01 of 07
Know your Rack
The typical rack of pork spare ribs has a lot more than just the ribs. The actual rib section, what you might get at a restaurant or see in barbecue competitions, is a portion of the whole spare rib area. Once you familiarize yourself with pork ribs and know how to trim them, you will be able to smoke or grill delicious barbecue ribs without any trouble.
There are three parts of the full spare rib rack. The pork rib section is what we are most interested in, but we will discuss the other two... parts as well. These parts consist of the skirt (or skirt meat), or the flap that sits in the middle of the rack on the back side. This will burn and cause the ribs to cook unevenly if you leave it here. The last section is the rib tips that lay on the bottom edge of the rack. This is basically the base of what would be the pork brisket. It contains cartilage as well as the sternum, which makes it cook differently and carving more difficult, so this portion also needs to go.
The first step is to take a good look at the full rack of ribs. The top side of the rack is the side with the meat. The back side of the rack is the side where you can see the bones and where all the work is going to take place. But before you flip this rack over, get a feel for the length of the bones and the point where the ribs stop.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
The Back of the Rack
Here on the back of the rack, you can see the skirt clearly. You can also see the membrane which we will remove shortly. The back side of the rack contains all the working parts, so this is where we will perform all the tasks. All that is needed is a sharp knife and a few paper towels and we can this into a beautiful rack of ribs ready for the smoker or grill.
Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Removing the Skirt
The skirt is a thin strip of meat the runs along the membrane line on the back (or bone) side of the ribs. With the skirt intact the rack is twice as thick at this point which means this section is going to cook much slower. This is why it is necessary to trim off the skirt. This is easily done by laying a knife along the rack of ribs and cutting the skirt completely off. Save it for later. Make sure the ribs are even across this section of the rack once the skirt is removed.
Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Pulling the Membrane
Some people say it is important to remove the membrane, others claim it doesn't matter. If you don't want to do it, you don't have to. In fact, you really don't have to trim your ribs at all. Personally, I remove the membrane.
The rib membrane is a waterproof film that separated the chest cavity of the hog from the muscle/rib area. It keeps virtually everything from passing in or out of the chest area. When cooking ribs this means that it keeps out smoke and seasoning flavor and holds in the fat... that needs to be rendered. This is why I remove the membrane. Plus it is really easy to do and only takes a few seconds once you can get a good grip on it.
You can see the membrane as a dull, whitish film over the rib section of the rack.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Pulling the Membrane
As you look at the membrane you can see that it is a long, triangular piece. Start at the point. With your knife, lift up this corner of the membrane and then take a paper towel and get a good grip on the membrane. Pull straight up and away from the rack of ribs. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't start to split up. Once you get the hang of this you will be able to pull the membrane from a rack of ribs in a couple of seconds.
Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Trimming the Rib Tips
When cooking a rack of ribs, you want it limited to the actual bone section of the ribs. Well above the ribs (or below if you are looking at the pig) is a section of meat filled with cartilage, little bones (the Chine bone) and connective tissue. You can identify this area with one basic rule: Bones don't Bend. If you try to fold the ribs in half lengthwise like a tall book, you will get a good idea where these sections meet. You can also find it by looking for a long line of fat that runs... lengthwise along the rack. This doesn't always help because you can't always find it.
The biggest problem with this step is that the point of separation between these sections is not a straight line, but if you stick to the rule (Bones don't Bend) you will have no trouble locating and cutting away this rib tip section. Now you have a rack of ribs. Just ribs.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
A Good Rack of Ribs
If you look at the picture below (or at your newly trimmed rack of spare ribs), there are three pieces of meat. You should know what to do with the ribs. As for the other pieces, these are great morsels of meat that you can use in other dishes (on some racks this is actually a lot of meat). Prepare these rib tips and serve them as appetizers. Personally, I grill them relatively fast, cut them into bite-sized pieces apply sauce and serve before the actually rack comes off the smoker.