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

We Tested 4 Famous Oven-Baked Ribs Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

updated Sep 25, 2022
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In a world as wide as barbecue, the path to dinner is filled with endless options. A great place to start the journey is with a rack of ribs. Purists cook low and slow over wood, but don’t write off oven-baked ribs just yet! These ribs are spiced, slathered with sauce, then cooked in the oven, where the temperature holds steady without having to stoke the flames.

Still, not all oven-baked ribs are created equal — they vary greatly in preparation, spices, sauces, oven temperature, and cook time. To find the very best recipe, I tested four of the most popular ones in a side-by-side test.

After nearly depleting my spice cabinet, spending hours by the oven, and slicing through many racks of ribs, there was one recipe that stood out above the rest. 

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

How I Chose My Four Oven-Baked Ribs Contenders

To keep this taste test as fair as possible, I stuck to oven-baked recipes — even finishing them over fire was a no-go. (Co-mingling oven, grill, and smoker recipes would have resulted in an uneven comparison of flavor, texture, and required skill level.)

When it comes to buying ribs, grocers offer a choice between baby back, spareribs, and St. Louis-style. Baby back ribs (also labeled loin ribs, back ribs, or loin back ribs) are among the most popular and the most tender. As I narrowed down the contenders, the style of ribs self-selected, with the top contenders all calling for baby back ribs.

To finalize my picks, I choose four recipes that each took a unique approach. If you simply Google “oven-baked ribs,” the top recipe is from Inspired Taste — but their technique originally comes from Steamy Kitchen. I was intrigued by Steamy Kitchen’s technique of removing the ribs’ membrane, as well as the use of Thai sweet chili sauce.

The smoky indoor ribs recipe from Meathead Goldwyn on — a great resource if you like to geek-out on all things barbecue — also has you remove the membrane, but from there you marinate the ribs in liquid smoke. I had to see if mimicking the smoky flavor of the grill would result in a winning recipe.

More than 1,000 people have made Chef John’s Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs from, which has you slowly bake spice-rubbed ribs before boosting the heat and smothering them with sauce.

Alton Brown’s ribs boast over 1,000 reviews on and was also recommended by Kaitlin, Kitchn’s senior social media manager. His recipe has you finish the ribs with the reduced braising liquid rather than a traditional barbecue sauce.

How I Tested the Ribs

I purchased all the racks of ribs from the same store on the same day, choosing ones of similar weight. I prepared the ribs using the recommended brands of sauce (where applicable).

Despite my best efforts to procure all of the smoked spices for Meathead’s recipe, no local stores carried all of the smoked varieties of spices recommended, so I did have to make adjustments there. The ribs were prepared, exactly as written, over the course of two days.

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

1. The Easiest but Too Tender Recipe: Steamy Kitchen’s Tender Baby Back Ribs with Sweet Chili Sauce

This recipe wins major points for its ease and uncomplicated approach. The ribs are simply seasoned — just salt and pepper — then covered with foil and baked. From there, the ribs are brushed with a sticky store-bought Thai chili glaze and broiled until the sugars caramelize.

Where this recipe ran into problems is with the texture. The ribs were fall-off-the bone, but almost too much so — the racks began falling apart as I moved them to the cutting board. It was nearly impossible to pick up a portion, and the meat was too tender for my taste. If you like the idea of a Thai chili sauce and want to give this simple recipe a try, opt for a shorter initial cook time.

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

2. The Most Underwhelming: Alton Brown’s Who Loves Ya Baby-Back? Ribs

Despite its rave reviews, these ribs failed to impress. The bones wiggled and collagen dissolved, but the intact membrane meant that the meat tasted tough, not tender. Using the braising liquid as a glaze rather than a store-bought sauce held promise, but it had a greasy consistency. While I won’t be making these exact ribs again, it is a good starting point based on solid technique.

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

3. The Sauce-Lover’s Dream: Allrecipes’ Chef Jon’s Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs

This recipe had several pros, but also a few cons. The meat was mostly tender, yet did not fall off the bone — a good thing, since I actually prefer ribs with a bit of chew. But the leaner side was sightly overcooked and overwhelmed by a thick layer of sauce. And while the rub was full-flavored, a high proportion of ancho chile powder made it unbalanced.

The recipe doesn’t recommend a specific brand of sauce or provide a homemade recipe, so make sure you’re using a good-quality BBQ sauce that you love.

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

4. The Clear Winner: Meathead’s Smoky Indoor Ribs

These ribs delivered on bringing the outdoors inside. The initial soak in liquid smoke infused the meat with hardwood smoke flavor that none of the other ribs had. The rub was well-balanced and smoky (despite the fact that I was unable to procure all of the smoked spices suggested).

The ribs were coated in a sticky layer of sauce that was thick and caramelized from the intense heat of the broiler. The meat was tender, but not mushy, and pulled clean from the bone with a slight tug. These ribs were exactly what I was looking for, and were unquestionably the winner of this competition.

Do you have a favorite oven-baked ribs recipe? Let us know in the comments!