Pork ribs are full of flavour, meltingly tender and easy enough to prepare if you know what you're doing.
As part of our Back to Basics series, we’re looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at pork ribs.
Pork is the third most popular meat in Ireland, falling just behind beef and poultry. According to the Central Statistics Office, Irish people ate around 28.2kg of pork products each in 2011. A recent review by the United Nations (UN) has indicated that pork consumption will rise by around 46 per cent in the next number of years, so we can expect that its popularity in Ireland will continue to grow too.
Around the world, pork is the most widely consumed type of red meat, particularly in eastern Asia, but its consumption is forbidden in certain religions, including Islam and Judaism. While it often contains some fat, pork is high in protein, as well as being a good source of thiamin, selenium, vitamin B12 and iron.
What are pork ribs?
Pork ribs are formed when the ribcage of a pig is cut into usable pieces that combine both meat and bone. The ribs can then be cooked in a multitude of ways, usually grilling, baking or barbecuing.
Several types of pork ribs are available, depending on where in the ribcage they are cut from, as are a variety of thicknesses and sizes. The most popular types of ribs are baby back and spare ribs, both of which can be easily found on menus and in shops around the country.
Baby back ribs, which are also known as back ribs or loin ribs, come from the top of the pig's rib cage between the spine and spare ribs. Meatier than spare ribs, baby back ribs are short and curved with meat between and on top of the bones. A rack of baby back ribs usually has a minimum of eight ribs and a maximum of 10-13.
Spare ribs, also known as side ribs, are taken from the ribs near the pig's belly. They're a lot bonier than their baby back counterparts, but the level of fat in this cut makes them a lot more tender. Spare ribs are also tougher than baby back so they require long, slow cooking.
How to prepare and cook pork ribs
As always, we recommend that you purchase your ribs from a reputable craft butcher. Ribs can be a little tricky to prepare, as both back and spare ribs have a tough membrane covering the inner side that can be difficult to remove, but your butcher should be able to do this for you. They will also be able to recommend which type of pork ribs to buy, give you some cooking tips and more.
The best way to cook pork ribs is to go low and slow as they require a lot of time to fully tenderise. Slow cooking helps the cartilage around the ribs to break down while the falt melts, coating the muscle and connective tissue. This results in an extremely flavourful, tender final product with the fall-off-the-bone texture that is associated with ribs.
While using a slow-cooker, baking or braising pork ribs all result in great dishes, our favourite way to cook ribs is to use a grill. This recipe from John Relihan has step-by-step instructions on how to perfectly marinade and cook ribs, as well as details on a delicious homemade barbecue sauce. This Indian-inspired dish is full of flavour and is a great way to add some variety to your meals.