Eric Akis: Fire up grill for bold beef ribs

Eric Akis

I was in the grocery store the other day looking for a nice steak to cook for dinner and got distracted when I saw packs of meaty beef back ribs for sale. I couldn’t recall the last time I had cooked them.

But I could recall what they were like: tender, succulent, boldly beefy tasting and juicy.

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I changed my dinner plans, bought the ribs and was soon home preparing them.

Just to remind you, beef back ribs come from the rib section of the animal, the same place prime rib roasts come from. Butchers remove them when preparing boneless cuts, such as rib-eye steaks and rib-eye roasts.

Beef back ribs look similar to pork back ribs. But the rib bones, of course, are much larger, there’s more room in between each bone, and between those bones is a generous amount of meat.

In grocery stores, for convenience, beef back ribs are often sold cut into single bone pieces. And, because they are so meaty, I find two ribs per person to be an ample serving size.

Like pork back ribs, and other beef cuts, such as beef short ribs — all of which can be tough to begin with — beef back ribs need to be slowly cooked for a while to make them mouth-wateringly tender.

I started by setting the ribs on a sided baking sheet, meaty-side up and in a single layer. I seasoned the ribs with salt and pepper and a homemade barbecue-spice mixture.

The next step is to pour in enough liquid, which in my recipe could be beer, beef stock or simply water, to barely coat the bottom of the pan. The ribs are then tightly covered and baked in a 325 F oven for up to 2 1/2 hours. As they cook, the liquid in the pan heats, and steam rises and tenderizes the ribs, without simmering away their flavour.

When the ribs are tender, the last part of the cooking process takes you outside to a preheated barbecue. That’s where you’ll grill and char the ribs and brush them with barbecue sauce, further enhancing their colour and flavour. You could also grill the ribs on an indoor grill, if you don’t have a barbecue.

For the barbecue sauce, I made an easy-to-make, no-cook, flavourful one that combined condiments and seasonings I had in my refrigerator and pantry — including ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, spices and herbs, items most folks regularly stock.

Note: The rib recipe yields four servings. If that’s too many, once they’re cooled to room temperature, freeze the ribs you didn’t eat. The next time you have a craving, simply thaw and reheat.

Tender, Charred and Glazed Beef Back Ribs

Succulent, meaty beef back ribs, baked until tender in the oven, charred on the barbecue, then glazed with a sweet and tangy sauce. Serve the ribs with a few side dishes, such as baked potatoes, potato salad, baked beans, cornbread, coleslaw, corn on the cob and/or pickles.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 2 hours 40 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 Tbsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp smoked or regular paprika

8 single bone, large and meaty beef back ribs (about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 kg)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup beer, beef stock or water

• barbecue sauce, to taste (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine chili powder, cumin, oregano and paprika in a small bowl. Line a large, sided baking sheet with parchment paper and set ribs on it, meaty side up and in a single layer. Sprinkle and rub meaty sides of the ribs with the chili-powder mixture. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Pour the beer (or beef stock or water) into the bottom of the pan. Tightly cover ribs with foil and bake two hours and 15 to 30 minutes, or until ribs are tender.

Remove ribs from the oven. Preheat your barbecue to medium-high. Grill the ribs about eight to 10 minutes, turning them occasionally, until nicely charred. Reduce the heat to low. Brush ribs with barbecue sauce, to taste, and allow it to heat through and glaze the ribs for a few minutes, before serving.

Eric’s options: This method for cooking beef back ribs will also work for two whole racks of pork back ribs. To prepare the pork ribs, cut each rack between the bones into two-rib pieces. Set the ribs on the baking sheet, meaty-side up, and season with the chili-powder mixture, salt and pepper. Now pour in the beer (or water), cover ribs and then bake, grill and glaze them as described for the beef ribs.

Mix-and-Use Barbecue Sauce

Here’s a no-fuss, no-cook barbecue sauce made by blending ingredients many home cooks may already have on hand. Brush it on beef back ribs and just about anything else you cook on a barbecue, such as burgers, sausages, pork ribs and chicken.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: about 1 2/3 cups.

1 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp cider, rice or balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp yellow or Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp honey, maple syrup or corn syrup, or to taste

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp smoked or regular paprika

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/8 to 1/4 tsp garlic powder, or 1 tsp minced fresh garlic

1/2 tsp dried oregano or thyme

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

• Sriracha or other hot chili sauce, or hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, to taste

Place ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning, if desired, by mixing in a bit more of some of the ingredients listed. Transfer sauce to a tight-sealing jar. Sauce will keep in refrigerator a week or more.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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