For rib-cooking novices, selecting recipes and cooking advice is complicated by the bewildering number of names given to different cuts of pork. In practice, it makes little difference, since most of those names are given to very similar pieces of meat. Back ribs are leaner and smaller, side ribs are larger and straighter, and country-style ribs aren't ribs at all. Slow-roasting is the best bet for most ribs, though country-style ribs can be roasted at higher temperatures.
The hog's rib bones are attached to its spine, with the large loin muscle above the ribs and the smaller tenderloin tucked away underneath. Butchers use a bandsaw to cut the full rack of ribs away from the backbone, producing a large slab of bones and meat. Next, the curved portion nearest the backbone, appropriately called the back ribs, is sawed away. That leaves the thick side ribs, or spare ribs, which are given a number of names depending how they're trimmed. Country-style ribs are cut either from the shoulder section in front of the true ribs, or the loin section behind the true ribs. The two types of country-style ribs cook very differently.
Roasting Country-Style Ribs
Identifying the two types of country-style ribs is easy, even for a novice. Those cut from the loin portion of a hog might be bone-in or boneless, but in either case they'll have a thick slab of lean, light-colored loin meat on top of a fattier section. Country-style ribs from the shoulder will have a large, irregularly-shaped piece of bone, and the meat will be marbled throughout. The loin type of country-style ribs lend themselves to conventional roasting, at temperatures of 325 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or to grilling. They should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, like a pork chop, and seasoned and served the same way. Allow two to three "ribs" per person.
Slow-Roasting Country-Style Ribs
Country-style ribs from the shoulder aren't as tender as those cut from the loin, and they contain a lot more connective tissue. They're best when slow-roasted at temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit or less, like real ribs, until they reach an internal temperature between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That's high enough to melt their connective tissues and soften their dense, chewy muscles. Season them with a dry rub or spice paste before cooking, then slow-roast them in your oven or barbecue. Apply a barbecue sauce near the end of cooking, if you prefer.
Slow-Roasting Spare Ribs
Since "country-style" and "spare ribs" mean two different things, you might find that your package consists of real, bone-in side ribs. In that case, slow-roasting is a must. The muscles and connective tissue filling the spaces between these ribs are tough and chewy unless they're slow-cooked, again to a temperature between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Serious enthusiasts coat their ribs with a dry spice rub or paste, often a day ahead of time so the flavors can penetrate. Once the ribs are fully cooked, you can brush them with a sauce and grill them briefly at high temperature, to caramelize and char the sauce.
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky, et al.
- Amazing Ribs: Unfuddling the Different Cuts of Pork and Ribs
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