How to cook pork spare ribs in the oven for fall-off-the-bone tender and flavorful meat.
- Go straight to the Recipe Card or
- Read on for relevant information on the type of ribs, how to prep them and step by step pics and video on how to cook them (about 2 mins)
Understand the Cut of Meat
The spare ribs are a cut of pork that comprises a section of the rib cage of the pig. They start at the end of the very popular Baby Back Ribs located on top of the animal and extend to the end of the rib bones.
Pork spare ribs are typically removed before the bacon located underneath them is accessed. They have flat bones with meat concentrated in between them as opposed to on top of them. On average a rack has 10 to 13 bones and weighs around 3 lbs.
A full rack of pork spare ribs (shown below) incorporates a tempered meaty part called a flap and an elongated meaty section that runs across the length of the rack and is commonly called the brisket bone or the rib tips (it contains the tips of the ribs and is a part of the sternum (breast bones). There are also miscellaneous small bits of meat and extra fat that can be trimmed.
You can remove the parts indicated below if you so choose. The resulting cut is known as St. Louis style spare ribs – very much a perfect rectangle of meat. (Watch this tutorial on how to trim a full rack if you are interested).
For this recipe we are working with the full rack of pork spare ribs and not trimming it.
The meat of spare ribs is a little tough, with plenty of fat and a rich flavor. Consequently pork spare ribs lend themselves particularly well to simmering/braising and then grilling or slow roasting in the oven. As much as people want to rush the process and cook the spare ribs fast – this is not a cut of meat that will taste best if you rush it.
The best way to cook pork spare ribs is low and slow and this definitely carries over to this oven baked recipe.
You Will Also Need
Baking sheet large enough to fit the ribs in (half sheet usually works), parchment paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, sharp boning knife or kitchen scissors, salt and pepper, your favorite pork seasoning blend/BBQ rub and/or BBQ sauce.
How to Cook Pork Spare Ribs in the Oven
Step 1. Prep the ribs while your oven is heating. Pat dry the rack with a paper towel and turn it with the meatier side facing down. You will notice that the rib bones are covered with a translucent membrane that helps hold them in line, similar to silver skin. It will only become tough and chewy in the oven, so remove it.
Using the tip of a knife or scissors lift the membrane up, get a hold of it using a paper towel and peel it off.
NOTE: There is typically a section of meat hanging flat over the center area of the spare ribs (part of the diaphragm). You can remove it or leave it. We usually leave it, it is tasty and even though it cooks faster than the rest becomes nice and crispy.
Step 2. Next nicely season the ribs on both sides with salt and pepper at a minimum or liberally apply a dry rub blend. If the full rack is really large consider cutting it in two (completely optional).
Step 3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil first and then parchment paper. It is best if the ribs are ‘sandwiched’ in between two layers of parchment paper and then tightly covered with aluminum foil. The reason is food safety – when aluminum foil comes into contact with seasonings on the surface of meat a lot of aluminum can seep into the meat. The parchment paper creates a barrier, plus no bits of aluminum will get stuck to the ribs.
Step 4. Place in the oven and let cook. We recommend 275 to 300 F as ideal oven temperature, depending on the calibration of your oven. If you know it it to be a bit stronger go with 275 F. The lower heat will slowly melt the fat, dissolve the connective tissue and convert the meat into a tender, flavorful delicacy.
Step 5. When the rib meat becomes tender to your satisfaction, uncover, season a bit more of brush with BBQ sauce and cook for another 20-30 minutes to get a nice, crispy skin before you serve it.
How Long to Cook Pork Spare Ribs in the Oven
Depending on the actual temperature and size of ribs rack anywhere from 2 to 3 hours total time. We usually check them after two hours and decide how much longer to let them cook.
While an internal temperature of 145 F is food safe, 190 F is typically when the meat will begin to pull away from the bones. Give higher priority to your visual perception than your food thermometer.
If you are satisfied with how tender the meat has become after the 2-hour mark you can go ahead and remove the aluminum foil and parchment paper covering the ribs and cook uncovered to let the outsides get nicely caramelized and crispy.
Dry Rub or BBQ Sauce?
It is totally up to you. If you choose to stick with a dry rub only, this is absolutely fine. Be sure to use it liberally and apply a bit more after the meat is almost cooked to your liking, this will contribute to a nice, tasty crust.
If you’d rather use a BBQ sauce, choose your favorite. Brush it on both sides of the rack after you check the ribs around the 2 hour mark, then again once they are out of the oven.
We used this homemade Beer BBQ Sauce.
Serve Spare Pork Ribs with:
- plenty of napkins/paper towels/wet naps, especially if BBQ sauce is involved;
- plenty of BBQ sauce on the side;
- classic sides such as mashed potatoes, fries, onion rings, coleslaw, baked beans, sliced (beer) pickles or pickled jalapenos, etc.;
- plenty of beer – to that end we recommend flavorful German lagers and ales with a pronounced malty backbone but tastefully hopped (red ales/American ambers or red IPAs are a favorite pairing)
Other Recipes You Might Enjoy
- 1 full rack pork spare ribs (usually 2.5 to 3.5 lbs)*
- pork dry rub (about 1/4 cup or to taste, use your favorite)**
- 1 cup BBQ sauce (use your favorite, optional)
- Preheat your oven to 275-300 F (depending on how strong your oven is) and line an appropriately sized baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up), then place a sheet of parchment paper on top***
- Trim the rack of spare ribs from any excess fat, pat them dry with a paper towel. Turn the rack with the meaty side down and identify the membrane that runs across the length of the rib bones. Peel it off using a paper towel to eliminate slipperiness.
- Liberally season the rack of ribs on both sides and place onto the baking sheet. If you need to cut the rack in two to achieve a better fit, do so.
- Cover the ribs with a sheet of parchment paper, then aluminum foil - tuck it around the edges of the baking sheet to create air tight seal.
- Place in the oven for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours unwrap the cover and check the meat for tenderness. If satisfied, remove the covering, season with more dry rub or brush with BBQ sauce on both sides. (If you feel that the meat can use a little longer in the oven, go for another 20 mins and check again).
- Place the uncovered ribs back in the oven for 20-30 mins more, as needed (you want a nice crust to form and the meat to be super tender).
- Transfer to a cutting board, use tongues and a sharp chef's knife to slice the ribs, brush with BBQ sauce again (if using) and serve.
*See section in post explaining the cut and outlining how to trim a full rack into a St. Luis style spare pork ribs rack if you are interested in doing so.
**If you do not want to use a dry rub at a minimum use salt and pepper, about 1 tbsp salt and 1 tsp pepper, adjust to taste.
***Per food safety regulations it is not desirable for aluminum foil to be in direct contact with the surface of seasoned meat during baking (too much aluminum will leak into the meat).
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 458 Total Fat: 25g Saturated Fat: 7g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 11g Cholesterol: 91mg Sodium: 1014mg Carbohydrates: 37g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 30g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 21g