Sharing a recipe for pork ribs is risky business. First, there’s the matter of flavoring the meat. Is a rub, a marinade, or a sauce the superior flavoring method, or maybe some combination of the three? And forget about finding a rub that all rib lovers agree on. There are hundreds of rub blends, all slightly different from the others, with each cook claiming their spice rub is the best.
Once you finally commit to a seasoning method, then you’ve got to cook the ribs. This is the part that can be really intimidating. Ribs can be cooked on a regular grill, but serious rib lovers invest in a smoker. Cooking ribs can easily take half the day, most of it spent slowly grilling, flavoring and obsessively coaxing the ribs to tender, smoky perfection.
Ribs cooked long and slow in a smoker or charcoal grill are delicious. There is no debate about that. But let’s be honest. Not everyone has a smoker and very few people have five hours to devote solely to cooking dinner. If you’re someone who loves ribs but you want to bypass all the intricate cooking steps and just get the ribs on the table, this quick and dirty method is for you.
Serious rib aficionados, avert your eyes. The rest of you, keep reading because you’re going to love these tender, crispy, fatty, deeply flavorful and easy-to-make ribs.
The trick is steaming the ribs in the oven before they hit the grill. The ribs come out of the oven tender with their glorious meaty, fatty flavor still intact. From there, they need just a little bit of time on the grill to finish cooking, and for a crispy, lightly charred coating to form. Before throwing them on the grill, you can season the ribs anyway you like. The rub here is bold and mildly spicy, with smoked paprika and cumin leading the charge.
For very little time and effort, you’ll be rewarded with big flavor and tender juicy, crispy meat. What more could you want from a rib?
Some ribs will still have the membrane attached, the thin white layer on the bone side of the rack. You can leave the membrane on, which can make the ribs slightly less tender, or you can remove it. Start at one end of the rack and use a knife to peel up the membrane along the last bone. Peel the entire membrane up slowly.
Preheat the oven to 300 °F (149 °C).
Wrap the ribs in a foil tent, either individually or side by side in a very large foil tent. Leave a little opening and pour 1/3 cup of water into the foil tent. Tightly close the foil so no steam can escape. You want the foil to be secure so the water doesn’t leak out, but leave the top of the foil tented up so steam can circulate.
Set the ribs in a rimmed baking pan. Bake 1 hour. Take the ribs out of the oven and let sit, without loosening the foil, for 45 minutes to further steam the meat.
If using whole peppercorns and cumin seeds to make the rub, toast the peppercorns and cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, 2-3 minutes. Let cool, then blend in a coffee grinder until smooth. Mix with the Chinese Five Spice, paprikas, garlic powder and salt.
Open the foil packet and rub the ribs with mustard then rub them down with 3 tablespoons of the spice rub. In another bowl, mix the remainder of the spice mix with about 1/3-1/2 cup of water to make a watery rub that you can mop the ribs with as they cook.
Heat either a charcoal (ideally) or gas grill to medium heat. Keep a section of the grill where you can cook the ribs with indirect heat, meaning the ribs are not directly over a flame.
Place the ribs on the grill, meaty side down.
At this point, the ribs are essentially cooked and you’re just finishing them off and getting them good and crispy on the outside. If the grill is too hot or the ribs are directly over a flame, the spice rub will burn and the meat won’t be as tender. Keep an eye on the ribs as they cook, turning and brushing them with the liquid spice rub occasionally.
Depending on how hot your grill is, total cooking time is likely to be between 20-40 minutes.
A good way to tell if the ribs are done is to take a fork or pair of tongs and twist one of the ribs on the end of the rack. It should separate from the rack fairly easily. The outside should be crispy and caramelized, but not burnt.