How To Grill

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Season 1

Show 102: Rib Fest

Ribs are the Holy Grail of barbecue and there are as many opinions on how best to cook them as there are individual pit masters. This show celebrates the barbecued rib - from tender baby backs to meaty spare ribs to jumbo beef ribs that live up to their nickname "dinosaur bones." Smoked or spit roasted, wet or dry - this show will teach you how to cook perfect ribs every time

On the menu:
(page numbers refer to recipes in How to Grill):

  • Sweet and smoky Kansas City ribs (page 139)
  • Dinosaur beef ribs (page 97)
  • Rotisserie ribs with herbes de Provence (page 147)
  • Jamaican jerk ribs with pineapple barbecue sauce (see below)


Admit it - this is why you really tuned into the show - to learn how to cook the perfect rib. Not all ribs are equal, of course, so here's a scorecard to help you know the players.


Baby back ribs (a.k.a. top loin ribs): short, succulent, well-marbled ribs cut from the center section of the loin. Their high fat content and remarkable tenderness - not to mention, their relatively short cooking time - make them America's favorite rib. Baby backs come from the upper part of the pig's ribcage directly adjacent to the backbone - whence the expression "eating high off the hog."

Spare ribs: Larger and longer than baby backs, spare ribs come from lower down on the rib cage (from the sides and upper belly of the pig). They' re meatier than baby backs, but a little tougher. (On the plus side, they're also more flavorful.) The best size for the home griller is a "3-1/2 and down" (rack weighing 3-1/2 pounds or less).


Beef ribs are the largest of all ribs, each measuring 8 to 10 inches long. They are what are left over when the butcher cuts out a rib roast. (In my family we call them "dinosaur bones.") There are 7 ribs to each side of beef. Beef ribs can be cooked any way you'd prepare pork ribs.

Beef short ribs come from the lower end of the rib roast and the plate. Short ribs are thicker, tougher, and fattier than regular beef ribs, so they required prolonged low heat cooking.


Smaller than baby backs, lamb ribs are great for spit roasting and grilling.


Pork and lamb ribs come with a papery membrane on the back (the concave side). I like to remove this membrane, which acts as a barrier to smoke and spice flavors. (It also tends to make the ribs a little tougher.)

To do this, loosen one corner from the meat with a slender, blunt, round object, like the end of a meat thermometer or Philips head screwdriver. (Insert the point just under the membrane next to one of the ribs and wiggle it.) Grab the membrane with a paper towel or the end of a dishtowel - it's slippery, and this will give you a grip. Gently but firmly pull the membrane away from the ribs: it should come away in a single sheet. Or ask your butcher to do it.


This ingenious wire device looks like old-fashioned toast holder and it solves the age old problem of fitting a large number of ribs on a small grill. Simply stand the ribs in the rack and cook them upright Rib racks are sold at grill stores and many cookware shops.

Recipe - Jalapeno Jerk Baby Back Ribs with Pineapple Barbecue Sauce printer-ready version

Method: indirect grilling
Serves 6 to 8

  • 4 racks of baby back ribs, peeled following the instructions on page 141/142
  • 1 quart pineapple juice
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and rough chopped
  • 4 to 8 jalapeno chilies, thinly sliced

for the glaze:

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup rice or cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry jerk seasoning (see below for recipe) or use your favorite commercial brand
  • Pineapple Barbecue Sauce (see below for recipe)
  • 2 cups wood chips, soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained

1. Place the ribs in a large roasting pan. Pour 4 cups pineapple juice over them and add the cilantro and jalapenos. Marinate the ribs for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Place the 2 cups pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, butter, and pepper in a heavy saucepan and boil until syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. The mixture should reduce to about 1 cup.

3. Drain the ribs and blot dry. Sprinkle on both sides with the jerk seasoning, rubbing it into the meat with your fingertips.

4. Set up your grill for indirect grilling If using a gas grill, place wood chips in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and preheat at high until you see smoke. Then reduce the heat to medium (325 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, preheat to medium (325 degrees).

5. Drain the ribs and place on the grill over the drip pan. Indirect grill the ribs until tender and cooked through, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. When cooked, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by 1/4 inch. The last half hour start brushing the ribs with the glaze and brush two or three more times before serving. Cut the racks into 3 rib pieces and serve with the Pineapple Barbecue Sauce below.

Sub Recipe - Pineapple Barbecue Sauce

Makes about 2 cups.

Pineapple juice makes an fitting base for a barbecue sauce. After all, barbecue originated in the West Indies and so did the pineapple. (The latter was "discovered" by Columbus in 1493 on the island of Guadeloupe.) In the 19th century, the pineapple became an American symbol of hospitality - carved into moldings and banisters throughout New England. The fruit's sweet, musky, acidity makes a prefect foil for pork.

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 to 2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • salt (just a little) and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the pineapple juice, chili, ginger, and cilantro in a heavy saucepan and boil until reduced by half.

2. Stir the ketchup, vinegar, worchestershire sauce, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Simmer the sauce until richly flavored and slightly thickened, 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sub Recipe - Dry Jerk Seasoning

Makes about 1/2 cup.

Commercial dry jerk seasonings are widely available. Here's a quick one you can make from scratch at home, and unlike many store-bought versions, it contains no MSG. For a mail order source for scotch bonnet chili powder, see page 000.,

  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon scotch bonnet chili powder or cayenne pepper

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix with your fingers.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort