For these oven-baked barbecue ribs, baby back ribs get cozy with a sugar-garlic-pepper rub overnight and then are baked in the oven until tender. The pork ribs are then slathered with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce.
We’re all familiar with the glory of ribs slowly smoked in the backyard. But sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t agree with our barbecue plans. Thankfully you can achieve almost the same finger-licking, falling-off-the-bone results when you cook ribs low and slow in the oven according to this recipe.–Angie Zoobkoff
What’s the difference between spare ribs and baby back ribs?
When it comes to deciding what type of pork ribs to cook, you have basically two choices: spareribs and baby back ribs. Spareribs are cut from the ribs closest to the belly and are meaty, bony, and thick. Baby back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine. They’re only called “baby” because they are shorter and thinner than spareribs; they don’t refer to the age of the pig. Each baby back rib rack averages ten or so curved ribs that are 4 to 6 inches long and weighs about 1½ pounds, which easily feeds two people as a main course. Baby back ribs also usually have a slightly higher price tag, but they’re well worth the cost, as they are generally leaner, more tender, and quicker cooking.
Oven-Baked Barbecue Ribs
For the Sweet Heat Rub (makes about 3/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon piment d’Espelette, Aleppo pepper, or red pepper flakes or to taste
For the Tangy Barbecue Sauce (makes about 6 cups)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 medium (9 oz) sweet onion very finely chopped
- One (24-ounce) bottle ketchup
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons (about 6 tablespoons | 90 ml)
- Hot sauce to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- Coarse kosher salt
For the ribs
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 racks (3 1/2 lbs) baby back ribs silver skin removed* (See * Note)
- Sweet Heat Rub (above)
- Tangy Barbecue Sauce (above) for serving
Make the Sweet Heat Rub
- Combine the brown sugar, paprika, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and piment d’Espelette in a small bowl.
Make the Tangy Barbecue Sauce
- Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and simmer until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup. Pour the vinegar into the ketchup bottle and shake to loosen all the ketchup from the sides. Pour the vinegar from the bottle into the saucepan and add the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, hot sauce, and pepper.
- Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have smoothed and mellowed, at least 10 minutes, but recommended 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The sauce will last for months.
Prep the oven and ribs
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a wire rack on the sheet. Spray the rack with nonstick spray.
- Rub each set of baby back ribs with 1/2 of the sweet heat rub. Set aside to come to room temperature, 30 minutes. (This step can be done a day ahead for deeper flavor: Rub the ribs with the rub and place in a resealable plastic container, or wrap in plastic wrap. If you use plastic wrap, make sure to place the wrapped ribs on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any seeping liquid due to the salt in the rub. Refrigerate to marinate overnight.)
Cook and serve the ribs
- Place the rubbed ribs side by side on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast until the ribs are done and a knife slides easily into the thickest part of the rib meat, about 2 hours.
- Remove from the oven and let the ribs rest, covered loosely in aluminum foil, for about 10 minutes, and then cut between the bones to separate the individual ribs. Serve immediately with the barbecue sauce for dipping.
*How To Remove The Membrane From RibsTo remove the membrane or silver skin from a rib, use the tip of a small knife to loosen a corner and then grab the membrane with a paper towel and slowly pull it off.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’ve always been a fan of oven-baked barbecue ribs and this recipe did not disappoint. The key to fall-off-the-bone ribs is slow cooking at a low temperature and cooking them until they are truly tender. You will know they are done when the ends of the rib bones protrude about 1/4-inch from the meat, and the ribs should be able to be pulled apart easily.
The Sweet Heat Rub makes these ribs fairly spicy, so adjust the pepper in the rub according to your taste. The same goes for the Tangy Barbecue Sauce—I suggest adding at most 1 to 2 teaspoons of hot sauce to the barbecue sauce. The ribs are already spicy from the rub, so the sauce does not need to be super-hot, unless that is your preference.
The sauce is quite tangy because it is vinegar-based. You could add more brown sugar to help balance the tanginess. I suggest simmering the sauce for the full 30 minutes. This will help the sauce reduce and concentrate the flavor. If you go with less time, the sauce will be more liquid and less of a glaze for the ribs.
The spice rub was peppery and slightly sweet and the sauce added a smooth, vinegary counterpoint to the meat and spice combo. The instructions for the sauce were very accurate. The 6 cups the recipe produced should last for more than a couple racks of ribs or other uses and I look forward to experimenting with it.
The directions for removing the silver skin using paper towels was genius and made short work of that task. I served the ribs with cornbread and a simple green salad with a light dressing. Dinner for four!
The Sweet Heat Rub was quick and easy to mix up. BBQ sauce can be a very personal choice. This is a vinegar-based sauce and, if you’re not used to this type, I highly advise making something else. I did like starting with the sautéed onions for the sauce, they added a nice texture. I used 3 to 4 shakes of Tabasco for the hot sauce. Also, adding different types of sweeteners such as molasses, pomegranate molasses, and other sugars, add a nice depth of flavor in BBQ sauce.
Originally published December 21, 2020
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This is a terrific oven-baked barbecue ribs recipe, not just because you can do it in an ordinary oven, (though, that is a real plus) but because it takes some of the mystery of needing a smoker or fancy set up and 12 hours of tending a wood fire out of the idea of making ribs at home. If I can do this, you can do this.
The BBQ sauce is a great improvement over most any I have ever purchased. It made about 5 cups and I am happy to have some left over as an excuse to make ribs again real soon. Watch and stir – the sauce really developed most nicely between 20 and 30 minutes. Nothing left but clean bones and smiling faces after tackling this and finding out it wasn’t scary after all.