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Want Deliciously Tender Ribs? Slow Cook Them First

A rack of barbecue ribs on a cutting board next to some cherry tomatoes.
VasiliyBudarin/Shutterstock

Nothing screams summer like diving into a rack of fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs. Here’s how to make finger-licking ribs that are perfectly tender, without using the grill.

What Kind of Ribs Should You Get?

Before running off to the supermarket, let’s take a look at the different kinds of pork ribs to help you select the right ones.

Full rack of ribs sitting next to a small dish of barbecue sauce and a brush.
Emilee Unterkoefler

In the meat section, you’ll usually see the three types we cover below (we chose baby back ribs for this tutorial).

Spareribs

Spareribs are the most common type you’ll find in your local grocery store. You’ll notice they’re much thicker and hold more meat than the other two types.

You might think spareribs are called this because they were leftover. However, the word comes to us by way of the Germans, who called them “ribbespêr,” which translates to “spit” or “spear” ribs. This refers to how the ribs were cooked on a spit or speared and held over a fire.

When translated into English, the word order was transposed and later confused with “spare,” and here we are.

St. Louis-Style Ribs

When the connecting cartilage is removed from spareribs, you get a beautiful slab of St. Louis-style ribs. This particular rib cut was popularized in—you guessed it—St. Louis, Missouri, an area well-known for its barbecue.

You’ll find that these are much narrower, but very flavorful, thanks to the high-fat content.

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs (or back ribs) got their name from the small size of the rack. They usually cost more due to the deliciously tender meat. But don’t let that fool you—back ribs aren’t as flavorful on their own, especially when compared to spareribs.

That’s why sweet and tasty barbecue sauce accompanies them so well. You can grill, broil, or barbecue these ribs. However, nothing beats a dry rub and a few hours of low and slow before jumping in and getting your fingers dirty.

How to Slow Cook Ribs in an Oven

Slow cooking ribs is the secret to creating the juiciest, most tender meat you’ve ever tasted. You’ll love making these because they’re so simple to prep.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 Rack of baby back, or St. Louis-style ribs (baby back are shown in the images)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite dry rub, or grill seasoning
  • 2 or 3 of your favorite barbecue sauces

Next, follow these directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the ribs from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold water, and then pat them dry with a few paper towels.
  • Place your ribs meat-side down and, with a sharp knife, locate and gently pull up the membrane. Use your fingers to pull the layer away and discard it. Don’t skip this step if you want the best results; it keeps seasoning rubs and sauces from penetrating the meat.
Someone pulling the membrane off of baby back ribs.
Emilee Unterkoefler
  • Season your ribs with a dry rub or grill seasoning, and be sure to cover the entire rack of ribs.
  • Line a large baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil and place the ribs on it, meat-side down.
Someone adding a dry rub to baby back ribs.
Emilee Unterkoefler
  • Cover the baking dish with a layer of heavy-duty foil, place it in the oven, and bake for three hours (be sure to set a timer).
  • When the timer goes off (and not a minute before), pull the full rack out of the oven, and then carefully remove the foil. Watch out for hot steam! Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes.
  • Carefully remove the full rack and place it on a cutting board. Drain off the liquid fat, and then put your ribs back on the original pan.
  • Using a brush, add your favorite barbecue sauce over the top, bottom, and sides of the pork ribs.
  • Bake for an additional 10 minutes. You can do this a few times, depending on how much sauce you like.

Perfectly tender ribs should leave the bones clean after each bite.

Prep Now, Grill Later

Say you want all that delicious tenderness with some real grill char and flavor? No problem!

You can follow the same steps above, but skip the barbecue sauce. From there, follow these instructions:

  • Once the ribs are done, remove the foil and let them rest and cool entirely.
  • Remove the slabs, and cover each rib with plastic wrap, and place them in the fridge.
  • When you’re ready, place them on the grill and baste them with your favorite barbecue sauce. (Keep in mind, that barbecue sauce with a high ratio of corn syrup will burn quickly on a grill.)
Half a rack of ribs on a plate with green beans, corn on the cob, and a side of barbecue sauce.
Emilee Unterkoefler

With only a little preparation and a bit of patience, you can turn a bland slab of meat into a meal you’ll want to make over and over again. Don’t forget the napkins, though—ribs are delightfully messy.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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