- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My husband never met a barbecued spare rib he didn’t like. He grew up in the South, where for special meals his father would throw slabs of pork over the grates of the old-fashioned brick barbecue in their back yard and turn and baste them for hours on end. I, too, am a fan, and over the years I have honed the techniques I use for preparing ribs.

I always pre-cook the ribs before grilling. Originally, I boiled them but later I switched to baking. This proved much more efficient because it eliminated the need for huge pots that most home cooks don’t have. For baking, I simply use several heavy baking sheets.

I recently improved my baking technique. I typically pre-bake ribs, uncovered, but while checking several Web sites, I found more than a few recipes that suggested enclosing the meat in foil. When I tried this method, the pork was far more tender and moist.

I have baked a fair share of ribs this way (much to my husband’s delight) and have tried a variety of rubs and sauces with them. The best version was one in which the ribs are marinated in a cider vinegar, then rubbed with a mixture of ground chipotle pepper, cumin and salt.

The pork needs a good two hours in the oven but requires no attention other than reversing the baking sheets after the first 60 minutes. After they are baked, the ribs are brushed with a sauce made with molasses, soy sauce, brown sugar and lime juice. They are then finished on the grill in about 15 minutes.

These ribs are a perfect main course for casual entertaining, since most of the cooking can be done in advance. I bake the ribs and assemble the sauce several hours ahead.

They would make a fine choice for a pre- or post-football game get together, or you could try them as the centerpiece for a meal that follows an autumn foliage excursion. I’ve been serving them with old-fashioned coleslaw and baked polenta, but the possibilities are endless.

Chipotle-rubbed ribs with a mahogany glaze

SAUCE:

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

RIBS:

4½ to 5 pounds pork spare ribs (2 strips)

½ cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons chipotle chili powder (see note)

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

Have ready two foil-lined baking sheets. Set aside.

For sauce, whisk together molasses, soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar in a large measuring cup with a spout. Pour all but 1/4 cup liquid into a medium, heavy saucepan.

Place pan over medium-low heat and simmer sauce 6 to 7 minutes, or until it becomes just slightly syrupy and has reduced by a third. Watch constantly and reduce heat if it begins to boil. (Sauce can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate cooked and uncooked sauces separately. Reheat cooked sauce, stirring, over low heat when needed.)

Cut each strip of ribs in half so that you have 4 strips. Place strips in a large, nonreactive baking dish. Pour vinegar over and marinate, turning several times, for 1 hour.

Pat ribs dry with paper towel. In a small bowl combine chili powder, cumin and salt. Rub both sides of each pork strip with some of the chili rub. Wrap each strip tightly in foil and place 2 packages on each baking sheet.

Arrange oven racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place a baking sheet on each rack and cook ribs in oven for 60 minutes. Then reverse the bottom sheet with the top and cook ribs 60 minutes more.

Remove ribs from oven and cool slightly in the foil packets, about 10 minutes. Carefully open packets and pour out any liquid that has accumulated. (Ribs can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cool, keep covered in foil and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before grilling.)

Oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from heat source. Prepare grill for a medium hot fire. Brush each strip on both sides with some of the uncooked reserved sauce. When grill is ready, cook strips until just lightly charred, about 5 minutes per side.

Turn, using tongs. (Watch carefully as cooking time can vary depending on type of grill used.) To serve, arrange ribs on a serving tray and drizzle with some of the warm sauce. Pass extra sauce separately. Makes 4 servings.

Note: I use the McCormick brand chipotle chili powder, which is available in most supermarkets.

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