Spicy Baby Back Ribs for Gnawing Purposes

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“Now that they were committed to going, the hurry infected all of them. Noah carried the slabs of meat into the kitchen and cut it into small salting blocks, and Ma patted the coarse salt in, laid it piece by piece in the kegs, careful that no two pieces touched each other. She laid the slabs like bricks, and pounded salt in the spaces. And Noah cut up the side-meat and he cut up the legs. Ma kept her fire going, and as Noah cleaned the ribs and the spines and leg bones of all the meat he could, she put them in the oven to roast for gnawing purposes.”  From The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Joads are ready to head out, and they’ve packed some bones to gnaw on.  My grandmother was an expert in all things related to etiquette, and knives and forks were held “properly” from the time we were very young children, but even she couldn’t pass up the chance to announce that she’d be happy to “gnaw on a bone” if there were ribs involved.

Spicy Baby Back Ribs

1 rack of baby back ribs


Brown sugar


Apple cider vinegar

Garlic cloves, crushed

Cayenne pepper, to taste

Black Pepper


Douse your ribs in a splash of apple cider vinegar and leave them to soak it up for about half an hour.  While they soak, create a rub by mashing together salt, cayenne, black pepper, and crushed garlic.  I have learned from experience that it’s possible to be too liberal with your rub and create a salty disaster, so be sure to only just lightly coat the meat on all sides with the mixture. Wrap the ribs firmly in aluminum foil and place in a baking dish to prevent dripping.  Bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour.  While the ribs are slow roasting away, make your barbecue sauce*.  Cook your sauce over low heat until all the flavors are good and polyamorously married.  After the first hour, remove the ribs from the foil and start basting every half hour for another hour and half.  

* I never measure my ingredients for barbecue sauce because every time I taste it I think it needs a pinch more of cayenne or extra ketchup or another dash of vinegar.  Consequently, it never tastes the same two times in a row.  My advice is use your Cayenne sparingly so it’s not overpoweringly hot and just start tossing in ingredients until you have about 2 cups of something that tastes the way you like it.  I tend to be heavier on ketchup and molasses and lighter on brown sugar.  I add lots of garlic, and with the vinegar, I think it depends on the day.  Be creative, if you get overeager with one ingredient, you can always balance it back by adding more of something else and leftovers are no bad thing.  There are infinite combinations with other ingredients as well and I’ve experimented with honey, soy sauce, maple syrup, as well as other herbs and spices.  Really, there’s not much you can do to screw it up (maybe peanut butter would’t be a great call).

I served my ribs with homemade baked beans (recipe to follow tomorrow) and some sauteed escarole with garlic and Parmesan.  As in a few other instances, I’m not sure whether making your own barbecue sauce is more or less expensive.  Ribs aren’t too cheap, but I got these little guys on sale and they are a real treat for me, so I can’t pass them up.  Certainly, there are cheap and expensive branded sauces that are all kinds of delicious.  Grandma used to use a sticky, red “Chinese” Ah-So sauce and we loved it.


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Filed under Books, Cheaper Cooking, Cooking and Reading, Food, Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, Literature, Recipes, The Great Depression

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