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Sticky Pork Spare Ribs, Oven-Baked

After regularly cooking these sugar-free pork spare ribs for the past six months, my husband convinced me to share this ribs recipe. This is one of his favorite meals; as he says, perfect for a weekend or a game day.

These pasture-raised pork spare ribs are tender, sticky, sweet, full of flavor, and finger-licking good. They are cooked low and slow in the oven, with plenty of spices and a sugar-free glaze, and while you must be at home for a few hours when cooking them, the hands-on time is no longer than 30 minutes. The oven does the job.

It was quite intimidating for me to come out with a recipe for pork spare ribs. But when my husband insisted that these were the best baked ribs he’s had, I was convinced.

Look for pasture-raised pork

We spend most part of the year (spring to fall) in Denmark, in our summer house, and luckily, there is a famous butcher nearby who delivers good meat.

We asked if they had pasture-raised pork ribs, and to our surprise, they did. While they still sell conventional meat, there is always a pasture-raised (‘friland’ as it’s called here in Denmark) version if you ask for it.

The spice rub blend for spare ribs

When it comes to pork spare ribs, it’s all about the spices (and the glaze). They will give so much flavor to this simple dish and add sweetness and depth of taste.

But there is more to spices than flavor. Spices are rich in polyphenols and are powerful antioxidants, making protein cooking safer.

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Spice rub blend for spare ribs
Spice Rub Blend for Spare Ribs

The glaze for sugar-free sticky pork spare ribs

Sugar is used in cooking ribs because of the sweetness and because it creates that caramelized sticky sauce that coats the ribs (and we all love it). I was looking at a recipe in a cookbook a few days ago, and I was shocked to see that for the same quantity of ribs, 1 cup of sugar was used.

But there is a way to get the sweetness and the glaze without the sugar. I do use one teaspoon of local honey, but that’s about all the sugar you find in this recipe. The below ingredients create a glaze that will caramelize well and, together with the spices, will make these oven baked ribs sweet, flavorful, and sticky.

It’s ok if you don’t have black garlic powder. But if you do, it will add extra depth of flavor.

  • 3 tablespoons coconut aminos
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon of black garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon water
The glaze for the sticky sugar-free pork spare ribs
Glaze for sticky sugar-free spare ribs

The pasture-raised pork spare ribs

This recipe is made for pasture-raised pork spare ribs. We usually cook about 1kg, which is about 3 racks of ribs of 32 cm / 12 inch each.

Pasture-raised pork ribs are not easy to find everywhere in the world. But we try only to eat animal protein coming from non-CAFO animals, humanly raised, preferably on pastures, fed a natural diet. This is not only for ethical and environmental reasons but because nutritionally, animals raised on pastures and fed a species-appropriate diet are nutritionally superior.

If we don’t find these types of ribs, we just don’t eat any ribs at all. Luckily, while spending our summers in Denmark, we can find, at our local butcher, these pasture-raise ribs. However, we had to ask specifically for them. If you don’t ask, you get what the mainstream gets, the CAFO meat. It is cheaper and more readily available. Plus, people don’t even know they have the option of getting the pasture-raised alternative.

So my advice is, always ask the butcher, even in a supermarket. Chances are, they may be able to get you what you want.

The same goes for restaurants. When living in Dallas, we had a few restaurants that didn’t have grass-fed on the menu, but the chef always had this option available for those who asked for it. Go figure!

How to prepare the ribs for cooking

You actually don’t need to do much. I like to rinse them and pat dry them, but you don’t necessarily have to do that. Some people are really against rinsing meat. I formed this habit when I followed a low histamine diet. Sometimes we get them frozen and thaw them either in the fridge overnight or at room temperature.

Now, the only thing you need to do is to remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. I took a picture so you can see how it looks if you haven’t done this before. You need to insert a pairing knife under the membrane and slowly pull it out, with the knife or using your hands. Sometimes, using a paper towel to pull will make it easier. Removing this membrane makes the ribs more tender and easier to get the meat off the bone.

The ribs we get don’t have a lot of fat on them, so there is no need to remove anything else.

Removing the membrane on the back of the spare ribs
Removing the membrane on the back of the spare ribs

How to cook pork spare ribs in the oven

These ribs need a low and slow cooking process.

After rubbing them with the spice blend, without adding any oil, I put them in the oven preheated to 320F / 160C. I use a stainless still pan with tall edges, which is not too big, so there is not much extra space left (this will later help keep the glaze together and coat all the ribs).

