Dear Home Ec 101,
I have been told to boil ribs before grilling them. Is this a good way to cook ribs?
Grilling in Greenville
Lots of cookbooks recommend parboiling pork ribs before grilling, which speeds up the process. However, there is a cost, and that’s flavor. Additionally, the advice is sort of misleading.
Typically when people say they boil or parboil their ribs before grilling, what they really mean is that they simmer. Do you know the difference between boiling and simmering? It sounds like I’m being picky, but those few degrees can make a major difference. Boiling would rapidly denature —or change—the proteins in the connective tissue, which could make them tough and chewy. Remember, ribs have a lot of connective tissue, so the cooking method makes a big difference in how tender they turn out.
Low and slow is the slang term many cooks use to describe the kinds of cooking most suitable for tough cuts like ribs. Like many other tough cuts of meat, ribs are full of connective tissue that needs to cook slowly at low temperatures for tender results. The actual method isn’t important; they all take advantage of the same principle. You can braise, smoke, grill indirectly, or oven roast—at low temperatures, of course— your ribs. Simmering or parboiling also takes advantage of low heat to let those tough proteins dissolve as the meat cooks.
Keep in mind this thought, if you parboil your ribs in plain water, some of the flavor will be lost to the cooking liquid. It may be a faster cooking method, but is it worth the flavor loss?
You can finish ribs cooked by any method on the grill. This is especially effective if they are slathered in a bbq sauce and heated so the sugars caramelize. Be careful as sugary sauces can quickly go from caramelized deliciousness to overdone. At my last job, in a steakhouse, this is how we made our ribs. First, they were smoked overnight and then refrigerated. Then, before serving, we would heat them thoroughly on the grill, slathering them in bbq sauce. Always tender, always delicious; they were one of our best sellers.
I don’t have a smoker, so I slow roast my ribs in the oven. Sometimes I cook them Memphis style with a dry rub, beef short ribs I braise in beer, and sometimes I use my favorite bbq sauce.
It all depends on my mood and energy level when rib day rolls around.
Good luck cooking your ribs!