While I wish it could be endless summer, there comes a time every year when it's just too chilly to cook ribs outdoors. That's when I turn to the oven.
With a houseful of rib lovers, I've spent years perfecting my process of cooking ribs in the oven so they're just as tasty as if I'd stood at the BBQ all day in 45 MPH winds and sleet. I'm here to share my process and teach you how to cook ribs in the oven so you can have tender, tasty ribs even when it's too cold to grill.
Step-by-Step Guide for Cooking Pork Ribs in the Oven
The best thing about pork ribs cooked in the oven is that, after minimal prep, you can put them in the oven and walk away for several hours (and stay warm doing it). It doesn't get any better than that.
Learning how to cook pork ribs in the oven is really easy. To some extent, the ingredients you use don't matter (other than ribs). What matters is that you follow a series of steps that give you flavorful, juicy, tender results.
Step 1: Brine the Ribs
Ovens tend to dry things out. The cure for this is brine. Typically, you brine the racks of baby back or pork spare ribs for one hour. If you've never brined before, this step is pretty easy.
- Fill a large container that fits in your fridge but holds all your ribs and the brine. Alternatively, fill a clean, insulated cooler with cold water.
- Add ½ cup of salt (or 1 cup of kosher salt) and ½ cup of sugar (I like brown sugar for this).
- You may also add herbs and spices to the brine if you wish. Sage, rosemary, garlic, peppercorns, and oregano are great with pork.
- Add the ribs. Cover the container with plastic (or close the cooler) and place it in the refrigerator (the cooler doesn't need to go in the fridge).
- Let ribs brine for one hour.
You can also try this easy pork brine. Allow it to cool completely before adding the ribs.
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup sea salt
- 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons peppercorns
- Simmer all ingredients on the stovetop for 20 minutes. Cool.
- Add to your container or cooler with an additional 5 quarts of water. Add the ribs and refrigerate.
Step 2: Add a Dry Rub
Dry rubs add flavor to your meat. Typically, it's best to rub the ribs and let the rub sit on the meat for several hours — I do it overnight — before cooking them. Dry rubs consist of a base of brown sugar with herbs and spices. Here's mine:
- ½ cup of brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- ½ tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper or white pepper
You can also use a commercially prepared dry rub. There are several excellent rubs available in the spice section of the grocery store.
To rub your ribs:
- Once you have your dry rub, the word dry is the key. Remove the pork from the brine and dry it with paper towels.
- Place the ribs on large pieces of plastic wrap and rub all sides of the meat with generous amounts of your rub.
- Wrap the ribs tightly in plastic wrap and then wrap them with foil. Put them in the fridge for several hours or overnight.
Step 3: Add Some Moisture
It's almost time to stick the ribs in the oven. First, you need to add some moisture to keep the ribs from drying out. Do this by making a braising liquid while the oven preheats to 250°F. The braising liquid is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is this:
- Use a base liquid. You can use chicken stock, white wine, beer, or something else — it's your choice.
- Add in some smoke flavor. One of the flavors that's missing from barbecue to oven is smoke. Liquid smoke works great for this purpose. A little goes a long way.
- Add something sweet. You can use orange juice or maple syrup for this, but you can also add in a little honey, sugar, or molasses.
- Add some acid. Essentially, this means to add vinegar. Any kind of vinegar works, especially apple cider vinegar or white vinegar.
For my braising liquid, I bring the following ingredients to a boil on the stovetop. Cool before adding to ribs.
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
Step 4: Put the Ribs in the Oven
- Preheat the oven to 250°F.
- Unwrap the ribs and rewrap them in foil.
- Place the foil-wrapped ribs on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Open a corner of the foil packet for each rack of ribs and pour in about ¼ cup of cooled braising liquid.
- Reseal the packet tightly so the liquid won't leak out.
Step 5: Cook Low and Slow
The secret to really tender ribs from your oven is this: low and slow. What does that mean? Low temperature (250°F). Slow cooking time (2½-4 hours). This low and slow cooking method breaks down the collagen in the meat, giving you that fall-off-of-the-bone tenderness that you want.
- Place the ribs in the oven.
- Cook ribs for 2½ to 4 hours.
- After about 2½ hours, open a corner of one of your foil packets and test the ribs with a fork. If they are tender, move on to step 5. Otherwise, allow them to continue to cook until they're fork-tender. If in doubt, err on the side of leaving the ribs in the oven longer. In the moisture-rich, low-temperature environment, it isn't going to hurt the ribs.
Step 6: Glaze
You have two options for your glaze. You can use a commercially prepared or homemade barbecue sauce, or you can use your braising liquid.
- Remove the ribs from the oven.
- Turn the oven on to broil.
- Open the foil packets and pour the juices back into the pan with the leftovers of your braising liquid.
- Tent the ribs with foil and set them aside on the baking sheet.
- Bring the liquid in the pan to a simmer.
- Allow the liquid to reduce and thicken.
- Brush the liquid on ribs. You can also use a commercially prepared barbecue sauce, or maple syrup for this step.
- Put the ribs back in the oven, meat side up, and place under the broiler until the glaze starts to bubble — about 3-4 minutes.
How to Cook Beef Ribs in the Oven
Beef ribs come in two styles: short ribs and spare ribs. Both come from the same part of the cow and have tough connective tissue and a lot of fat. Because of this, braising is one of the best ways to cook beef ribs in the oven. The method softens the meat, rendering it moist and tender. This recipe for beer-braised short ribs makes super tender, flavorful meat.
- 5 to 6 pounds beef short ribs
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- 6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
- 2 large red onions, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 3 cans stout beer, such as Guinness draught
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme, removed from stems and chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried thyme)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Season the short ribs with salt and fresh-cracked black pepper.
- In a large pot with a cover that can be transferred to the oven, cook the bacon to render the fat. Remove crisped bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Working in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan, brown the short ribs in the bacon fat on all sides, allowing them to develop a caramelized crust. Remove and set aside.
- Add red onions and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add garlic and cook until the garlic releases its scent, about 30 seconds.
- Add flour and stir constantly until the roux turns light blonde, about three minutes.
- Add the vinegar, stirring constantly and using your spoon to scrape any browned bits of meat and vegetables off the bottom of the pan.
- Add the beer and Dijon mustard and stir to combine.
- Add the beef, bacon, and thyme.
- Bring the liquid to a boil and cover the pan tightly.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and braise for 2 to 2½ hours, until the beef is tender.
- Remove the beef from the braising liquid and set aside, tented with foil.
- Use a large spoon to skim fat off the top of the braising liquid.
- If you desire a thicker liquid, simmer on the stovetop until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Serve braising liquid and vegetables over the top of the short ribs.
Delicious, Hearty Meals
Now you know my secrets! My family loves both of these rib recipes and methods, and I bet yours will, too.