Ribs are the “it” food in my family. They’re the Saturday party that gets the most guests. The Sunday dinner that no one dares miss. Now, we occasionally will do it up right and spend all day at the smoker. And sometimes, we slather those slabs with sauce. But for a bare-bones version, flavor-packed, indoor version of ribs, you’ll want to try our dry rubbed, oven baked rack of ribs.
This is an incredibly easy way to make your way to meat street, even if you don’t feel particularly confident cooking meat. Quite simply, you don’t have to be a pitmaster to enjoy tender ribs. All you need is an oven, a sheet pan, some aluminum foil, and preferably some oven mitts. You know, so you don’t burn your meat hungry hands.
Selecting Your Slab
I get it. Cuts of meat can be confusing. Most people don’t have butcher level knowledge of animal anatomy, and unless you’ve been slinging pork slabs in the kitchen for a while it may be challenging at first to know the differences between them.
But when it comes to pork ribs there are really only two cuts you need to know- they are just called by many names, hence the confusion. Think about it this way. The ribs are connected at the spine and go around both sides of the pig. On each side, that rib cage will get split into two- the top portion (near the spine and loin muscle, called back ribs) and bottom portion (near the belly, called spare ribs). The spare rib cut has a little extra meat attached to them, but they can be cleaned up and squared off a bit to make St. Louis Style ribs.
Choosing Your Cut
Aside from their location, there are a few differences in these cuts that may help you determine which one is right for the meal you want to cook.
- Back- these are smaller (hence baby back), meatier, curvier, and very tender. They may also be called Loin Ribs, as that’s what they’re located nearest. As such, it may be helpful to keep pork loin or tenderloin in mind as a reference- the qualities of the two cuts are quite similar. The baby backs are a very fool-proof cut when it comes to cooking.
- St. Louis Style- taken from the spare rib section, these are bigger, fattier, and flatter than their northern counterpart. They are ideal for “low and slow” style cooking (think: smoker) since it takes time to render (or melt) the fat. When cooked in this manner, this cut tends to be more flavorful as a result. They are, after all, located nearest the bacon and pork belly, which are famously fatty and flavorful.
This oven baked rack of ribs uses the baby back cut (check out that beautiful meaty curve in the photo!). However, you can easily use either cut whether they’re going in the oven or the smoker. Just adjust for time and temperature accordingly. Less is usually more when it comes to baby backs.
Prepping Your Pork Ribs
Regardless of which type of cut you choose, look for a meaty slab without a lot of extra fat, and not cut too close to the bone. The bones will have a harder time staying put during cooking if so, and you’ll lose the meat candy appeal if you end up with separate piles of bones and meat. It also helps to remove any visible excess fat from the rack, since the oven baking method won’t render any.
Depending on where you buy ribs, there may be a tough, thin membrane on the boney side. Leaving the membrane intact during the cooking process can lead to overly chewy, sinewy ribs. So, removing that membrane is definitely recommended. But there’s a catch! Taking off the membrane is not always an easy feat.
Membrane Removal Tips
Here are some tips on getting that pesky membrane off your next rack:
- Grab a butter knife- A not-so-sharp knife like a butter knife (or flat end of a spoon, or fingertip, or oyster knife), can usually wiggle it into the space between the membrane and meat. This is a great way to grab a hold of that tricky membrane initially.
- On the bone- Some people, myself included, find it easier to insert the butter knife along one of the rib bones, as opposed to trying to separate membrane from the muscle tissue itself.
- In the middle- Occasionally you might have a rack of ribs whose membrane is less intact at the ends. In these cases, starting from the middle and working your way out might be easiest.
- Paper towels- Definitely grab a paper towel or two to help you grab hold of the membrane as you pull. It can be surprisingly slippery, so you’ll want a little leverage with your grip!
- Colder rack- I’ve also found it easier to do all of the above when the rack is right out of the fridge as opposed to room temperature.
If all else fails, just make a slit in the membrane down the center line of each rib bone. At least this way, the membrane will crisp up and away from the rib meat.
Not every rack will have a membrane though. It helps to know your brand, as some come with membrane already removed. You can also ask your butcher if you’re not sure!
Classic rib rubs are dry rubs with salt, sugar, and spices. These ingredients help to not only infuse flavor into the meat, but they also ensure the meat remains tender and moist throughout the cooking process.
Some people use binders (or additional ingredients between meat and seasoning that supposedly helps the seasoning adhere and infuse into the meat). Examples are mustard and olive oil. However, I’ve found in previous recipe testing for slow cooker pulled pork that the binder did not improve flavor at all. In fact, it was less flavorful. Feel free to try it for yourself though!
For a perfectly seasoned, spicy sweet oven baked rack of ribs, I highly recommend our family’s go-to, Robert’s Rib Rub Seasoning. Simply coat the ribs on all sides with dark brown sugar, and then apply the rib rub. Keeping the brown sugar separate from the other seasonings will ensure they don’t dry out and become rock solid as brown sugar often does.
Rubbing the Right Way
Pat the mixture into the ribs, and let them sit at room temperature anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours prior to cooking. Allowing the ribs to thaw from fridge temps a little will prevent it from seizing (firming up) when it goes into a hot oven.
You absolutely can put the rib rub on immediately before sending the ribs to the oven. Just know this was my least flavorful rack in the recipe testing process. Don’t get me wrong, they were still insanely flavorful- but it didn’t penetrate into the meat itself like the other time varients. Your call!
Retaining more moisture can be achieved by keeping an aluminum foil tent over the ribs for the majority of their cooking time. If you would like to add a sauce, slather it on in the last 30 minutes with the aluminum foil removed. The sugar in the rub, as well as in most BBQ sauces, can burn easily though. So keep an eye on your ribs whenever the foil is off.
And that’s that! Set your timer- this oven baked rack of ribs deserves all the fanfare of a kitchen countdown.
- 1 rack baby back ribs
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 2/3 cup preferred rib rub seasoning
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and line the bottom of a large sheet pan with aluminum foil.
- Remove pork ribs from packaging and pat dry with a paper towel. If the ribs have a membrane, remove it by inserting a butter knife against a rib bone, and pulling the membrane away with a paper towel in hand for extra grip.
- Cover the ribs on all sides with the brown sugar, about 1/3 cup per side. Repeat with the dry rib rub seasoning. Be sure to also season the edge of the rack of ribs.
- Place the rack of ribs on the prepared sheet pan, meaty side down, and cover with aluminum foil. Cook in the oven for 3 hours, turning the rack over in the final 30 to 45 minutes of cook time. Once cooked through and tender, remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes prior to serving.