Balsamic Baby Back Ribs

I love it when cooking becomes a social, innovative, iterative process. There are few things in life more boring for me than looking over a recipe that’s just a bunch of steps – no pics, no descriptions, no exposition, no tips, no love. Yech.

Now this rib recipe has got some history to it. I first came across it as Balsamic Pork Belly from She Cooks… He Cleans and it looked wonderful (and it comes with musical suggestions, gotta love that). They adapted it from Ian Knauer’s Sticky Balsamic Ribs over at FOOD52, also a tasty-looking recipe that Ian says, “These ribs just might be the best thing I’ve ever come up with.” High praise indeed.

So I’ve got two terrific recipes for two different cuts of meat, using two very different cooking styles, but with the same marinade and glaze. Oh man, this is going to be fun!

The Marinade
2 racks baby back pork ribs, about 5 pounds
4 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons packed raw or brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 cup water

Combine the garlic and salt in a blender or food processor and give it a whirl until the garlic is minced. Add the pepper, rosemary, sugar, vinegar, oil, cayenne, and water and pulse to combine.

Prep the ribs by removing the membrane on the bone side and trimming off any scrapes of meat or excess fat. Put the ribs into a zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the ribs, turning to coat. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal it, and stash in the fridge overnight.

The Cook
Remove the ribs from the marinade. Lay them out on a sheet pan and dust with some sea or kosher salt and black pepper. Return to the fridge, uncovered, while you set up the grill.

Set up your grill for an indirect cook that will burn for at least 5 hours at between 225 to 250°F. On the Big Green Egg that meant filling the firebox with lump charcoal and using an inverted plate setter to diffuse the heat and a drip pan with a little water in it to catch the fat.

When the grill is up to temp, add your smoking wood (a chunk of apple in this case) and wait for the smoke to go from white (bad) to blue (good). Remove the ribs from the sheet pan and set on the grate bone side down and centered over the drip pan.

Close the lid and let the ribs cook for an hour. Flip bone side up and cook for another hour. After the ribs have been on for 2 hours, remove them from the heat, wrap them tightly in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and return them to the grill bone side up for an hour.

After an hour, carefully unwrap ribs, making sure not to lose any of the drippings that have collected in the foil. Return the ribs to the grill bone side down while you make the glaze.

The Glaze
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup raw or brown sugar
1/4 cup water
Reserved drippings from foil

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and water, and drippings in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to a thick and syrupy glaze, about 5 minutes. Watch this like a hawk because the once it starts to thicken the glaze can easily burn. Set aside, but keep warm.

Return to the grill and check on the ribs. Ribs are done when the meat hits 165°F internal, but they aren’t tender enough to eat until they hit about 185°F and the surface cracks when you lift up on one end of the slab or the meat starts to tear apart when you pull on one of the bones. When the ribs get to that point it’s time to sauce.

Brush the glaze on both side of the ribs and let them cook for another 10 minutes. Glaze both sides again and cook another 10 minutes. Brush ribs one last time with more glaze, remove the from the grill,  and serve remaining glaze on the side.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
To badly misquote Zaphod Beeblebrox  from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “If I told you how good these ribs are, I wouldn’t have time to eat them.”

Yes, they were that good – sweet and tangy with good smoke and enough heat from the cayenne and porky goodness from the drippings to tie everything together. They reminded me of the Minimalist Ribs I did where there are so few ingredients that every one of them gets to shine.

The Nutrition:
A four bone serving is 600 calories and 10 Weight Watchers points.

ONE YEAR AGO – Asian Pork Skewers

TWO YEARS AGO – Carnitas with Pickled Onions


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