A roaster pan will also work, but if it has handles, you will probably have to use aluminum foil to cover it.

First, the ribs get in the pan face down for an hour.

Three racks of pork spare ribs rubbed with the spice blend in a roast pan. They are ready to be cooked in the oven.

I cover the pan with a stainless steel baking sheet that fits on top. I don’t like to use aluminum foil in cooking, but if you have no other option, use it as a cover. This way, the ribs will cook in their own steam and fat and won’t get dry.

After one hour, I flip the ribs face down, making sure I baste them with some of the liquid in the pan. They go back in the oven, covered, for another hour.

In the meantime, I prepare the glaze by mixing all the ingredients in a jar.

After the two initial hours at low temperature, I take out the ribs and increase the temperature to 400F / 200C.

I cover the ribs, both sides, with the glaze and put them back in the oven, first face down, uncovered. Set the timer to 15 minutes.

After minutes I take them out; if the glaze is getting dry, add one or two tablespoons of water to the pan.

Three racks of spare ribs in a roast pan
Sliced pork spare ribs
All the sliced pork spare ribs in the roast pan. They have been tossed and coated with the glaze.

I flip them and put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

After another 15 minutes, I take them out, cut them, and put them back in the pan, tossing them, and making sure they are all coated with the glaze. If the pan needs more liquid, add another tablespoon or so of water.

Put back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Take out, toss well and serve.

Sliced pork spare ribs on paper sheet

A note about serving size

The serving size is just an estimate, this quantity can work for 2 or 4 people, depending on appetite, specific macro requirements, what else is eaten during the day, etc.

Serve the pork spare ribs with a simple coleslaw

We love these ribs with a simple, homemade coleslaw. There is so much richness and flavor in these sugar-free sticky spare ribs that we don’t want to complicate this meal too much.

Sometimes, we make a variation of this delicious, nutritionally dense, and colorful coleslaw:

Pork spare ribs
Pork spare ribs with coleslaw on a plate

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Sticky Pork Spare Ribs, Oven-Baked

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By Claudia Curici Serves: 4
Prep Time: 30 minutes Cooking Time: 160 minutes

After regularly cooking these sugar-free pork spare ribs for the past six months, my husband convinced me to share this recipe. This is one of his favorite meals; as he says, perfect for a weekend or a game day. These pasture-raised pork spare ribs are tender, sticky, sweet, full of flavor, and finger-licking good. They are cooked low and slow in the oven, with plenty of spices and a sugar-free glaze, and while you must be at home for a few hours when cooking them, the hands-on time is no longer than 30 minutes. The oven does the job.

Ingredients

  • 1kg / 2.2lbs pasture-raised spare ribs (3 racks of about 32cm / 12 inch)
  • FOR THE SPICE RUB:
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • FOR THE GLAZE:
  • 3 tablespoons coconut aminos
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon of black garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon water

Instructions

1

Make the dry rub by mixing all the ingredients.

2

Preheat the oven to 320F / 160C and prepare a deep baking tray to fit all the ribs without leaving too much space around. I use and recommend stainless steel.

3

Pat dry the ribs and remove the membrane on the back of the ribs if the butcher hasn't removed it already (see post for picture and instructions).

4

Rub the ribs with the dry rub, arrange them in the pan face down, and cover them with another stainless steel baking tray or aluminum foil if you can't find a baking tray to fit on top of it (I don't use aluminum foil in cooking). Cook for 1 hour undisturbed.

5

After 1 hour, take the tray out, flip the ribs face-up, then cover and bake for another hour.

6

In the meantime, make the glaze.

7

When the hour has passed, take the ribs out, and increase the temperature to 400F / 200C.

8

Drizzle them with the glaze making sure they are well-coated, then put them back in the oven, face-down, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

9

After 15 minutes, take them out, flip them so the back of the ribs is down, and bake for 15 more minutes. If the glaze is drying out, add a few tablespoons of water.

10

Take them out, cut each rack, put them back in the tray, toss them well with the glaze (again, you can add one or two tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan), and bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.

11

Take out and serve. We love to have them with homemade coleslaw.

Notes

NOTE: The serving size is just an estimate; this quantity can work for 2 or 4 people, depending on appetite, specific macro requirements, what else is eaten during the day, or the meal, etc.

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