- Food and Cooking
Baby Back Ribs: To Boil or Not to Boil
baby back ribs
Just about everyone who likes barbecued pork has a special fondness for baby back ribs. I ran across a baby back ribs recipe the other day that called for parboiling the ribs before grilling them. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea. I’ve done it before in very specific circumstances, however, and the results were okay.
Years ago, when I was just a beginning baby back ribs cook, we were going camping with some friends. I was supposed to bring some type of meat to cook over the campfire, and I chose baby back ribs. I boiled the ribs until they were almost done, then I put them in a huge glass pickle jar and covered them with BBQ sauce. All we had to do was to cook the ribs quickly over the fire to brown the outside and to heat them. As I said, the baby back ribs were okay, and they worked pretty well for that specific situation, but now I know better.
Baby back ribs are full of fat and collagen. When you slow cook them, all that breaks down, giving the ribs their indescribable flavor. Boiling is a fast way to cook meat, and when you parboil ribs, much of the fat and flavor end up in the water. You don’t get the full advantages of eating and enjoying ribs to the fullest.
If you want to pre-cook your ribs before placing them on the grill, do it in the oven. Apply a wet or dry rub to the ribs first, and wrap them tightly in foil. Bake them on a cookie sheet at a low heat setting for a couple of hours, then transfer them to the grill. All the seasonings from the rub will be contained in the foil packets, and the “low and slow” cooking technique will help the flavors penetrate the flesh. Of course, even with this cooking method, you won’t get any additional smoke flavor.
A better way to slow cook baby back ribs is to use a smoker, or to use an indirect cooking method on your barbecue grill. Our smoker cooks at a low temperature – around 200-225 degrees, which is a perfect temperature for cooking ribs. Most of the time, I finish the ribs on a hot charcoal grill once they’ve been on the smoker for a while. You can do practically the same thing with a charcoal grill, too. Just create two cooking zones on your grill – a hot side and a cooler side – and slow-cook the ribs on the opposite side of the heat. When the baby back ribs are almost done, move them over the direct heat for browning and to caramelize the barbecue sauce you’ve applied.