If you seldom use salt except as a sprinkle on your food, you're missing out on some of its more potent culinary uses. For example if you give your ribs a quick bath in a salt and water solution -- a process called brining -- they won't just taste better, they'll also retain more moisture after long, slow cooking in your barbecue. It's a simple process, suitable for cooks at any level of skill.
Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a large pot, and add a 1/2 pound of salt. Stir the salt until it's completely dissolved in the water. Some cooks add sugar and spices as well, which mellow the salt's sharp bite and add a small amount of flavor. Boil the brine for 5 minutes, then cool and refrigerate it overnight.
Place your ribs on a clean cutting board with the curved underside of the bones facing up. There's a strip of tough membrane, called the fell, that runs along the entire underside. Slide the tip of a butter knife between the fell and one of the rib bones and lift it away, so you can get a good grip on it. Pull the membrane away from the ribs in one long, leathery strip.
Arrange the ribs in a single layer in a flat, food-safe container, or slide each rack into its own large heavy-duty plastic bag. Pour the brine over the ribs, and refrigerate them for at least one hour or up to six hours.
Remove the ribs and drain the brine. Pat them dry with clean paper towels. Apply a dry spice rub, if you wish. The ribs can be cooked immediately, or left overnight in their spice rub to absorb flavors.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Amazing Ribs: Salting And Brining Flavorize, Moisturize, And Tenderize
- Before brining any pork, including ribs, check the label to see if it has been brined already at the packing plant. Labels reading "pre-seasoned" or "extra-moist," or that list salt and water as ingredients, indicate pre-brined pork. Don't brine it again, or it'll be unpleasantly salty.
- An alternative technique is called "dry-brining." Simply sprinkle the ribs with coarse salt, and let it sit for an hour or two before brushing or rinsing it off. It's a less complicated method, and accomplishes the same result.
- Ribs are well marbled with fat, and contain lots of connective tissue that breaks down and adds moisture when they're slow-cooked to tenderness. Many cooks and barbecue experts argue that because of this, ribs have little need of brining.
- Brine recipes vary widely in the amount of salt they use, and the proportion of salt to sugar. In general a quick brining time calls for more salt, while long brining requires less.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.