Fall-to-Pieces Ribs

Ah, kale.As I suspect you know about me, I’m the kind of person who gorges on kale shakes and soaked almonds and air for three weeks and then, on day 22, I ease off my cleanse with friends at a great bar over a platter of French fries and a platter of nachos and a glass of Zinfandel and a beer. Then, on day 23, at my parents’ house, I virtuously eat a bucket of mashed potatoes, a pork chop the size of my own head, and a very small regular-sized bottle of good chianti. On day 24, we braved 25 inches of snow to walk 34 blocks so that I could eat a Shake Shack fried-chicken sandwich and cheese fries and, because I am virtuous, have long, noisy slurps of everyone’s Heath Bar shake without being a glutton and getting one of my own. “You have a real letter-of-the-law approach to your cleanse being done,” Birdy observed mildly. She did not mention the breach of my alleged vegetarianism that I had taken up partly in solidarity with her and partly because of all the YouTube videos of goats laughing and cows talking existentially about death and marine mammals singing their babies to sleep.

Anyhoo. This is a recipe that is not new, but that I have never posted here, and it is time. Yes, in the spirit of renewed gluttony, it is time. It might be my best-ever recipe. If you like ribs, you cannot not like these ribs. They are even better than the other ribs I have written about, although they are similar. Annoyingly, Michael and Ben slop gloppy sweet barbeque sauce on them, and, sure, feel free. But they’re so good just how they are: dry-rubbed, long-cooked, and mopped with smoke-addled vinegar; not sweet or sticky, but salty, tangy, and falling completely and utterly off the bone into porky sheets and shreds. 

They taste like they spent time in a barbeque pit—but they didn’t. They just hung out in the oven for half the day while you more or less ignored them. In that way, this recipe is in the spirit of a slow cooker, without actually using one—and you get the guilty winter pleasure of having the oven on for hours and hours, warming your kitchen cozily.

Fall-to-Pieces RibsServes 3-8 (depending on the gluttony factor)
A couple of things: baby back are fattier and cook a little more quickly (and sound somehow friendlier) but St. Louis ribs, which is what I’m using here, are meatier and possibly even tastier. I like them both—get whatever’s on sale, or whichever look better. If you have time—and I don’t imagine you do—coat these ribs with the rub, and then let them sit in the fridge for a day or two. I almost never plan that far ahead, but they’re even more insanely good that way. Finally: liquid smoke. I know it’s like the artificial flavoring of the barbecue world, but in its defense, it is a natural product, and it really adds a certain wonderful smoky something here. Also, it’s cheap. Get some!
This recipe can be very easily halved or multiplied.
2 large, meaty racks of baby back or St. Louis ribs (2-2 ½ pounds each)1 tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)1 teaspoon celery seeds2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika 1 teaspoons granulated garlic (aka garlic powder)1/2 cup white vinegar mixed with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Make the rub: mash the celery seeds and salt together with a mortar and pestle until the celery seeds looked pretty powdery (or else use celery salt and cut back on the salt a bit). Add the paprika and garlic powder, and stir together well.
Lay each rack of ribs on a large, rimmed baking sheet (I put them on parchment for easier clean-up), then sprinkle them all over with the rub, massage it into both sides. Refrigerate them for a few hours (overnight is ideal) if you can spare the time, otherwise, go ahead and pop them in a 275 oven to bake for 3-4 hours (or 4-5 for St. Louis). The longer the better: you want all the fat and connective tissue melted so that the ribs are falling apart. If at any point the ribs seem to be browning excessively, turn the heat down to 250.
When you suspect that that the ribs are about an hour from being done, brush the vinegar mixture all over the ribs every 15 minutes or so.

When the ribs are truly and totally falling apart (try to lift the rack with a pair of tongs and see if it wants to come apart) they’re done. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the racks into individual ribs, give them one last brush with the remaining vinegar mixture, and serve with lots of napkins. (And, if people require, with bottled sauce. Sigh.)