St. Louis style ribs start with a sweet and spicy dry rub. Then Alex Guarnaschelli doubles down with tangy, sweet barbecue sauce made with red-wine vinegar and blackstrap molasses. Guaranteed to wobble knees.
When I was a kid, we always had the kind of ribs you get from Chinese restaurants—never from American barbecue places. My dad didn’t like sweet and tangy American ribs, and if my dad didn’t like something, we didn’t eat it! So here is my rewrite of my childhood pork ribs made in the decidedly American barbecue style that I always wanted: with a mix of sweet and spicy dry rub on the meat and a juicy, sloppy sauce to finish. Some might see it as a barbecue sin, but I’m telling you, when you make this, people will eat everything down to the bone—and they might even try to gnaw on the platter, too. –Alex Guarnaschelli
St. Louis Style Ribs
What are St. Louis style ribs?
There are three types of pork ribs–St. Louis style, spareribs, and baby back ribs. Compared to regular ol’ spareribs (the biggest cut available), St. Louis ribs are a sight to behold—they’re trimmed into a shapely rectangle by having the cartilage and rib tips removed. The meat they have is fattier and stays juicier than baby-back ribs. And because they’ve been trimmed down, they’re thinner and flatter, making them easy to get uniformly browned.
Can I use spareribs instead?
St. Louis style and spareribs come from the ribs closer to the belly of the pig, the only difference is that spareribs aren’t trimmed down. If you go with spareribs, be aware that the piece will be larger. This isn’t a problem if you’ve got a little extra time to cook them. And you’ll want to double the rub and sauce ingredients.
You can also go with baby back ribs, which don’t come from baby pigs–they’re actually just smaller ribs, from farther down the spine, closer to the loin. Because they’re smaller, you’ll need twice the amount of ribs. They also take less time to cook.
What’s the secret to making tender ribs?
Unless you’re a hardcore barbeque fan, you’ll likely not cooking ribs all that often. And even less so, if they turn out tough and disappointing. So let’s get you on the way to rib perfection. First, the overnight marinade gets absorbed, and the salt and sugar begin the process. Then, a longer cooking time tenderizes the tough connective tissue; Guarnaschelli recommends at least 2 1/2 hours on the grill, making them tender but not yet fall-off-the-bone.
St. Louis Style Ribs
- 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup hot paprika
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 1/4 cup Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt or 3 tablespoons Morton brand kosher salt plus more for finishing
- 1 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
- 2 racks St. Louis-style pork ribs (5 to 5 1/2 pounds total | 2.3 to 2.5 kg total)
- 1 1/2 cups ketchup
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 large lime halved
- In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine 1/3 cup of the brown sugar with the paprika, chili powder, salt, and mace. Rub the mixture all over the racks of ribs.
- Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
- In a large pot over medium-low heat, combine the ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire, the remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar, the molasses, and the vinegar. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring from time to time, until the sauce thickens and the flavors have melded, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pot to keep the sauce warm.
- Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a rack on it.
- Remove plastic wrap from ribs and place them directly on the hot grill and grill them just long enough to flavor and leave a nice dark grill mark without cooking them fully, 5 to 8 minutes per side.
- Transfer the rib racks, bone-side up, to the rack. Divvy the warm sauce between two bowls and reserve one bowl for serving. Brush the sauce from the first bowl onto both sides of each rack of ribs.
- Cover the whole pan with a layer of foil, crimping it around the edges, and bake the ribs for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the foil and turn the racks over. Wrap the foil back tightly over the ribs (or use a new piece) so they are covered. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the ribs are nicely browned and tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours more. The meat should come off the bone easily. If it doesn't, cover and bake longer.
- Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil, and let the meat rest for 15 minutes.
- Move the racks to a flat surface and cut between the bones to separate each rack into individual ribs. Season the meat with salt. Spoon the reserved sauce over the ribs. Squeeze the lime over them and serve.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is pretty much a perfect rib recipe. It has it all—a great rub, a great sauce to apply both during and after cooking, and a perfect cooking technique, producing incredibly tender and flavorful ribs.
St. Louis style ribs are ideal because the cartilage and tips have been removed allowing the ribs to cook evenly, but this recipe would also work well with baby back ribs, although the cooking times might be a bit less. I was surprised that the oven temperature was to be set at 350°F (177°C) which is more than what I’m used to when I make ribs “low and slow,” but the timing was perfect and my ribs were fall-off-the-bone perfect in exactly 2 1/2 hours. Serves 6 to 8 hearty appetites.
This recipe for St. Louis style ribs was great—I was worried that the rub was going to be too spicy and the sauce was going to be too tangy but the rub and sauce worked really well together.
I think I could have cooked them slightly longer and they would have really fallen off the bone. The sauce was tasty, but might be a bit tangy for some people.
Ribs happened to be on sale, so I was really excited to try this recipe with them. I’m in love! The technique of grilling them first and then baking is a game-changer. The St. Louis style ribs ended up perfectly cooked and still had that grill flavor.
I’d probably dial back the salt in the rub, it was terribly salty on its own. Paired with the sauce, however, the flavor was perfect, the vinegar really balanced the salt. Overall, my rib game is forever changed, this will be my technique from here on out.
Growing up, my mom always did St Louis style ribs in the oven but they never were as tender and juicy as these. I believe searing them on the grill first kept the juices in. It also gave them a little bit of a smoky flavor.
The BBQ sauce has a little too much vinegar for my liking. I did baste the ribs with it but didn’t serve it with the BBQ sauce as we like our ribs on the dryer side. So, we have a ton of extra BBQ sauce, but I believe that even if we did serve it with the ribs, I’d have plenty left over. But all that being said, the ribs were quite tasty, tender, and super juicy. I lined my sheet pan with foil before putting the rack on for the ribs to catch the drippings, and I’m glad I did. The BBQ sauce started caramelizing on the bottom which would have been a pain to get off, so just an added tip.
The hot paprika gave the ribs just enough heat. I was nervous about using nutmeg in the seasoning blend for the ribs but honestly you couldn’t even taste it. I’d definitely make this recipe again, but changing the BBQ sauce by maybe adding a little bit more molasses and a little less vinegar. Apple cider vinegar may have been a better choice than red wine vinegar, but that’s just my opinion.
Originally published April 18, 2021