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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Cook Baby Back Ribs in the Oven



Barbecued baby back ribs are a legend, but many shy away from making them out of fear. Roasting them in the oven makes the process long, but it is really as simple as making sugar bread (buttered white bread with sugar).

Rib meat is tough, so a long cooking time is essential to tenderize the ribs. The secret is a low oven temperature and a very long roasting time. “Low and slow,” the experts tell you.

Who doesn't love ribs cooked low and slow?
Who doesn’t love ribs cooked low and slow?

What are the two methods for cooking ribs in the oven?

If your ribs still have the membrane on the inside of the ribs, remove it before roasting by loosening it with a thin, sharp knife, then pulling it away from the bone.

You may have to use a cloth to get a good grip on it. Removing the membrane ensures that you will end up with fall-off-the-bone ribs.

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There are two methods for oven cooking baby back ribs. They are similar, but definitely also have their differences. You can roast them in a covered pan or an open pan.

NOTE: Although the USDA suggests ribs should be done to 145° F, most rib experts cook to 185° to 190° F.

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Covered Pan Roasting

Move your oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 275° F.

Rub the meat side of the ribs with a dry rub. There are plenty of prepared rubs, but a simple, effective rub, whether you’re going to use barbecue sauce or another sauce afterward, is salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, and ginger. Even simpler, salt and pepper make a fine rub.

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Place the ribs in a roasting pan covered in aluminum foil. If they don’t fit, cut them into smaller pieces with a knife. Then, tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Roast for three and a half to four hours on this low temperature, then remove the ribs from the oven, remove the foil, and check the ribs for doneness with a meat thermometer.

Move your oven rack near the top of the oven and turn the temperature to broil. While your oven preheats, cover the meat side of the ribs with your sauce.

Place the pan in the oven and broil for just a few minutes about three to five. You’re looking for a nice caramelization of your sauce. Some people like the ribs to have a slightly blackened look at this point.

You can also pour approximately ten ounces of water in the bottom of the pan that you are covering with foil. Doing this will help to create steam while the ribs are baking in the oven. Cover the ribs with the aluminum foil after adding the water and keep both sides vented to release a bit of the steam during the cooking process.

You can cook the ribs this way in the oven on a low temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit which is slightly higher than the other method for one hour. It is a slightly higher temperature because the steam that is produced because of the water maintains moisture and heat.

Open Pan Roasting

For this method, you broil the ribs first. Place the rack near the top of the oven. Preheat the oven to the broil setting. Cover your roasting pan with foil, then set a roasting rack on top of the foil. The ribs sit on the rack, creating a layer of air beneath them.

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Rub the meat side of the ribs with a dry rub. See the instructions above for some dry rub ideas. You might also want to hop on over to this post about the best brisket rub.

Broil for about five minutes, or until the dry rub is melted and even a bit bubbly.

Remove the ribs, then move the rack to the middle of the oven. Turn the temperature down to 300° F.

Cover the ribs with your chosen sauce, then roast for about one and a half to two and a half hours then remove the ribs from the oven and check for doneness.

Ribs, just like other thinner cuts of meat like chicken and fish, do not really need any time to rest after cooking. They don’t hold the heat which means there is no chance at any residual cooking once they leave the oven. Plus, who wants to eat cold ribs?

How Do You Know When the Ribs are Done?

An easy way to check if the ribs are done is by poking a toothpick directly into the meat between the bones. If you find that the toothpick can easily slide in and is met with no resistance, then the ribs are done. You may want to check various spots this way to make sure they are all done.

The internal temperature of the ribs should be between 185 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. When picking up a slab from the center of the rack, you should find that they slightly droop and crack. The meat should also easily pull off the bone. If you can check all these boxes, then you can be assured that the ribs are done and ready to eat.

Can You Use Your Oven as a Smoker?

Yes. You can use your oven as a smoker to make delicious ribs and achieve a smoky flavor. However, when using your oven as a smoker, you need to make sure that you use the exhaust fan for the range to help carry out all the excess smoke that may be escaping from the oven during the cooking process.

To begin, place the ribs and vegetables and whatever you want to cook in a bowl and then place salt, black pepper, and garlic salt in a small bowl. This spice mix will then be rubbed onto the meat and vegetables. When using this method of cooking, you can purchase oven smoker bags, and these often contain wood chips and even seasonings. Before seasoning the meat yourself, check to see what is included in the bag’s lining, so you don’t overdo it.

Next, brush all your seasonings onto the meat and place everything into the smoker bag. Close the bag following the instructions. The oven should be set to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The bag will then smoke for about fifteen minutes in the oven before you reduce the temperature to 345 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoking times will vary depending on the meat and the size of the meat.

When using a smoking bag, you will want to allow everything to rest for about ten minutes before you open the bag. Once that time is up, you can enjoy your ribs! Serve them with potato salad and a side of your favorite barbecue sauce for a tasty meal.


Barbecue ribs are famous. You may have a favorite barbecue sauce recipe, but if not, there are a lot of barbecue sauces out there with varying degrees of “fire,” all waiting for your trial.

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For a delightful change of pace, mix peach or apricot preserves with your barbecue sauce or add a little peach nectar to the sauce for tasty and easy oven baked ribs.

If you’re looking for a different flavor, try hoisin sauce. This sweet Chinese sauce is similar, but not the same as barbecue sauce, and gives the ribs a very sweet flavor.

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If you want “drunken” ribs, use your search engine to look for recipes for baby back ribs using beer. Generally, you’ll marinate the ribs overnight in a beer and spice mixture. You can slice onions and chopped garlic to add to the marinade as well.

A neat trick is to use a brown sugar sauce for beans rather than a sauce made for meat. These might be thinner than you’re used to, but for slow cooking and slow roasting, you can slather it over the ribs before they go into the oven as well as before broiling.

You can never have too much sauce!
You can never have too much sauce!

Liquid Infusions

Something a little fancier way is to roast the ribs with a liquid sauce to infuse the ribs with flavor while roasting. You still glaze with a favorite sauce afterward, you’re just adding an extra layer of flavor. Your flavor layers would be the dry rub, the infusion, and finally, the sauce.

Beans and ribs just go together. Here’s my post on keeping pinto beans fresh.

For an infusion, dry rub the ribs first, then place the ribs on a rack in the roasting pan. Add your liquid to the bottom of the pan, making sure it does not come up to the level of the meat. You don’t want to poach or boil the meat, just give it some steam-infused flavor. Some flavorful liquids you can use are:

  • Beer (Who doesn’t want a good beer?)
  • Colas (Dr. Pepper is the favorite here)
  • Apple cider (Hint: glaze the ribs after roasting with apple jelly, honey, and cider mixture before broiling for a sweet apple taste.)

Put a little meat on them bones!

Whether open or close roasting your baby back ribs, the low, slow roast will make these ribs a favorite for family gatherings, the ease of preparation and little prep time makes them a favorite of the cook too. Depending on your family’s tastes, the various rubs, sauces, and infusions can custom create a family tradition.

From barbecued ribs made with your favorite barbecue sauce or country-style ribs served with a side of potato salad there is really no limit on what you can do when slow cooking your ribs in the oven.

For other great recipes, add a few BBQ appetizers!

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