Succulent, crispy ribs are a feature of many summer barbeques, with pork ribs one of the favorites of backyard grill enthusiasts. Country-style ribs are less common than spare ribs but are delicious and quicker to grill. So how do you prepare country-style ribs? And what’s the best way to tenderize them before grilling?
The best ways to tenderize country-style ribs depend on the cut of ribs. You can tenderize bone-in country-style pork chops and shoulder ribs by parboiling, brining, marinating, or steaming them. To tenderize boneless pork shoulder ribs, brine or marinate them.
Country-style or Western-style ribs can refer to more than one cut of pork. How you plan to tenderize your ribs before grilling depends on which cut you have and whether they are bone-in or boneless. Let’s look at the best ways to tenderize the different cuts of country-style ribs.
The Best Ways To Tenderize Country-style Ribs
Country-style ribs are unusual because they are not a precisely defined cut of meat. Knowing the different cuts of country-style ribs available helps to understand how to tenderize them.
Tenderizing Bone-in Country-Style Ribs
According to the US National Pork Board, country-style ribs are cut from where the loin and shoulder meet so combine fatty and lean meat.
Butchers can cut bone-in country-style ribs from two parts of the hog:
- Country-style pork rib chops are made by splitting the loin’s shoulder end down the middle. These ribs contain thin rib bone and feather bone sections and are the leanest country-style rib cut.
- Pork shoulder country-style ribs come from the fatty, muscular Boston butt. These are not ribs but cross-sections of the shoulder blade or scapula. These cuts are called ribs because they have the flavor and consistency of spare ribs, with delicious meatiness and fat marbling.
You can treat these types of country-style ribs like pork chops or spare ribs in terms of how you tenderize them, so parboiling, brining, marinating, and steaming are suitable methods.
Tenderizing Boneless Country-Style Ribs
Pork shoulder country-style ribs are like pork shoulder steaks, cut from the shoulder bone. This cut is often sold boneless, as it is a juicy, tender cut.
You cannot treat these ribs as you would spare ribs, as they are naturally tender. The best way to tenderize these is to put them in a brine or marinade.
How To Tenderize Country-style Ribs: Boiling
Boiling ribs for an extended time and parboiling ribs for a shorter time are both popular methods of tenderizing ribs. You can use this method to tenderize bone-in-country-style ribs, but not boneless ribs.
Here’s how to use this method of tenderizing:
- Put your ribs in a heavy saucepan and cover them with water. You can add peppercorns, onions, and cloves to infuse the ribs with flavor.
- Instead of water, you can simmer the ribs in barbecue sauce to add an intensely smokey flavor.
- Boiling method: Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the meat is soft, not falling off the bones (which shows that ribs are overcooked). Avoid advice that suggests boiling for a couple of hours – this will overcook country-style ribs.
- Parboiling method: Bring to a boil and simmer the ribs for only 3-5 minutes over medium heat. This method is best for country-style ribs as they overcook quickly.
- Remove the ribs and pat them dry.
- Season the ribs with a spice rub.
- Grill for 20-40 minutes.
Take care not to overcook your country-style ribs as they are not spare ribs. Overboiling will destroy collagen and flavor and leave you with either rubbery, tough, or mushy meat.
Because of the chances of overboiling, this method of tenderizing leads to controversial debate among barbeque fans.
Fans of the method argue that boiling ribs doesn’t just tenderize the meat; it also helps render fat and makes it easier to remove the silverskin and connective tissue before grilling.
Another advantage of this tenderizing method is that it reduces the grilling time.
While pro-boiling grillers argue that this method doesn’t reduce the ribs’ flavor, others say that boiling reduces the smokey flavors produced by slow cooking on a grill. Unfortunately, it also cooks out the juices of the ribs, leading to dryness and lack of taste.
If you use this method of tenderizing country-style ribs, it is best to stick to parboiling.
How To Tenderize Country-style Ribs: Brining
The second method of tenderizing country-style ribs is to brine or soak the ribs in a salt and water solution. This method is suitable for both bone-in and boneless country-style ribs.
Here’s how to brine country-style ribs:
- Make a brine with a cup of kosher salt to a gallon of water. You can boil the solution until the salt dissolves or dissolve the salt in hot water.
- You can make your brine as simple or exciting as you like. Use a combination of water and beer, or cola, for example. For increased flavor, add brown sugar, liquid smoke, and spices like garlic or onion powder, celery seeds, cloves, black peppercorns, cayenne pepper, mustard powder, and chili to the brine.
- Allow the brine to cool.
- Place the ribs in a shallow dish or sealable plastic bag in the brine.
- Refrigerate for 4-12 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the brine, rinse off the salt and pat them dry.
- Season the ribs with a spice rub.
- Grill as desired.
How To Tenderize Country-style Ribs: Marinating
Marinating is a classic way of tenderizing meat while adding deep, rich flavors. The active ingredient in a marinade is acid, usually in the form of vinegar, which breaks down the muscle fibers.
You can marinate both bone-in and boneless country-style ribs with excellent results. Here’s how:
- Make a marinade using white or apple cider vinegar, spices such as garlic and onion powder, honey, and brown sugar. Alternative acid ingredients include Worcestershire sauce, orange, lemon, or lime juice. There are several recipes for marinades available.
- Place the ribs in the marinade in a sealed bag or container.
- Keep the ribs in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the marinade.
- Grill as desired, basting with additional marinade or barbecue sauce.
How To Tenderize Country-style Ribs: Steaming
Another way of tenderizing country-style ribs before grilling is to steam them. Steaming tenderizes and adds moisture and flavor to the ribs. It also reduces the grilling time.
Steaming is a suitable method of tenderizing bone-in-country-style ribs.
Do the following:
- Preheat your oven to 350⁰F (180⁰C).
- Carefully remove the membrane from the ribs.
- Place the country-style ribs in a large roasting pan.
- Cover the ribs with water. You could also add some apple cider vinegar or beer for flavor.
- Tightly cover your roasting pan with aluminum foil.
- Place the roasting pan in the oven and steam the ribs for an hour.
- Remove the ribs from the oven. Gently pat them dry.
- Season the ribs with a spice rub.
- Grill the ribs for about 30 minutes.
Tenderizing meat before grilling softens it adds flavor, and reduces grilling time. This is because country-style ribs are not true ribs; instead, they combine both lean and fatty meat and do not require long, slow tenderizing or grilling.
To tenderize bone-in country-style ribs, parboil, brine, marinate or steam them. Juicy boneless country-style ribs are suited to brining or marinating to bring out their natural tenderness.
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