The Institute of Culinary Education is one of the largest culinary schools in the world, offering both professional and recreational programs in New York City. Here, chef James Briscione, director of culinary development of their School of Culinary Arts, gives PEOPLE his insight into how to get perfect grilled ribs, every single time—just in time for Memorial Day!
I’m not going to insult you with another basic “how to grill” post. I won’t bore you with talk about how to set up your fire so that one side of the grill is hotter than the other so you can sear foods and cook larger, denser cuts at the same time. I won’t waste your time reminding you that, 30 to 60 minutes before cooking, you should remove meats from the refrigerator and season them. And I’ll certainly not rattle on about patting meats dry before you cook them, then brushing them with oil and seasoning again with salt and pepper immediately before they hit the grill.
You already knew all of that, right? That stuff is for amateurs, and you’re a serious griller who’s ready to take this weekend’s cookout to the next level. So let’s talk ribs. The secret to the best ribs that will ever come off your grill is…your oven! Slow roasting your ribs in the oven before finishing them on the grill is the best method for juicy, falling-off-the-bone ribs. Plus, my method—the one I teach professional students at ICE—doesn’t require an expensive smoker or a set up for low temperature grilling. Here’s what you do:
First, remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs. This tough sheet of connective tissue can not only leave your ribs chewy, but also prevents the meat from absorbing the seasoning and spice of the rub.
Now, about that rub. Mine includes salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, ground cumin, ground coriander, granulated garlic, and ground black pepper. Smoked salt and paprika enhance the flavor of the finished meat, but you could use regular salt and paprika if necessary. The sugar in the rub is crucial. Think of it like a micro-brine; the sugar works with the salt to help retain more moisture. The bottom line: sugar in the rub makes your ribs juicier.
To prep the ribs for the first stage of cooking (in the oven), coat them with the rub on both sides and lay them over a large sheet of aluminum foil, fold up the sides and pour in cider vinegar. Then seal the foil, leaving enough room for the packet to fill with steam as it cooks. The vinegar helps tenderize the meat, while keeping it moist. Cook in a 325˚F oven until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes.
Remove the ribs from the oven, open the foil and allow the meat to cool. Baste the meat occasionally with the juices collected in the foil as it cools. Cut the ribs into portions and transfer to the grill, cooking over medium heat until hot and well browned on both sides, brushing with BBQ sauce as they cook.
Chef James Briscone’s Perfect BBQ Ribs
Makes 2 racks
2 racks baby back ribs, membrane removed
4 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tbsp. granulated garlic
2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 oz. (6 tbsp.) cider vinegar
BBQ sauce, as needed
1. Combine all spices to form rub and coat both sides of ribs (you will not use all of the rub).
2. Lay one rack of the coated ribs over a large sheet of aluminum foil, fold up the sides and pour in half of the cider vinegar. Seal the foil, leaving enough room for the packet to fill with steam as it cooks. Repeat for the second rack of ribs. Cook in a 325˚F oven until the meat is tender, about 90 minutes.
3. Remove the ribs from oven and allow them to cool. Pour some of their juices from the packet into a pot and combine with the BBQ sauce. Warm the BBQ sauce mixture on the grill.
4. Cut the cooked ribs into portions and transfer to the grill, cooking over medium heat until hot and well browned on both sides. Brush with BBQ sauce as they cook.