Harold McGee Makes Cheater Oven Ribs

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell

cheater oven ribs

Harold McGee Makes Cheater Oven Ribs.  Nice racks.

The New York Times has acknowledged oven ribs!  Thank you. We’re delighted that food scientist and author Harold McGee has come out as a cheater.   In the midst of the barbecue myth and mystery, here’s another myth buster who’s figured out that the foolproof low and slow method for tender, juicy, moist pork ribs is the oven.  As anyone who’s served burnt or undercooked baby backs can tell you, the regular gas or charcoal grill is a challenge for good ribs.  There’s not enough surface area to protect the meat from the direct heat which wrecks the ribs.  And you can’t make enough for your friends. Now Harold, you need to take the next step with us and try liquid smoke.  Your suggestion to develop a smoke flavor using smoked paprika or chipotle pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and vanilla just ain’t cutting it.   The natural smoke perfume has already been distilled into a ready-to-us small bottle called liquid smoke.  Now you’ve got everything but a smoke ring.  And no one will miss it.

Try it, Harold. Great ribs need just a few things: a simple dry rub, natural smoke flavor, low steady heat, and a sauce, if you like. We’re here to tell you that a 325° F oven (or as low as 250° F), your own quick dry rub seasoning and sauce made from basic pantry staples, a small bottle of liquid smoke, and some heavy duty aluminum foil will consistently solve your rib anxieties. All we’re doing is replacing the wood chunks with liquid smoke (stay with us here) and using the consistency of the regular kitchen oven instead of the more finicky backyard smoker which is probably full of soccer balls anyway. Hey, guys with bruised egos, here’s the best part: even when cheating with an oven, you can still get to use your clunky grill kit tongs, dull cleaver, and goofball “stay back men cooking” apron when you finish the ribs with sauce on your fancy stainless grill.

We guarantee not only a Drop-Dead-Go-to-Hell glazed finish, but the surest way to the best party you ever threw with the least hassle. An oven full of foil-wrapped racks of ribs is a beautiful thing to behold.

cheater oven ribs

Our Cheater BBQ oven ribs kick ass.

Cheater Rib Cheat Sheet Dry Rub—The three basic components of a dry rub are salt, pepper, and paprika—it’s really the smoke you want to taste. Make up your own mix or buy one already to go. We like to add a little brown sugar to a rub for ribs to add a little caramelized flavor to the meat.

All you need is a good jar and some supermarket seasonings.


The Ribs—Baby back loin ribs are short, spares are long. Meatiness depends on the rack. Both are good and get what you like. We usually buy them at Walmart or Costco. Open the ribs, flip them over bone side up, and look for the silvery membrane covering the meat and bones. If it’s still on there (sometimes they take it off), take your finger or a spoon handle and, holding the ribs with a paper towel, lift up the membrane and pull it off. It might take a few tries but you’ll quickly get the hang of it and your ribs will taste better without the chewy layer.

Pull the membrane right off the back of the ribs.

cheater oven ribs


Have your friend with giant arms sprinkle the rub.

cheater oven ribs


The Smoke—The all-natural smoke that will bring these ribs to life comes in a handy four-ounce bottle parked near the Worcestershire and barbecue sauces. Without a lengthy dissertation, know that liquid smoke is real smoke made from real hardwoods captured in water and filtered. Yes, they sell it at Whole Foods. We’ve all been enjoying it since the 1960s in bacon, cold cuts, sauces, hot dogs, pizza crusts, and anything that lists “natural smoke flavor” on the label. It’s not a weirdo chemical from New Jersey, not that there’s anything wrong with New Jersey. A tablespoon per pound of meat is a good rule of thumb. No, that is not too much. Trust us.

Sprinkle on the smoke. Go ahead and be generous.
cheater oven ribs

And now for the secret recipe… Makes 6 to 8 servings Ultimate Cheater BBQ Oven Ribs 6 pounds (3 racks) pork loin (baby back) ribs, membrane removed 1/4 cup Cheater BBQ Dry Rub (or your favorite) 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 small bottle (about 4 ounces) liquid smoke

1. Heat the oven to 325° F.

2. Mix the dry rub with the brown sugar in a small bowl.

3. Place each baby back rack on a large (24-30-inch long) sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Brush each rack with a light coating of bottled smoke. Spread the sweet rub over both sides of each rack.

4. If time allows, wrap up the ribs in foil and refrigerate them for a few hours or overnight.

5. Place the sealed racks on a couple of baking sheets and put them in the oven.

6. While the ribs are cooking, make some barbecue sauce and set it aside.

7. After 1 1/2 hours in the oven, pull the ribs out and carefully unseal the foil. The escaping steam will be hot.

8. Cut into a rib or two and check the meat for doneness and tenderness of the meat. We like the ribs to feel cooked, but not too loose. If you prefer more tender meat that pulls away from the bone with less resistance, reseal the foil and put the ribs back in the oven for 15 to 30 minutes.

9. Unseal the foil, pour off the meat juice and discard it. At this point, wrap the ribs and refrigerate to grill later. Or, get them ready to grill. 10. Lay the ribs on a cutting board and separate them into one-to-three or four-rib sections.

11. Heat the grill.

12. Dip the ribs in sauce and grill, turning frequently until well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Do not let the sauce burn.

13. Serve with additional sauce on the side.

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