Last Friday night we hosted a neighborhood association potluck BBQ, which doesn’t seem like a big deal unless you consider that our neighborhood is comprised of over 300 homes, or that I thought it would be fun to cook ribs and sausages instead of the traditional preformed burgers and dogs. We figured somewhere between 60 and 80 adults would show up – that’s a lot of meat! Was I crazy? (My husband thinks so.) But there was a method to my madness: ribs and bratwursts make great party food because they can be cooked a day ahead of time and then just crisped/warmed on the grill right before the party. It will look like you’ve been busy grilling and basting all day, but really you’ve spent more time stashing Barbies and piles of papers out of sight while trying to determine the best wine-to-seltzer ratio for the perfect white wine spritzer. (By the third one I think I got it right, but at that point had given up on measuring and recording.)
Whether you’re feeding 6 or 60, the process for cooking ribs is the same. (And note that this is more of a process than a recipe, so don’t worry too much about measuring; it’s the pre-braising that makes all the difference.) To economically feed our anticipated crowd, I set out to Costco for 3 value packs of pork loin ribs (6 full racks), bratwursts, barbeque sauce and heavy duty aluminum roasting pans. (That was the hardest part! Trips to Costco always wipe me out.) For a smaller family dinner, figure 3 servings per full rack of meaty pork loin ribs (or maybe 2 servings per rack for big appetites).
Once home, I set the oven to 350ºF and cut open the packs of ribs (over the sink – they drip) and set all 6 racks in an aluminum pan. Purists would pat dry the racks and cover with a homemade rub of salt and secret spices. I was in party panic mode at this point so did none of this; instead, I grabbed some seasoning salt from my spice drawer and generously seasoned both sides of each rack.
Then I poured about ½ a big jug of barbeque sauce (again – not even homemade!) and about a cup of water into the pan, covered ribs with a piece of parchment paper, and then covered the pan tightly with foil.
Into the oven for at least 2 hours, until you smell it and the meat is tender and falling off the bone. (My 7-year-old was driven crazy by the aromas in our kitchen and insisted that this be her dinner; it was.) Take out of the oven (carefully – the pan will be full of liquid) and let cool. Then gently transfer rib racks to a clean pan (one that will fit in your refrigerator), add a little extra BBQ sauce if you like, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. This will firm up the ribs and make them much easier to cut.
Shortly before the party (or dinner), remove the ribs from the refrigerator and cut into 1 or 2-rib pieces. (Cut larger pieces for dinner portions.)
Place pieces meat-side down in a large aluminum pan. (I needed 2 pans for 6 racks of ribs.)
Heat grill to medium-high. If you have a smoker box, add some water-soaked mesquite wood chips. Place pan(s) on top of grill grates and cover grill. Cook about 5-7 minutes until sizzling and meat is starting to crisp. Turn grill to low.
Drizzle with your favorite BBQ sauce – I used 2 different brands (Sweet Baby Ray’s and Anna Mae’s Smokey Sweet Sauce, both from Costco) plus a little bit of hot pepper sauce. You can use any brand or combination or quantity that you like. Use tongs to coat both sides of the rib pieces in BBQ sauce. After coating in sauce, I combined the 2 rib pans to make room on the grill for the brats. (Sausages, not kids!) Once ribs are nicely glazed with sauce and heated all the way through, turn off grill (or alternate between off and low) and serve directly from the grill.
I wish I had set aside some of the ribs for a “beauty shot” (or for a post-party snack), but they disappeared! Nothing was left but a few bones and some crispy scraps (which were tasty). If I can get my act together tomorrow I’ll start another batch for Father’s Day dinner.
FYI, for the brats I just set them all to a pan, added 2 bottles of beer I found in the back of the fridge and one sliced onion, covered with foil and cooked in the oven alongside the ribs. Before the party, I grilled them all to give them some crisp and color, and then served in the beer liquid on the grill. (Serve with sauerkraut, mustard and hoagie-style rolls.)