Craving BBQ ribs but you don’t own a smoker or grill? Maybe you do but the weather is frightful outside…no problem, you can make oven baked pork spare ribs. Baked low and slow, this recipe produces lip smacking good ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender and succulent.
Fall-off-the-bone tender oven baked spare ribs are perfect when you can’t cook outside. What is especially nice is how simple they are to prepare. The secret to creating great ribs of any kind is the rub. Truth be told, anyone can make one by mixing together a few spices, most of which you probably already have in your panty. All you need to do to create these delicious ribs is rub the spice mix on the meat, wrap tightly in foil and bake low and slow to retain the juices. After 4 or 5 hours, depending on the size of the ribs you are using, they become so tender they will almost fall off the bone. Barbecue sauce, either homemade or store bought, is then brushed on top and they are broiled until the sauce caramelizes.
Raised on a ranch in a small town outside of Houston, Texas, I grew up eating barbecue often. Just “down the road” from where we lived was the Swinging Door, a down home, back to basics barbecue restaurant with its own dance hall where you could eat, enjoy a Lone Star beer and dance the Texas two-step. Over the years, it became one of the Houston area’s most famous barbecue joints.
There are as many spice rubs, barbecue sauces and methods to cook pork ribs as there are home cooks and pit masters. While I would never be able to cook pork spare ribs like the ones prepared in the big smokers at the Swinging Door, when I’m hungry for ribs these oven baked spare ribs make me happy.
Pork spare ribs are traditionally served at barbecue restaurants in Texas but you can also use this same recipe for baby back ribs, they just won’t take quite as long to cook. You may also decide to only go with a dry rub and serve sauce on the side, that is usually the way it is done in Texas and what I actually prefer. If so, make a little extra spice rub and add a little more after the meat is almost cooked so you get a nice crispy crust. To my taste, perfect ribs are not too messy or coated with too sweet of a sauce. The meat should also have caramelized edges and pull easily off the bones and that is what this recipe creates.
Oven Baked BBQ Spare Ribs
Serves 2 (a serving being 1/2 rack per person), adjust the recipe accordingly.
Preheat the oven to 250 – 275 degrees (depending on your oven calibration).
- 1 rack of pork spare ribs (I used St. Louis style ribs)
- dry rub mix (see below)
- 1 c. barbecue sauce (homemade or your favorite store bought)
Early in the day, remove the membrane from the back of the ribs and cut the rack in half for easier handling. Season both sides with the dry rub, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 – 2 hours or even overnight. Remove the plastic wrap and wrap the ribs in heavy duty foil or use two layers of regular foil (so bones don’t poke through) leaving enough room for steam to circulate. Seal edges tightly so that the juices can’t escape. Place the foil packets on a foil lined baking pan, meat side up, and place in the oven for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Take out of the oven, remove the foil carefully, place back on the baking pan, meat side up, and dry roast for an additional 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until very tender and a crust has formed. Remove the ribs from the oven, brush with some barbecue sauce and put under the broiler for about 5 minutes until sauce bubbles and starts to caramelize. Watch carefully so that the sauce doesn’t burn. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut between the bones. Serve the remaining barbecue sauce on the side.
- 2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. dry mustard
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, depending on spiciness you want
- 1/4 tsp. ancho chile powder
If you have a favorite store-bought barbecue sauce, by all means use it. If not, you might want to try my Carolina Style sauce, a sweet and tangy mustard and vinegar based sauce.
Carolina Style BBQ Sauce (makes about 1 cup sauce)
- 1/2 c. mustard (I use Dijon)
- 2 tsp. ketchup
- 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. ancho chili powder
- 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Mix all the ingredients together in a small sauce pan and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Use a spice rub for a salty, savory and spicy layer of flavor but do not add too much sugar as it can cause the ribs to have a burnt flavor. If you like sweet ribs, glaze the ribs with a sweet barbecue sauce at the end, Sweet Baby Rays is a popular one.
- An average rack of pork spare ribs has 10 to 13 bones and weighs around 3 pounds.
- Ribs come in various weights and thicknesses so be aware that cooking times might need to be adjusted.
- Start checking the meat at two hours for tenderness.
- Low heat (between 250 and 275 depending on your oven) will slowly melt the fat, dissolve connective tissue and convert the pork into tender, flavorful meat.
- Pork is considered done when it reaches 145 degrees internally but you also want the ribs to be tender which requires longer cooking. Experts suggest ribs reach a temperature of about 190 degrees.
- You can test if the ribs are ready by grabbing the tip of a bone and twisting, it should start to come free from the meat.
- If you would like a smokey flavor, you can add a 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke to your BBQ sauce.
This oven baked option for cooking pork ribs is great for anyone craving barbecue ribs but doesn’t have a smoker or grill. Even when you do have the proper equipment for cooking ribs outdoors, sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. While you may not obtain that same smoky flavor that is created when ribs are cooked over wood embers, you still get fall-off-the-bone tender BBQ style spare ribs that I think you will enjoy.