becoming gourmet

a light hearted chronicle of my culinary ideas and adventures

Zinful Baby Back Ribs


In an ode to Independence Day, I thought I would share a recap of my 2009 award-winning, zinfully good, baby back rib creation story.  Bravely, I am telling this story two days *before* I take the ribs back to defend their title at this year’s fourth of July party.  But I figure if I tell you on the 5th of July, you can’t enjoy them at your Independence day celebrations!


I spent a month thinking about whether I would enter the 2009 4th of July Rib Cook Off.  After much research (since I’m not a seasoned rib-ie – pun intended), I found a cooking method that I thought I could handle, but a worthy sauce recipe wasn’t coming to me.  I had given up on entering.  Then, two days before the event, I found the recipe for this zinfandel sauce and decided to throw my star spangled cowboy hat in the ring and took one of the awards home!

Now, a lot of my own superstitions and extra care and feeding to preparing the dish worthy for the contest are built in.  Sure, there are ways to make this easier (ie. buy sauce or ignore them during the cooking process), but this is what I think made the dish!  Modify as you wish!  One warning.  This recipe is a lot of words to say, so to net it out … I prepared the sauce the day before, salt and peppered the ribs the night before, browned them on the grill the morning of, and slow cooked them all day – basting them along the way!  This ain’t no 30 minute meal!

The Sauce

Start the sauce the day before you plan to cook the ribs up to let the flavors marry.  Since it will stay fresh in the fridge for two weeks, you could even prepare it further ahead.

Red Zin Barbeque Sauce

This recipe is doubled and slightly modified from a recipe of the same name in the cookbook “Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned” (lots and lots of yummy looking BBQ and grilling ideas in this book).
  • 2 bottles of fruity red wine such as zinfandel
Bring the wine to a boil in a saucepan and then reduce heat to a simmer until wine reduced by half.  About 25 minutes.
  • 1 and 1/4 cup of cherry jam
Stir the cherrry jam to the wine until combined.  Simmer for 5 more minutes.
  • 2 cup of ketchup
  • 1/4 c. tomato paste
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • Two pinchs of ground cloves
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 2 t. hot sauce
Add the ingredients above to the saucepan and stir to combine.  Simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Skim foam that may occur off the top of the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  I used 2 t. of kosher salt and 1/2 t. of pepper. Let the mixture cool and put it in the fridge to marry the flavors.

Yield:  I ended up with about 7 cups of sauce.

The Ribs

The night before …
  • 3 racks of pork baby back ribs (about 7.5 lbs.)
Remove the thin membrane from the bone side of ribs to allow flavorings to permeate the meat.  Trim off excess fat from the racks.  Season the ribs, front and back, with ground sea salt or kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Rub it in!  Cover and store in the fridge overnight.

The morning of …. (about 10.5 hours before you want to eat)

Remove the ribs from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.  In the meantime, fire up the grill to a medium-high heat. Right before you head over to the grill, prep the slow cooker for the meat to land in when it comes off the grill.
  • 3 medium red onions, cut into thick, vertical slices
Combine 1/2 of the BBQ sauce and onions on the bottom of the roaster oven or slow cooker and start heating to ‘slow cook’, or 250 degrees.  Note:  I have Nesco 18 qt. Roaster Oven which allowed the three racks to bathe in the sauce a single layer with only minimal overlap.

When the grill is ready, spray the ribs with a little high heat cooking spray and put the ribs on the grill for several minutes per side until you have nice grill marks on the meaty side and browning on the bone side.  When the ribs are grilling on the meaty side, they will not ‘release’ from the grill until they are sufficiently browned – so be patient!
When the ribs are done, take them off the grill and rub them over with the remaining 1/2 of barbeque sauce.  Place the meaty side down in the roaster oven.  Make sure they are well basted on all sides and touch as much of the sauce as possible.  Cover it up!
I let these bad boys slow cook for 9 hours.  They will probably be ready to eat after 6-7 hours (I tested at hour 7 – yum), but a little longer in this yummy sauce bath and they get more and more tender.

Tender love and care tip: I basted the ribs every hour (sometimes more) and repositioned them a few times during the process to make sure all the parts of ribs had some good contact time with the sauce in the pan.  I also skimmed off the visible fat that started appearing during hours 4-7.  After hour 7, the sauce became a deliciously thick, deep brown sauce and no longer had visible fattiness.
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