Oven-braised vs oven-baked spareribs
Joyce Park stashed this in Food
I am a handmaiden of Science, and this Labor Day weekend Science commanded me to settle the question of whether home cooks would be best served by oven-braising or oven-baking spareribs.
I have a gas grill which I will use in this experiment, so in theory I could set up a smoker box and get my low-and-slow on... but in practice it's not going to happen because I'm too lazy. My criteria for a good home BBQ recipe are:
* Cheap. You want to be able to offer shit-tons of ribs to your guests. For my experiment I went to the best butcher in town (Dittmer's!) and bought a very well-trimmed 2.5 lb rack of St Louis spareribs and two country-style rib segments for $2.99/lb. This would easily feed two big eaters. Even with the sauce ingredients the whole thing came to about a Jackson.
* Flavorful and unusual. There are good BBQ restaurants, some of them super expensive and fancy, that have giant wood-fired rigs that allow them to pursue the holy grail of the unadorned pink smoke ring -- but it's a mistake to compete with them. You want your friends to bug you to make your special recipe again, not secretly think it's a weak version of something they can get at a restaurant.
* Fault-tolerant. The best weekend food needs to be awesome even if the cook is hungover, part of the meal has to be made in advance, or a guest engages you in a heavy conversation in the kitchen.
So without further ado, let's get to the experiment!
If I'd given it more thought, I would have gotten two slabs so the experiment would be more fair. As it was, I had to split the rack between the two cooking methods; so basically the middle half was oven-baked, the big and small ends were oven-braised on the theory that braising would be kinder to the small dry part of the rack. The country style ribs were my control group.
I relied on this basic technique for oven-braised:
However for the braising liquor I used pot likker from some overly-spicy but nicely smoky (courtesy of smoked turkey leg) kale I'd made a couple days before. Plus an onion just on principle.
And this for oven-baked plus marinade/sauce:
I must confess that I think this marinade recipe is yummy but a little too refined for Korean food, which I personally feel should go lightly on the refinement. I left out the apple and subbed green onion for onion. Marinade looks like this:
This is the first checkpoint for fault-tolerance. The oven-baked method requires you to apply the marinade first thing in the morning for several hours, like so:
Hungover cooks will probably not enjoy this requirement. The oven-braised method has you apply the marinade AFTER you braise the meat and is therefore far more humane. You can put the meat in the oven and desultorily make the sauce with plenty of time for watching football or what have you.
About three hours before dinner, I put both sets of meats in the oven. After 1.5 hours at 325F, they emerged:
Shortly after they came out of the oven, I doused the oven-braised ribs in the marinade. I must also confess here that I forgot to cover the oven-baked ribs with foil and therefore they came out more charred than I expected.
Finally after crisping both on the grill:
So after all that, my final verdict is that both methods are worthy and easy! I have to give the nod to oven-braising because it tastes fresher and more spicy. The oven-baked ribs somehow burned off the spicy and herbal ingredients and had more of a sweet BBQ-sauce taste. However their texture was more similar to restaurant ribs, falling off the bone tender; the oven-braised product was more chewy and slightly less attractive. However I had a volunteer taster who could not be forced to pick a favorite between the two methods.
BTW, side dishes: I served fried okra with both to great acclaim.
"Hungover cooks will probably not enjoy this requirement."
Funny, and true.
Thank you for sharing your experiments!