Recipe Review

The Clever Trick That Makes This 5-Star Ribs Recipe So Good

updated Jun 3, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

For our oven-baked ribs celebrity recipe showdown, we knew the best way to crown a winner was to battle off four popular recipes beloved by the masses. Chef John’s Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs recipe on — with its 5-star rating, almost 600 reviews, and more than 143 photos uploaded from fans — easily secured a spot.

The recipe looked pretty straightforward and also incredibly forgiving, claiming to work with any dry rub and barbecue sauce combination. I was also intrigued (and admittedly skeptical) by the step of piercing the membrane rather than removing it, as is typical in most rib recipes. Here’s what happened when I gave it a try at home.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make AllRecipes’ Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs

You’ll begin by making the rub for the ribs, mixing together ancho chile powder, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, ground cumin, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, and ground dried chipotle pepper. The recipe didn’t specify a type of salt or brown sugar, so I used Diamond Crystal Kosher salt and light brown sugar.

This recipe calls for one rack of baby back ribs, which are first turned upside down on a sheet of aluminum foil. Use a knife to pierce the membrane, then generously season the ribs all over with the rub. (I had about half of the rub mixture left over after coating the ribs). Fold the foil around the ribs, meat-side down, then transfer the packet to a baking sheet. Bake for two hours at 250°F, then remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. While the ribs cool, increase the oven temperature to 350°F.

Drain the foil packets and discard rendered fat and juices. Use a pastry brush to brush all sides of the ribs with barbecue sauce. Since no specific sauce was recommended, I used Stubbs Sticky Sweet, a household favorite. Leave the ribs on the baking sheet inside the open foil packet and bake for 10 minutes. Brush the meat with more barbecue sauce on the meaty side and repeat four more times. Cut the ribs into individual rib portions and serve with more barbecue sauce.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of AllRecipes’ Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs

There was a lot I loved about this recipe: The ribs were full-flavored, the sauce caramelized into a thick, sticky crust, and the meat was tender but not falling off the bone (a good thing, since I prefer ribs with a bit of chew). I attribute a lot of this recipe’s success to the smart technique of piercing the membrane rather than removing it, which, combined with a longer cook time, resulted in more tender ribs. It also allowed some of the seasoning to penetrate the underside of the rib meat.

I did, however, have a few issues with this recipe. The rub makes at least twice the amount needed, and while it’s never a problem to have extra rib rub on hand, I had already touched the raw meat and then all of the spice rub. The rub also calls for a whopping 1/2 cup ancho chile powder — an entire bottle of the spice! — which overshadowed the other seasonings.

The barbecue sauce contributes major flavor to these ribs, so make sure you’re using your favorite store-bought or homemade recipe. Between the thick rub coating and layered barbecue sauce glaze, those seasonings were all I tasted, leaving the actual rib meat as an afterthought. But if your favorite part of ribs is the sweet, smoky sauce, this is the recipe to try.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

If You’re Making AllRecipe’s Chef John’s Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs, a Few Tips

  1. Cut the ancho chili spice by half. The earthy spice of ancho is an important flavor component, but overshadows the other seasonings as is. Balance the flavor of the spice rub by reducing the ancho chili amount by half.
  2. Reduce the total spice rub by half. If you’re taking this recipe for a test drive, make half of the recipe to make sure it suits your taste. If you ultimately decide this is your go-to seasoning, follow the recipe as written to keep extra in your pantry for last-minute rib dinners.
  3. Cover but don’t coat the meat in the rub. Apply the spice rub evenly and completely, but don’t cover in a thick coating. Because the meat is seasoned with the rub and then coated in several layers of barbecue sauce, a thick layer of spice rub feels chalky underneath the sticky glaze. Use enough to lightly coat and season the meat during the low-and-slow bake, but no more.
  4. Brush with fewer layers of glaze. While the majority of the ribs were tender, the leaner ends were dry. To minimize the risk of overcooking, reduce the amount of barbecue sauce by half and brush with two or three layers of glaze instead of five, which means a shorter cook time, too.

Rating: 8/10

Have you ever made Chef John’s Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs from AllRecipes? Tell us what you thought!