Soaking pork ribs overnight in a brine solution or marinade tenderizes the meat and makes what can often be a tough dry cut of meat juicy and delicious. Just remember not to soak these ribs too long or the meat will be too tenderized and fall off the bone before the ribs are cooked.
Types of Pork Ribs
All pork ribs come from either the side or back of the pig. Spareribs come from the side or underbelly, while back ribs or loin back ribs are cut from the loin section along the back of the pig. Baby back ribs are a narrower slab of rib taken from the back end of the pig and are sometimes referred to as riblets. Consider the meat content on the bone when soaking any of the three varieties of ribs. Spareribs have a lot of meat and fat, so they will need a longer soak than baby back ribs, which are usually cuts of mostly bone and are not as meaty. Baby back ribs do not need an overnight soak.
Soaking Ribs Overnight
Soak meaty ribs for between 12 and14 hours so the solution you use will have time to completely soak into the meat. Soak meats in the refrigerator. Do not soak meat at room temperature because this may result in a buildup of bacteria. Soak ribs in a non-corrosive container, like stainless steel or glass, because soaking solutions may be salty or acidic. These solutions can corrode the container, and the surface of the container could become pitted, mixing small particles of the container into your pork ribs. Overnight soaking, whether in brine or marinade, allows the meats to soak in all the flavors that are part of the soaking solution. A brine soak adds a saltiness to the ribs, while marinades are more savory with a wider flavor profile, depending on the types of herbs, spices and oils you use in the acidic base. One important difference between the two soaks is the amount of salt used. If you want to limit salt in your food, a marinade is a better choice.
Brining the ribs means soaking them in a saltwater solution, usually in a ratio of 1/2 cup of salt for every 1 gallon of water. Adding molasses, sugar or other sweeteners assists in the browning of the soaked meat when you cook it. Adding spices, such as garlic, rosemary or sage, gives the brine additional depth of flavor and offsets the saltiness of the solution. Brining dissolves the proteins in the meat and reduces moisture loss while the pork is cooking, so the rib meat will be juicy and tender when cooked. To dissolve the salt, you may have to heat the brine solution first. Cool the brine solution thoroughly before placing the ribs inside, or they could start to cook. Place the ribs into the cold brine and refrigerate. After soaking overnight, remove the ribs from the brine, rinse them off and then place them back into the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. Pat the ribs dry before cooking so it browns evenly. The brine solution has already infused the meat, so you do not have to worry about wiping it off.
Marinating is another method of soaking pork ribs. Marinades contain spices, vinegar, wine or spirits, oils and flavorings to infuse the meat. The acidity in the citrus or spirits perform in the same way that brine does, without the added salt. This is helpful if you are watching your sodium intake. The marinade does not use the same amount of salt and depends on the acidity in the liquid to infuse the meat and tenderize it. Once the acidity in the marinade breaks down the proteins in the ribs, the spices and herb flavorings soak into the meat, making it juicy and tender. When they are ready to cook, pat the ribs dry and cook them in the oven or on a grill.
References and ResourcesThe All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking; Rombauer et al.
Disabled World.com: How to Cook Barbeque Ribs
Cooking for Engineers: Brining
Food Network: Pork Belly, Ribs and Bacon Guide