No-Fail Pork Ribs and Tangy Coleslaw

These falling-off-the-bone ribs almost make themselves. Alongside crunchy slaw, they’ll make your Memorial Day barbecue!

So, the countdown to Memorial Day continues… Last week, I suggested strawberry shortcakes for a post-barbecue dessert. This week, the barbecue’s main show: no-fail pork ribs for grill novices (and experts) alongside crunchy, tangy coleslaw. The ribs are a bit of a cheat, given their slow, covered bake in an oven before hitting the grill. However, the oven gives you not just falling-off-the-bone tender pork, but also a busy host/ess’s best friend—flexibility. While the ribs bake, they require no attention whatsoever, so make the coleslaw, assemble your shortcake ingredients, set the table, sip a cold beer, chat with your guests… All the good stuff. Once the ribs are tender—trust me, at this point you’ll have a hard time not just digging into them, but hold off ‘til the end, it’s well worth it—pass them over hot coals, slather generously with barbecue sauce, and start licking your lips. (And fingers!)

The coleslaw recipe below holds a clever twist: To avoid watery dressing, the cabbage is first salted and drained, then rinsed, dried, and tossed with a classic buttermilk dressing. The result is truly crispy-creamy slaw, ready to enjoy as is or open to endless variation. Add minced jalapenos for heat or crumbled blue cheese for kick. Really any of your favorite salad stir-ins work here—diced avocado, toasted nuts, julienne bell peppers, sliced radishes, minced fresh herbs, and on and on. Make it your own!

Photo by Stephanie Meyer

No-Fail Barbecued Pork Ribs
Serves 6

1 Tbsp. each chipotle chili powder, ancho chili powder, salt, garlic powder, oregano, brown sugar
4 lbs. pork back ribs, trimmed (or purchased) in two racks
1 c. barbecue sauce (I use Daddy Sam’s brand) plus more for serving

At least four hours before you plan to eat, preheat oven to 275 degrees. Arrange oven racks on the middle two racks of the oven. Set out two 9×13 baking pans.

In a small bowl, stir together the chili powders, salt, garlic, powder, oregano, and brown sugar. Rub mixture generously into all sides of the ribs. Fit rib racks into the two baking pans, trimming the racks if necessary so they lie in a snug, flat layer in each pan. Cover pans tightly with foil (Can be done one day ahead; chill ribs, bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Bake ribs, covered, for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours (usually around 3 hours), switching pans half-way through, or until meat is very tender and pulls easily away from the bone. Let ribs rest, loosely covered, while you heat the grill. When the grill is hot, use tongs (crosswise to prevent them from falling apart) to gently lay the rib racks on the grill, meaty side down. Cover and grill for 8-10 minutes or until nicely crispy. Carefully turn the ribs and brush generously with barbecue sauce. Cover the grill for a couple of minutes or until barbecue sauce is caramelized (but not burned). Brush more sauce on the ribs and transfer them to a cutting board. Slice ribs between the bones and serve with more sauce, if desired.

Coleslaw with Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from The Best Recipe American Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Serves 6

Note: This slaw stays crunchy-not-watery for days, so feel free to make it up to three days before you serve it.

1 1/2 lbs. red or green cabbage, shredded fine or chopped
1 large carrot, peeled & shredded
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. sour cream
1 large shallot, minced
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. cider vinegar (or more if you like really tart slaw)
2 Tbsp. sugar (or more if you like really sweet slaw)
freshly ground black pepper

Toss the shredded cabbage and 1 1/2 tsp. salt in a colander or large-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. Let stand until the cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse the cabbage under cold running water (or in a large bowl of ice water if serving immediately). Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place the wilted cabbage and the carrot in a large bowl.

Stir the buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, mustard, sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and several grinds of pepper in a small bowl. Taste dressing and adjust seasoning. Pour the buttermilk dressing over the wilted cabbage and refrigerate until ready to serve.