Cooking Ribs

Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
Cooking Ribs
Cooking ribs is as much art as it is science. There is no one method that works for
everyone or one “style” of ribs for all. What this information and instruction sheet is
intended to do is guide you in the method that I have used successfully for many years
and after much “experimentation”. I often see these other methods used on a number of
cooking shows. Here is a breakdown of some of these methods (many of which I have
used) and what they entail:
Smoking: An excellent method if you have the equipment and time. Like Alton Brown
from “Good Eats”, I do not like single purpose tools and usually ribs or BBQ require
some other side dish such as grilled corn that does not do so well on a smoker. However,
if you have the equipment and the patience, this is a fine method of cooking. Smoke on.
Par Boiling: Truly the opposite approach to smoking in both time and flavor. I used this
one for years. It does shorten the cooking time but the meat looses much of the
“meatiness” quality. The flavor that you put in the water and the sauce you top it with do
not really fix the problem. You can use this method if you have to for timing reasons but
I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it. The ribs still look good because of the “glaze”
appearance. However, this effect does little for the taste.
Direct Grilling: Grilling ribs is risky, unless you can lower the temperature of your grill
enough to prevent overcooking while allowing the meat near the bones to get fully
cooked. The problem with this method alone is that it has a tendency to dry the meat and
make the texture unpleasant.
Deep Frying: You think I’m kidding! These days, nearly every kind of meat has been
fried as a quick method of cooking. I do not recommend this one and, if you do get it to
work, the taste will have little in common with BBQ ribs.
Oven Baking: Many restaurants use this method for getting ribs cooked without having to
dedicate the resources needed to make quality ribs. It is better than frying, and can be
used when the weather is too extreme to grill.
Dry vs. Wet cooking methods: One thing that continues to be a source of endless
argument between various cooks/chefs is which method produces the best results. In my
own technique, I have attempted to address this by a method that provides the best of
both worlds.
Other methods: In the quest for the “ultimate” ribs, many people, including myself, have
experimented with various cooking methods and combinations (such as boiling and then
grilling). After a lifetime of cooking, I have adopted one such “combination” method that
works consistently and is relatively easy to adapt to home cooking by nearly everyone.
After all, if you couldn’t do this at home, what’s the point? For the sake of alliteration, I
call it “Uncle Ralph’s Rib Regimen”. Here is how it works…
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
Uncle Ralph’s Rib Regimen
Let me begin by acknowledging a debt to the TV series “MASH” for firing up my
interest and imagination in Ribs. Most of you over thirty will remember the episode
where Hawkeye sent to his hometown for “Adam’s Ribs”. Just to be clear on one point, I
have been cooking since I was small enough to have to stand on the top of a stepstool in
order to stir a pot. Anyway, that episode of “MASH” started a long quest to develop the
perfect “Rib Regimen” and sauce receipt.
To help me with this instruction guide, I enlisted the assistance of my friend, Phil. He
enjoys grilling and was also willing to be my test “student”. Most of the pictures are of
him preparing the ribs while I instruct him in the process. This method proved to be of
great help in knowing what to tell you in this manual. Ok, you’re tired of reading about
cooking and you want to get going, right? Well, a little more patience is required because
this is a “regimen”. If you are looking for “fast” ribs, let me suggest one of the quick
methods listed on the intro page. If however, you as I are after the finest ribs that ever
“melted in your mouth”, then read on…
The Tools
First, we need to discuss “hardware”. What you need: a BBQ grill with a lid that can be
closed during cooking; 2 or 3 half- sheet baking pans; a quart or larger measuring cup; a
bowl for the basting sauce and the usual “weapons” for dealing with the grill, sauce and
meat. Most people will have the required grill and pan. If you do not already have halfsheet pans, you can substitute any shallow pan or combination of shallow pans that can
be placed under the ribs while they cook. For preparation, you can use large cookie
There are many different kind of grills today. I have two of them and have adapted this
technique to both with equally good results. You can probably do the same if your grill is
not one of these types. One of my grills is a rather “classic” (if there is such a thing) gas
grill that has two long cooking elements with a fixed “spreader” above them. There is the
usual cooking surface and two racks built into the top that move “mostly” out of the way
when you open the top. I have had many such grills over the years and this was the
design I used while perfecting this regimen. If you just got offended by the idea of using
gas instead of wood or charcoal, then use what you want. The only truly critical things
here is that the heat source can be separated from the meat by a pan with water in it.
