grinder
- 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2-3 rounded soup spoons whole-grain dijon mustard
- 3-4 dashes reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
- 1 1/2 cups good quality barbecue sauce (make your own if you’d like…I used Dinosaur Barbque’s roasted garlic honey)
Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil and setting a cooling rack on top of it.
Combine the five-spice powder, paprika, salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl. This will act as your dry rub. In a second bowl, whisk together the mustard, soy sauce and liquid smoke. This will be your base sauce for the ribs.
On a clean workspace (I used an old unlined baking sheet), take a pastry brush and apply the mustard base to both sides of the ribs. Try to get a good even coating, catching all of the nooks on the rack. Sprinkle the ribs with your dry rub, pressing (not rubbing) the dry ingredients into the side of the ribs. Apply the rub to both sides, then wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours or, preferably, overnight.
Preheat your broiler to high. Set the ribs on the cooling rack and broil a few inches from the heat for six to eight minutes, or until the spice layer begins to brown and blacken.
Turn your oven from broil to bake and set it for 300 degrees. Roast the ribs — up to 2 hours for baby back or up to 3 hours for St. Louis. At the halfway point, tent the baking sheet with foil. With 30 minutes remaining, remove the pan, unwrap and brush both sides with your barbecue sauce. At this point, you can either finish them over the high heat of your grill (about 10 minutes total) or return them to the oven for the remaining half-hour.
Remove from the oven or grill and let them sit covered for 10 minutes. With a large chef’s knife, cut the ribs into single pieces or sections of 3-4 ribs. Serve with the remaining barbecue sauce.