Fire up the grill to make mouth-watering baby back ribs

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Published June 15, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Tribune Content Agency

For these barbecued park ribs start with a sweet-and-spicy rub, and serve a simple sauce for dipping.

Having four sons who range in age from 10 to 28 years old, I always look forward to Father’s Day. The holiday is known, among other reasons, for the range of gifts dads traditionally get, including hand-drawn pictures, ties, socks, coffee mugs and aftershave.

One of the most welcome Father’s Day gifts I can think of is food. My sons, for example, know how much I love great chocolate, so there might be some of that for me to unwrap (and share) on Sunday morning. Even more meaningful, however, is when my sons cook for me. It could be something as simple as the panini or waffles my younger boys like to make. Or it might be something much more elaborate, which I’ve come to expect from my second-to-oldest son, Byron, who just graduated from Cornell’s famed restaurant and hotel management program.

With Father’s Day observed just a few days before summer, barbecuing is one of the best ways to celebrate. It also lets Dad take part in the festivities directly, since chances are that he himself will be the one to man the fire. So I’d like to share a treat that almost any father would enjoy: barbecued pork ribs served with a spicy-sweet dipping sauce.

When cooking ribs, I think simple and slow is the best way to go. I like to start with the most tender, succulent ribs: back ribs, also known as baby backs, the term used for that portion of the ribs nearer the spine after the butcher has cut off the loin. (They aren’t, in fact, from an immature animal; “baby” just refers to the ribs’ size.) Be sure to ask the butcher to peel off the tough membrane that covers one side of the ribs; there’s no reason you should have to struggle with this task at home.

The best way to cook ribs outdoors is by using the

indirect-heat method of barbecuing, which involves arranging a hot fire under one side of the grill but leaving the ribs to cook, covered, on the cooler side and not directly above the fire. This causes the meat to cook slowly, ensuring that it stays tender and doesn’t dry out. Before cooking, I like to flavor the ribs with a sweet-and-spicy rub, preferably leaving it on them overnight so the flavors penetrate the meat. And I also serve them with a simple sauce for people who like to dip the meaty ribs before eating — though I personally also like the fall-off-the-bone-tender meat on its own.

The results are so good that it really doesn’t matter whether you’re being cooked for or you’re the one doing the cooking. I wish you a happy Father’s Day.

BARBECUED BABY BACK RIBS WITH SWEET-AND-SPICY DIPPING SAUCE

Serves 4 to 6

Sweet-and-Spicy Rub and Ribs:

4 tablespoons dark-brown sugar

4 tablespoons onion powder

4 tablespoons garlic powder

4 tablespoons dried thyme

4 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons mild paprika

2 tablespoons hot paprika

4 teaspoons cayenne

4 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 racks pork back ribs, membrane removed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sweet-and-Spicy Dipping Sauce:

1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 red or green jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves

Kosher salt

Directions:

To make the sweet-and-spicy rub, stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place the racks of ribs in 1 or 2 baking pans large enough to hold them in a single layer. With clean hands, sprinkle them evenly on both sides with 1/2 cup of the rub mixture, rubbing it in well. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight. (Reserve the remaining rub mixture for another use, storing it in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Before grilling the ribs, make the sweet-and-spicy dipping sauce: In a small mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, honey, jalapeno and oregano. Season the sauce to taste with salt, and whisk well. Cover, and reserve in the refrigerator.

Prepare a fire in a gas or charcoal grill. Meanwhile, remove the ribs from the refrigerator.

When the fire is very hot, turn off one side of the burners for a gas grill or carefully push the coals to one side for a charcoal grill. Lightly brush the ribs on both sides with the olive oil, and place the racks side by side, fattier side down, on the cooler side of the grill not directly above the fire or coals. Close the lid of the grill, or cover the ribs with a large inverted metal baking pan.

Cook the ribs until their undersides are browned, about 20 minutes. Using long grilling tongs, turn the ribs over. Cover, and continue to cook until the bones wiggle easily when twisted with the tongs, about 1 1/2 hours, turning the racks over every 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, remove the dipping sauce from the refrigerator, and let it come to room temperature.

When the ribs are done, remove them from the grill to a cutting board, cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and leave them to rest for 10 minutes. With a large sharp knife, cut the ribs between the bones. Arrange them on the platter, and serve, passing the dipping sauce alongside.

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