There are a lot of things that can go wrong when cooking Pork Spare Ribs “the old fashioned way.” Everyone is familiar with the disappointment of dryness, toughness, and, even “falling apartness.” The inconsistent performance of outdoor barbecues complicates matters even further, requiring frequent, if not constant adaptation to weather and other conditions.
Traditional methods typically indicate that the side be cooked whole to achieve desirable, moist results. Sous vide turns that principle on its head by making greater or lesser surface area irrelevant–since the protein is sealed in a bag, the risk of dryness is eliminated.
Precise temperatures are difficult to achieve in outdoor barbecues. Sous vide guarantees their maintenance. General time guidelines and the use of the pinch/poke test further prevent under cooking AND over cooking.
So, no matter HOW you plan to finish your pork spareribs, no matter WHICH style or sauce you plan to use, this time/temperature protocol can be used to achieve excellent results.
Ice/water shock to 70F/21C
Refrigerate to 40F/4C
Pork can be safely processed sous vide (pasteurized) at temperatures as low as 126F/53C, but 140F/60C is a popular middle range. Those of us who prefer more “traditional” results sometimes use temperatures as high as 165F/74C. Ultimately, preference dictates which temperatures will give you the best end product. Duration guidelines are just that–proteins are almost always pasteurized before they are tender, the exceptions being steaks and fish. Rather than depending on you clock to tell you when you ribs are tender to your liking, learn the simple pinch/poke method for confirmation.
The greater the heat applied, the moire moisture will be lost. You frequently see professional barbecue cooks “mopping” the meat with sauce or liquid of some kind. Even though the science insists that flavorings cannot pass through the tangled matrix of complex proteins, flavorings can and do cling to and accumulate on moist surfaces. Mopping serves to keep the surface of the meat moist and cool to maximize the clinging effect.
Now that we’ve cleared THAT up…
Once you have processed your spare ribs (or baby backs, which take more like 12-18 hours @140F), you shock them cold–not frozen, but as cold as your refrigerator will get them, preferably 40F. This also helps to prevent overcooking later. It is at this time that you apply rubs, coatings, seasonings, etc., as we describe in greater detail in the individual recipes. When you finally hit the BBQ (or your indoor oven, or the deep fryer, or wherever), you’re spare ribs can travel from 40F to 140F at your leisure, accumulating flavor all the while. It becomes very easy to achieve your desired surface appearance, red, brown, reddish brown, even approaching black–all without the usual anxieties.
This post is a root article for Sous Vide Resources. All root articles feature a specific Sous Vide preparation of beef, pork, other meats, chicken, fish, shellfish, vegetable or other food that will form the basis of another finished dish.
Preparation and Beginning Sous Vide Process
Pork spare rib sides usually weight between 4-6 lbs. Sometimes the butcher removes the sternum /breast bone, resulting in the more “blocked” appearance typical of St. Louis Ribs.
You can preseason if you like, keeping in mind that only salt will actually penetrate the meat. Even then, salt only has time to travel 2 or 3 millimeters beyond the surface. If you DO preseason, remember to do so lightly–every grain of salt that you add will have nowhere to go but onto (or into) the meat.
But, but, but….
You don’t HAVE to cut up your spareribs, as long as you have a bag big enough to hold them with out stretching or folding the rack. I usually cut 2 or 3 rib sections, which people can then pick or choose depending on their appetite.
Another advantage to multiple packaging is preservation of pasteurization. As long as the seal is not broken, the sous vide processed ribs will keep under refrigeration much longer than if they had not been pasteurized, much like a carton of milk. You can BBQ as many, or, as few, as you like, on any given day.
Sometimes it works out that you only have one rib in a bag, if it’s a particularly large one. Pretty handy.
Ready to go in the tank, again, 140Fx24 hours, in this case.
After processing, the ribs are shocked to 40F, the purge is removed and saved–there are other recipes that call for it, and it can be substituted for recipe or stock in any recipe. If you season your proteins before processing, make sure you account for the presence of salt when you use them.
You can expect the color to be very pale, and even pink, but the meat is tender. It is also safe–there is no relationship between the color of myoglobin and food safety.
This is a “non-BBQ” crust that I use as my prototype.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 egg white per side of ribs.
- 1 Tablespoon smoked paprika/lb of meat.
- 2 Tablespoons of salt per every three lbs of meat.
- 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley, I dry my own, but the packaged stuff is fine for this app
- 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
- Dust the surface of the ribs with flour, and shake off the excess.
- Paint the ribs with the egg white–pastry brushes work, but the less squeamish among us just smear with our clean hands.
- Sprinkle the remaining ingredients on the ribs. Give the ribs half an our or so (or even overnight) so that the seasonings have time to cling to the surface.
- Roast in a conventional oven @250F/121CX2-3 hours. If you have access to a pellet smoker, you can use the same temperature settings to achieve fantastic, smoky results.