Recipe Review

Why I Won’t Be Making Alton’s “Who Loves Ya Baby-Back?” Ribs Again

updated Jun 3, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

Alton Brown has been a fierce competitor in many of Kitchn’s celebrity recipe showdowns, earning top marks in battles for the very best brownies and chocolate chip cookies. So when it came to choosing contenders for our oven-baked ribs cook-off, we knew Alton had to be a part of it. His extremely popular recipe is from the early days of Good Eats, and has racked up five stars and more than 1,000 reviews on Food Network’s website. Even though I actually worked for Alton back in the day, I’d never tried his take on baby back ribs, so I was eager to give this recipe a go.

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

How To Make Alton Brown’s Baby Back Ribs

You’ll begin by making the rib rub. Alton’s seasoning mix consists of brown sugar, salt, chili powder, black pepper, cayenne, jalapeño seasoning, Old Bay, rubbed thyme, and onion powder. Once the rub is thoroughly mixed, place two racks of pork baby back ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and sprinkle the rub generously over both sides. The recipe notes that the rub recipe makes “several” batches, but I needed most of the mixture for the two racks of ribs. Wrap the foil around the ribs and refrigerate for at least an hour. Meanwhile, combine white wine, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, honey, and garlic for the braising liquid. Microwave the mixture for one minute.

When the ribs are ready, place them on a baking sheet (if they aren’t on one already), open one side of the foil, and divide the braising liquid between each foil pouch. Crimp the foil to seal, then braise at 250°F for 2 1/2 hours. According to the accompanying video, the best way to tell when the ribs are done is to wiggle one of the bones partway down the rack. If the bone rotates slightly, the collagen has dissolved around the bone and the ribs are ready for the next step.

Pour the braising liquid into a pot and simmer until reduced by half and thickened into a glaze. Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze onto the ribs, the broil until the glaze caramelizes. Cut the ribs into two-rib portions and toss in the remaining glaze.

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

My Honest Review of Alton’s Baby Back Ribs

This recipe has promise, but unfortunately I won’t be making it again. The ribs were greasy, and a little too tough. I had high hopes for Alton’s no-waste technique of using the reduced cooking liquid as the final glaze — it’s smart to make use of all of that flavorful liquid, which is a combination of juices from the ribs, excess rub seasoning, and the braising liquid itself. Unfortunately, the liquid was greasy from the rendered fat, so it never reduced to a glaze consistency despite simmering to half its volume. And while the texture of the meat still retained chew, which I actually prefer to fall-off-the-bone ribs, the membrane made the ribs a little tough in spots.

There were still some great takeaways from this recipe. The rib meat itself had a very rub-forward flavor, especially since a bottled BBQ sauce wasn’t slathered on at the end. The seasonings in the rub were well-balanced, although on the spicy side, and the braising liquid was quite aromatic.

There’s actually a version of this recipe in Good Eats: The Early Years, which provides more detailed instructions and a re-worked rub ratio. I used the online recipe and didn’t find the ribs to be too salty, but the book’s version reduces the salt content by one-third, so if you’re sensitive to salt, know that a reduced amount is also Alton Brown-approved.

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

If You’re Making Alton’s Baby Back Ribs, a Few Tips

  1. Watch the video clip. Before starting, watch the short Good Eats clip embedded above the recipe. There, Alton gives you tips not included in the written recipe, including how much rub to apply, an indicator for when the ribs are done, and a tip for extracting the braising liquid from the foil packet.
  2. Skip the jalapeño seasoning. Unless jalapeño seasoning is a pantry staple in your house, don’t make a special trip to the store to get it. If you’re worried you’ll miss the heat, use a heavier hand with the cayenne.
  3. Remove the membrane. Removing the membrane is a simple step that can make a big difference. Unlike collagen, which breaks down in the low-and-slow heat, this type of connective tissue remains tough and chewy. Use a spoon or knife to separate the membrane from the meat, then use a paper towel to pull it completely off.
  4. Separate the fat from the cooking liquid. After draining the cooking liquid from the foil pouch, use a fat separator to separate the oily rendered fat from the flavorful drippings. Do this before you reduce the cooking liquid and you’ll be rewarded with a glaze (not grease!).
  5. Use a wide roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Regular aluminum foil is too thin, rips easily, and can’t hold the weight of a rack of ribs. A wide roll will make it easy to crimp around the ribs, but if you only have a narrow roll, shingle a few sheets together to form a wide base.

Rating: 7/10

Have you tried Alton’s baby back ribs? Tell us what you thought!