Pineapple BBQ Spare Ribs
When it comes to pork ribs, I think Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard said it best when he said, “I want my baby back, baby back, baby back, baby back ribs”. Of course at the time he was staring at Dr. Evil’s Mini Me which makes it weird, but in case you were wondering and were too afraid to ask, baby back ribs don’t actually come from babies or even baby pigs. They’re just a specific cut off the glorious spare rib which, my fellow carnivores, is the focus of this month’s meat-venture.
At first glance a pork spare rib doesn’t look like much. They don’t have mountains of meat on them, they’re full of bones and cartilage, and they’re tough as dried pigs’ ears if you don’t cook them properly. So how has the spare rib nestled its way up and under our own rib cages to occupy such a special place in our hearts? Simple, when cooked right, they’re the most hands on, in your face, messy, wipe your mouth on your sleeve, slurp the bones, crack the cartilage, lick your fingers, primal eating experiences you’ll ever have.
The most important ingredient when making great spare ribs is time. If you’ve ever had a tough, chewy rib it’s probably because they were rushed. It takes time to break down the fat and connective tissue and soften the cartilage strips, which are one of my favourite bits on a rib. For my ribs, I like to use three different cooking methods to ensure I get a charry, caramelised, bone-sliding rib that melts in the mouth. It takes a little bit of effort but it’s actually quite simple to do. Get it right and you’ll be thanking me later with a saucy grin and a sticky thumbs up.
The first thing to do is to get two good racks of meaty pork ribs. My butcher, Dave jnr. at Bill Riley Meat sorted me out with two chunky racks with a great meat to bone ratio. The next step is to remove the silver skin on the back on the rib bones. This is a personal preference and you can skip it if you like. The silver skin can go tough when cooked so I prefer to remove it just in case. There’s also a fat layer under there which will render out into your marinade while cooking.
Now that your ribs are prepped, it’s time to rub them up. I’ve gone with a sweet and spicy combination with just a hint of sage. If you have the time, I recommend rubbing the ribs at least an hour before cooking – even longer is better. This gives the rub time to work into the meat for deeper flavour. While the rub does it’s magic you’ve got time to hit the pineapple BBQ sauce. I’ve always been a sucker for pork and pineapple, and this sauce brings together everything I love about the combination. It’s sweet, sour and spicy, and it’s the perfect marinade hot tub for our piggy racks.
Next it’s onto the cooking, and if you were paying attention earlier, you’ll remember I mentioned three different cooking methods. The first is the braai because let’s be honest, everything tastes better on the braai. The idea is just a quick sear on the braai to build up a tasty caramelised crust of spice and meat. From there we hit the oven in our pineapple BBQ sauce to braise the ribs until tender. Lastly we slather the ribs with a healthy dose of BBQ sauce and grill them until they’re sticky and charred.
This three pronged attack transforms the ribs from tough and boney into the porky butterfly they were born to be. They’re packed with layers of flavour from the rub, the char and the BBQ sauce, which has a tart zing and spicy hum. Top the ribs off with some fresh pineapple, chopped chives and if you’re feeling brave, a few finely chopped, fresh red chillies for extra kick. In my humble opinion, as a devoted preacher of the pork rib, this really is a kick ass way to cook ribs. The only challenge when it comes to this dish is deciding whether or not you want to share it.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) brown sugar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) salt
2 tsp (10 ml) smoked paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) chilli powder
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
2 tsp (10 ml) mustard powder
2 tsp (10 ml) ground garlic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sage
2 tsp (10 ml) black pepper
a knob of butter for frying
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 C (250 ml) brown sugar
½ C (125 ml) apple cider vinegar
¼ C (60 ml) tomato sauce
1 C (250 ml) pineapple juice
1 C (250 ml) fresh pineapple, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Worcester sauce
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Sriracha sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) mustard powder
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) cumin
2 racks of meaty pork ribs (about 2 kg)
oil for brushing
½ C (125 ml) chopped pineapple, to serve
small handful chopped chives, to serve
red chillies, finely chopped (optional)
Toss all of the dry rub ingredients into a container, seal with a lid and shake to combine.
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, fry the onions in the butter until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly.
Light a medium-sized fire so that the coals are ready to go when you’re ready to char the ribs.
To remove the silver skin on the ribs, work a butter knife under the skin on the corner of the bone. Gently pry the skin up then grip it using a piece of kitchen towel and pull it off. It should come off in one piece, if not just apply the same technique again until it is removed.
Now it’s time to apply the rub and don’t be shy about it. Use the entire batch of dry rub on the ribs and make sure that you coat them all over. Try and do this at least an hour before cooking, even longer is better.
Set the oven to 180 °C before you head outside to braai. Brush the ribs with a little oil just before they go onto the coals. Braai the ribs over medium heat coals and flip frequently. You’re not trying to cook the ribs all the way through, you only want to get a tasty caramelised crust. Move the ribs around the grill to deal with any flame flare ups. When you’ve got good colour, you’re done with the fire and it’s time to hit the oven.
Place the ribs into a roasting tray and then bring the marinade back up to the boil on the stove. Pour the hot marinade over the ribs and then cover the roasting dish tightly with heavy duty foil. Pop the ribs into the oven for 1 ½ hours to cook. Turn the ribs at the 45 minute mark and baste with the marinade.
Remove the ribs from the roasting tray and place them on a baking tray. Brush the ribs with the braising liquid then grill in the oven until caramelised and awesome. Top with chopped chives, pineapple and chilli (optional) and serve.