How to Cook Ribs in the Oven (Yes, They’ll Come Out Great)

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Steven John/The Manual

Purists may cringe and haters may hate, but the answer to the age-old question: “Can you cook ribs in the oven?” Yes, you can. Now, the follow-up: “Do ribs taste good when cooked in the oven?” Yes, yes they do. I know because I cooked several racks myself in the course of researching this very article.

Like all rib enthusiasts, I’ve long held the notion that ribs are only properly prepared in a smoker or on the grill, ideally with many a long hour involved in the process, not to mention multiple beers, snacking, charming banter, and so forth. When push comes to shove, I’ll allow that ribs are at their best when slowly cooked in a barbecue or smoker. But when circumstances don’t allow for such (based on the constraints of time, weather, or the fact that you simply don’t have a grill or smoker at your disposal), you can cook up some great ribs in a conventional oven.

Let’s get the drawbacks to cooking ribs in the oven out of the way.

Unfortunately, you can’t raise or lower the cooking temperature as quickly as you can with a grill (although you can always pull the ribs out of the oven if they’re cooking too fast. Also, if you use a meat thermometer to monitor cooking progress (which you should), you will lower the temperature in the oven each time you have to open the door wide, whereas with a grill cracking the lid or door usually releases only minimal heat. You will need to watch the clock closely, as you won’t be able to watch or physically check on the meat as easily.

As for that smoky flavor you get from barbecuing ribs? That ain’t gonna happen unless you fake it, which you can do using a smoke-flavored sauce or rub. Reach for the Liquid Smoke or some preferred dry herb and spice blend.

And finally, you’ll have to deal with grill snobs telling it’s just wrong to bake ribs in the oven. But just wait until the nibble on the tender meat you’ve made. They may still rib you (pun intended), but remind them who did the cooking and they should shut up — at least for a little while.

How to Cook Pork Ribs in the Oven

There are three basic ways to cook a rack of baby back pork ribs in the oven, and they are as follows:

  • 4 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 3 hours at 300 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2 hours at 350 degrees Fahrenheit

I’m not being all that flippant, by the way — that’s really all there is to oven-baked pork ribs that will be safe to eat. An internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit is the minimum, but at around 190 degrees Fahrenheit, the fat and collagen start to melt, producing a better tasting rib. You just have to make sure you check on the ribs partway through the bake and then about a half-hour before the end, as you don’t want to overcook and toughen up the meat. (For the record, I used good ol’ Trader Joe’s ribs — they won’t hurt your bank account and they still taste great.)

Now, let’s go through an actual recipe step-by-step, using the 3-hour, 300-degree, in-the-middle approach.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Preheat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  3. Slather mustard (and liquid smoke, if using) all over the ribs.
  4. Sprinkle rub all over.
  5. Bake the ribs for two hours.
  6. Paint ta hin layer of barbecue sauce onto both sides of the rack, then bake for another 30 minutes.
  7. Repeat painting of the sauce, check the internal temperature, and bake until the third hour or pull ’em out if they’re at (or past) 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Cook Beef Spare Ribs in the Oven

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Because spare ribs tend to be tougher than baby back ribs, and beef ribs tougher than pork, a slower, lower heat is ideal for beef spare ribs. In this case, the magic numbers are:

  • 3.5 hours at 285 degrees Fahrenheit

How to prep those spare ribs prior to the slow, steady cooking? Pretty much like the pork baby backs, frankly. Don’t be afraid to go off on your own magical flavor journey, but the following recipe will work well for easy, tasty spare ribs. I get spare ribs from the grocery store when possible just because it’s easier, but for the best racks, go to a butcher.

Ingredients:

  • 1 rack of spare ribs, raw and at room temperature
  • Approx. 1 cup of your favorite rub
  • Approx. 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 5 tbsp honey mustard
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke (recommended)

Method:

  1. Preheat to 285 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  3. Spread mustard (and liquid smoke).
  4. Pour rub all over.
  5. Bake the spare ribs for 2 hours.
  6. Spread a layer of barbecue sauce on both sides of rack. Bake for another hour.
  7. Repeat sauce spreading, check internal heat, and bake another 30 minutes or get them out if they’re at (or past) 160 degrees Fahrenheit (160-170 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.)

How to Cook a Rack of Lamb in the Oven

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When people talk about ribs, they far too often overlook lamb. The fact is, lamb ribs can make a great entree or they can even be carved into an excellent appetizer. A roasted rack of lamb is pretty easy to get right too. They cook up quickly, making them a good choice when you don’t have hours of time to while away. Your active prep time will be about 15 minutes, and the cook time and temps are:

  • 30 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit

(In case you were wondering, I used lamb from Superior Farms. The brand’s site has a bunch of great recipes, but mine is simpler.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 rack of lamb, cold from the fridge
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp rosemary, dried and ground
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Blend all dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Brush lamb with oil, then coat with dry ingredient mix.
  3. Rest rack while preheating oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. Roast lamb for 15 minutes.
  5. Turn rack over and roast for an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes; the lamb should be at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare. Carve and serve.
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