While there is no replacement for real, slow wood smoked ribs, we did want to see how close we could get using other methods of cooking. Since the whole premise of smoking food is to cook it low and slow while imparting smokey flavor, sous vide cooking was the obvious alternative for how we’d cook our baby back ribs.
What are Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs?
Baby back ribs, despite their name, do not come from baby pigs. The rib cage of a pig varies in the length and curvature of the bones and tapers over the length of the animal. Specifically, baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage just below the loin muscle and between the spare ribs and the spine.
Meatier baby back ribs tend to be more mild in flavor than their spare rib cousins. This mild flavor means we need to be extra careful with moisture and dilution. Cooking the baby back ribs in a sous vide helps mimic the low and slow controlled application of heat that smoking.
Sous vide cooking also allows us to limit the addition of moisture that could dilute the flavor of the ribs.
Our Approach to Baby Back Ribs
We dry brined the ribs, because pork dries out easily. Dry brining the ribs before hand (up to 3 days) will help break down and relax myosin fibers in the muscle, preventing moisture from being pushed out of the meat.
Next, we’ll be using liquid smoke to impart some smoky flavor to our ribs. Liquid smoke is actually made from real wood smoke that has been condensed and dissolved into liquid.
That said, liquid smoke does not taste the exact same as real smoke, but it is as close as we can get without using hardwood. Finally, rub and cook low and slow.
What Makes Good Baby Back Ribs
Texture is what makes ribs so good. The perfect balance between fall-off-the-bone and solid mouthfeel is the magic we are trying to recreate.
Growing up, I actually used to always think baby back ribs should fall apart like a braised short rib or carnitas, and boy was I wrong. There is something to be said for the succulent texture of baby back ribs that is really lost if you break them down too far.
The Challenge With Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs
A sous vide is maybe one of the easiest ways to cook food. You can put food in a bag, drop it in water, and walk away.
But, one of the dangers of cooking ribs in this fashion is the bones. Nothing will spoil your day more than waiting hours for ribs only to find out your bag was punctured, and you’ve been cooking a really weak soup this whole time because water has filled the bag.
We had a similar fiasco happen back on Valentine’s Day 2019 with a 2 pound bone-in ribeye that ripped the bag, and it was devastating! Let’s just say it took me a long time to salvage that meal.
Simple solution though, double bag it! As a general rule of thumb, if it has bones – double bag it.
Flavor wise, we’re going to give our recommendations on a rub, but feel free to substitute whatever spices or ratios you want. Make sure you taste your rub before applying it!
Our recommendation is to avoid herbs in the rub, as they won’t help develop bark during the final bake. They are also prone to burning or falling off (taking flavor with them), and can even suck up critical amounts of juice from your ribs.
What Pairs with Sous Vide Ribs?
Here are the 5 tools you’ll need for making baby back ribs in the sous vide:
- 1 large baking dish or casserole dish
- Butter knife
- Plastic wrap
- 1-2 Gallon freezer bags or vacuum sealer
- 1 sous vide
- Tub or pot large enough to fit ribs
- Baking tray
- 1 full rack baby back ribs
- 6 tablespoons salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne (optional)
- 1 cup bbq sauce of your choosing (optional)
- Place ribs in a large baking or casserole dish
- Loosen silver skin on bottoms side of rack with a butter knife
- Pull to remove silver skin entirely from bottom
- Season both sides liberally with 2 tablespoons salt
- Cover with cling film and chill in fridge for 1 day (optional)
- Set Sousvide for 145°F
- Rub both sides of ribs with seasoning mixture: brown sugar, 4 tablespoons salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne
- Vacuum seal pork or submerge and seal into freezer bags (recommend double bagging)
- Cook for minimum 3 hours and maximum 24 hours
- Remove ribs from bags and pat dry
- Preheat oven 325°F
- Baste ribs with BBQ Sauce of your choosing
- Bake for 30 minutes on a baking tray