6 Ways to Season Baby Back Ribs

Classic BBQ ribs on parchment paper with BBQ sauce


Six Delicious Sauces and Rubs for Baby Back Ribs

Whether you grill, broil or roast them, or use a combination of cooking methods, baby back ribs benefit from liberal seasoning via a flavor-packed rub, sauce or both. Dry rubs are a mixture of herbs and spices that are massaged onto racks of baby back ribs before they're cooked. Ribs prepared in this manner are certainly seasoned enough to be eaten as-is, but diners can add barbecue and other sauces to them on the plate as well. Baby back ribs soaked in sauce and doused with more while they cook are full of flavor too, with the bonus of a finger-licking coating and deliciously sticky finish.

1. Classic BBQ Ribs

For baby back ribs with a classic American barbecue flavor, use both a dry rub and barbecue sauce, either your favorite sauce from a bottle or a homemade one. For the rub, blend garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Rub the mixture all over the ribs and refrigerate them until you're ready to start cooking, or cook them immediately. Start basting the ribs with barbecue sauce only toward the end of the cooking time. Due to its generally high sugar content, barbecue sauce can burn before the ribs have had enough time to become tender, so it's best to save it for the final 20 minutes or so of cooking.

2. Memphis-Style Ribs

To replicate the distinctive flavors of Memphis-style barbecue, blend 3 parts each of brown sugar and paprika to 1 part each of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder, dry mustard and allspice. Slowly cook baby back ribs rubbed generously with this blend, avoiding high heat that could cause the sugar to burn. Such cooking could be in a smoker, barbecue, oven (covered with foil) or Crock-Pot. For the final hour of cooking, baste the ribs regularly with diluted apple cider vinegar, which imparts a tang that offsets the sweetness of the rub for a beautiful balance of bold flavors.

3. Lemon-Pepper Ribs

The combination of zesty lemon and piquant cracked black pepper, plus parsley and garlic, is a simple but delicious seasoning for baby back ribs. Create a marinade of olive oil, fresh lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, minced fresh parsley and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. You can substitute garlic powder and dried parsley if you wish. To boost the lemony flavor while slowly steaming the ribs in the oven, sit the rack of baby back ribs, coated with the marinade, on a bed of thick slices of lemon and onion. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake at a low oven temperature for several hours.

4. Satay-Inspired Ribs

A thick, peanut-based satay sauce packed with Asian flavors is especially delicious when brushed over baby back ribs as they cook. Start with smooth peanut butter and blend it with green onion, cilantro, low-sodium soy sauce, garlic, ginger, lime juice and optionally a squeeze of sriracha or other chili sauce. Slather the satay sauce over the ribs while you grill, broil or roast them, and save any extra sauce for dipping. Finish them with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. These ribs are quite messy to eat, so put extra napkins on the table.

5. Coffee-Cocoa-Rubbed Ribs

Coffee and cocoa powder are the main seasoning ingredients in this unusual and bold spice rub that works perfectly on baby back ribs. Blend 3 parts each of ground coffee and unsweetened cocoa with 2 parts paprika and 1 part each of onion powder, garlic powder and chili powder, plus salt and pepper. Massage the mixture into the ribs, covering both sides of the rack, and refrigerate it, covered, for at least an hour and as long as overnight, before cooking the ribs using your favorite technique.

6. Balsamic Ribs

Balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and chopped fresh rosemary, plus salt and pepper and optionally brown sugar or maple syrup, make a simple marinade and basting sauce in one for baby back ribs. Because the seasoning mixture is quite thin, it works well with oven-cooked ribs, which can slowly braise in the blend of sauce and pork juices that collect in the bottom of the baking dish. If you want to grill, barbecue or broil balsamic-seasoned ribs, simply reduce the sauce until it's thick by simmering it in a saucepan. Brush the sauce over the ribs as they cook.