Ah, you just caught on to one of my secrets. The water in the pan provides a moist even
heat even when the temperature is high. It also shields the meat from direct heat. It must
be filled at all times. That is why the quart measuring cup. (I recommend glass, not
The other grill is a newer one that has three separate heating elements. However, the rack
is a single small one that is insufficient for cooking more than a single rack of ribs. The
spreaders, however, can be turned over and the half-sheet pan placed on top of them with
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
water in it. The ribs can then be cooked on the main cooking surface. This is a better
method in many ways since three ribs can be cooked at once with reasonably even
Pan Preparation
Unless you really enjoy scrubbing pans, I recommend that you cover the baking pan with
heavy-duty aluminum foil. Experience has taught me that you need to cover the bottom
and then the top/inside, not the other way around. This will reduce the amount of liquid
that actually gets inside the foil. There is no way to prevent leakage every time but this
method will help. Here is how this is done:
Start by covering the bottom with heavy-duty foil.
Fold the foil over into the inside of the pan.
Now, cover the inside with another sheet of foil. Fold the outside overlap down, and
under the pan.
The grill and all of your cooking equipment need to be clean. This should be obvious, but
not, it seams, to everyone. Place the pan for water on the heat spreaders that have been
turned over (if using this type of grill). If you are using an older grill that does not have
this type of heat element but does have upper racks, then place the pan on the grill top.
Pour in the water to bring the level up near the top of the pan.
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
Rib Preparation
Remove the ribs from the packaging and rinse them under running water. The water
should be warm, but not hot.
Place the ribs on the first half-sheet pan after rinsing them. Next, you will need to remove
the membrane from the inside of the ribs. Use a sharp knife to free one edge of the
membrane and a folded paper towel to grab and pull the membrane from the ribs.
Removing this membrane is very important because neither the rub, nor the sauce can
penetrate this membrane. If you are having problems removing it, you can simply “score”
the membrane with the point of a sharp knife diagonally across the bones.
Once the membrane is removed, pat the surface of the meat dry with another folded paper
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
After you dry the rib section, place it in a dry pan. You may wish to line this pan with
aluminum foil also.
After all the rib portions have been dried, you can begin to apply the Rib-Rub. This is
very important because the rub will provide flavor and protect the meat while cooking.
Begin by spreading the rub on the ribs. Then, using your fingers, make certain that the
rub is distributed evenly over the surface of the meat. Do not leave any part of the surface
uncovered or use too much rub. About 1/8 inch is enough. Cover both sides of the meat.
You can do this several hours or even the day before cooking. If you are not going to
cook immediately, place the ribs in the refrigerator covered with a towel.
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
Next, replace the grill cooking-surface.
Have and keep water in the measuring cup and pan in the grill at all times. Mix “Ralph’s
Rib sauce with wine for the basting portion of the cooking. You can use as much as 1/3
wine (or water if you do not have or drink wine). Ok, you just picked up on another
secret. In his movie “The Abyss”, James Cameron used the “Dry for Wet” method of
filming to create a life- like appearance of being in water when they were in air. This
method is called the “Wet for Dry” technique. It starts by cooking dry ribs (with “Uncle
Ralph’s Rib Rub”) for at least half to two thirds of the time. Then apply a thinned layer of
sauce for the last part of the cooking. Now, place the ribs on the cooking surface and
close the top. Check back every 15 to 20 minutes – NO LONGER!
When you can see that the ribs are cooking, flip them over and continue to cook.
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
(Phil – at long last.)
The time it can take to fully cook the ribs will vary from about an hour and a half to two
hours depending on many variables such as grill temperature, how often you check the
ribs and the outside temp. Once you decide that they are about half done, you can begin
basting them with the diluted sauce. Do not “brush” the sauce on the ribs. In spite of the
image, the sauce was being dabbed onto the ribs. You can use a “sauce- mop” if you
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Cooking Ribs – Uncle Ralph’s Method
Although it is not essential to making good ribs, I have found a half- sheet serving tray
and warmer to be an asset at a buffet or party.
Use a clean, dry plate or pan for removing the ribs from the grill and taking them to your
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