The Ribs Primer
Precooking: Why and How
Pitmasters may swear by "low and slow" grilling, but the easiest way to get meltingly tender meat on most pork ribs is to precook them in the oven before grilling. Just place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 275° F until the meat easily pulls away from the bone. (See the following slides for individual times.)
What they are: These lean, curved slabs, taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone, are prized for their sweet, juicy meat. A full rack has about 8 ribs. Select one that is 2 pounds or less for the most tender meat. Plan on 1 pound per person.*
How to prepare them: Precook for 2 to 2½ hours, then grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Pressed for time? Skip precooking and just grill over medium heat until tender (the meat will be slightly tougher but still delicious), 25 to 30 minutes.
What they are: Classic Texas fare, these are the same ribs found in a prime rib roast. They have little meat, but what’s there is very flavorful (think steak). Beef ribs are large, usually measuring 8 inches. A full rack has 7 to 8 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds. Plan on 1½ pounds per person.
How to prepare them: Grill, covered, over indirect low heat until tender, 4 to 5 hours. (See our directions on cooking with indirect heat.)
What they are: Sold individually (sometimes boneless), these meaty ribs come from the upper loin of a pig. (No wonder they look more like chops than standard ribs.) For barbecuing, choose ribs with lots of marbled fat: With precooking, they become extremely tender. Plan on 1 rib (about ½ pound) per person.
How to prepare them: Precook for 2½ to 3 hours, then grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Alternately, braise them.
* Why different serving amounts for different cuts? Ribs vary in terms of the meat-to-bone ratio.
What they are: This intensely beefy variety comes from the cow’s lower rib cage, just like many short ribs. But the cut is different: Flanken are sliced across the bones into thin slabs about 3 ribs wide; short ribs are usually cut between the bones. Plan on 1 piece of flanken (about ¾ pound) per person.
How to prepare them: Grill over medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Alternatively, braise them.
What they are: Sold in rectangular 2- to 3-inch pieces, short ribs, which can come from the cow’s chuck or middle rib area, have thick layers of meat and fat that give the cut a rich taste. Plan on 2 short ribs (about 1 pound total) per person.
How to prepare them: Because short ribs are prone to toughness, they are rarely grilled. Braise them instead.
What they are: These large, irregularly sized ribs come from a pig’s underbelly, or lower rib cage (that’s also the source of, mmm, bacon). Spareribs aren’t as meaty as baby backs, but they’re very tasty, thanks to a generous amount of fat. A full rack has about 13 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds. Plan on 1½ pounds per person.
How to prepare them: Trim excess fat, precook for 2½ to 3 hours, then grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
St. Louis-Style Ribs
What they are: A trimmed down version of pork spareribs, this midwestern favorite has a fatty strip of cartilage and the connective tissue removed. The result is a more delicate cut that is easy to handle and cooks more evenly than some regular spareribs. A full rack has about 13 ribs and weighs about 2½ pounds. Plan on 1½ pounds per person.
How to prepare them: Precook for 2½ to 3 hours, then grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes.