JeanMarie Brownson: There’s nothing like a good batch of ribs for your Labor Day cookout
Family tradition finds us gathered around a smoky grill filled with pork ribs to mark the unofficial end of summer: Labor Day weekend. Some years we pull out the stops and splurge on baby back ribs, others, we enjoy the meaty flavor and moderate price of country-style ribs.
This year, we’re loving a homemade herb and garlic seasoning as a delicious rub for our ribs. Applying a generous sprinkle to the ribs a day or two in advance of grilling infuses the meat nicely with the rub flavors.
The rub also proves excellent with grilled chicken and pork chops. For meatless meals, rub thick slabs of eggplant or portabella mushroom caps with oil and sprinkle with the rub before grilling.
Baby back pork ribs, cut from the loin, while naturally tender, require about 1 1/4 hours of indirect cooking on a moderately hot (325 degrees) gas or charcoal grill. Adding soaked wood chunks to the grill will add a nice smoky taste. I prefer to cut the slabs in half for easier handling and extra crispy ends.
The more economical country-style pork ribs can be purchased bone-in or boneless. The key to tenderness is to cook them slowly either in the oven or on the grill away from direct heat. When the juices run clear, position the ribs directly over the grill’s heat to brown them nicely.
I like to serve the herb-rubbed ribs with a dipping sauce, such as a favorite local barbecue sauce, or the simple-to-make Lemon-Garlic Mustard dip that follows.
Buttered ears of corn on the cob, creamy coleslaw, sliced ripe tomatoes and a leafy salad make the menu complete. Brownie and vanilla ice cream sundaes take the sting out of the end of summer.
Garlic and Herb Baby Back Ribs
Makes 6 servings
- 2 to 3 large slabs baby back pork ribs (6 to 7 pounds total)
- Garlic Herb Rib Rub, see recipe
- Cherry or apple wood chunks for grilling
- Lemon-Garlic Mustard Dip, for serving, optional
1. Pat ribs dry. Cut each slab in half. Season generously on all sides with the rib rub; using about 2 tablespoons per half slab. Refrigerate loosely covered for up to two days. Remove from refrigerator while you prepare the grill so the ribs start to come to room temperature.
2. Soak wood chunks in water to cover for at least 30 minutes.
3. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to high. When the coals are covered with a gray ash, arrange them on two sides of the grill, leaving the center empty. Place a drip pan on the bottom of the grill and place the cooking grate on top. If using a gas grill, turn off the burners in the center of the grill and turn the other burners to medium.
4. Just before you put the meat on the grill, nestle a few drained wood chunks among the hot coals (set them on a piece of foil over the burners on a gas grill). Put ribs on grill over the drip pan (not directly over the heat) or over the turned off burners. Cover grill and cook, rearranging the ribs once for even cooking, until fork-tender and juices run clear, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat should register 150 degrees.
5. Remove from grill and let rest 10 minutes before serving. Cut ribs between bones. Serve with the Lemon-Garlic Mustard Dip on the side.
GARLIC HERB RIB RUB: Mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in a bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning, 2 tablespoons each: dried onion flakes and dried parsley. Stir in 1 tablespoon powdered garlic and 1 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper and ground fennel seed. Stir in 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
LEMON GARLIC MUSTARD DIP: Mix 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons country-style Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon refrigerated lemongrass puree in a small bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon dried parsley, 1/2 teaspoon each: freshly ground fennel seed and black pepper. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in grated rind of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice. Crush 1 clove of garlic and add to the sauce. Stir well. Refrigerate covered, up to several days. Serve at room temperature.
BONELESS PORK COUNTRY-STYLE RIBS: Rub 3 pounds (5 or 6 pieces) boneless country-style pork loin ribs, each about 1 inch thick, with a generous amount of the rub. Refrigerate covered, at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Place on a baking sheet and bake in oven preheated to 375 degrees, turning once or twice, for 1 hour (about 150 degrees on an instant read thermometer). Set directly over a hot grill and cook, turning once or twice, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove to a serving platter; tent with foil and let stand about 10 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped chives and the Lemon-Garlic Mustard Dip, if you wish.
(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)