What a crazy year it’s been so far (now June of 2020). It’s one of those times that I, as a food blogger, feel so inadequate. After all, here I am writing about Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs as Covid ravages the world, murder is meted out as justice and the nation burns. In the end, I can only do what I can do, and for me, that’s questioning and learning, listening with an open mind, and even more with an open heart. And I can accept that change isn’t easy. If it were, it would have happened already. And I can hope that we as individuals and as a nation don’t miss this opportunity, as difficult as it is, to grow, to change, to be better.
I’m neither eloquent or wise, I have no great words of comfort or hope. I show my caring and love through trying to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. Through action, through showing up and always, it seems, through food. Some say there’s power in that. I hope so. And while it seems not enough to post recipes, I hope there’s a healing that can happen in gathering (safely) in backyards and parks, at barbecues or around the grill, in the days and weeks to come.
About Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs:
It seems a little surreal that I bought these ribs on sale before Memorial day but they were cooked the day the protests here in Minnesota descended into destruction. I actually tried to lure my son over to my house with them, and it almost worked. In the end, he ended up in Minneapolis at the protests, he’s ok. I ended up in St. Paul, helping out with some cleanup, and I’m ok, too, although I was chased off by looters.
So it seems as good as these ribs are, there is a limit to their magical powers! I am convinced they do have some, though! These super easy ribs are going down as one of my absolute favorites. (Or maybe it’s just that any ribs I’m having are a favorite as I’m eating them?) But seriously, give them a try and see for yourself. Maybe for Father’s Day or the 4th of July. It’s too soon to think about Labor day and the end of summer…
There’s a mustard coating on these ribs (which I have never done before but will in the future) that kept them perfectly moist and succulent and a little of Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Seasoning Spice (that’s my homemade version) that drives the Cajun flavor home and forms the most incredible, light, crispy bark. I used it conservatively, just to enhance and not take front stage. You can control any heat by how much of the spice you use, but know my recipe has just a little interest and no real “burn” at all in the amounts in the recipe.
Serving the Ribs:
Serving the ribs dry shows off that bark & you get to choose whatever sauce you want at the table. I have a few on my site if you want to look at a homemade option from my menu Condiments & Sumpin’ Sumpins’. In the end, I liked these ribs so much just as is that I didn’t use any sauce at all. I think they’d be fabulous with this wildly spicy, thin, and vinegar forward Pride of Deer Camp Barbecue Sauce.
I served my ribs with my Bacon Ranch Potato Salad and Sweet Corn in Milk & Butter. In retrospect, a little cornbread would have been nice, too. I would have chosen Famous Dave’s Cornbread, which I’m wild about. (As a matter of fact, the first time I smoked ribs, back in the 90s, I used a recipe from his book Backyards & Side Streets) but I have a couple of other cornbread recipes on my Quick Bread Menu. I’m starting to think I’ve been cooking/blogging too long, I have too many links!
Making Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs:
It’s a lot to cover in one post, making Ribs on a grill, in the oven or in the Instant Pot. If you have hours, smoking is your best bet and always the best flavor. If you don’t have an Instant Pot and can’t smoke, use the oven. If you do have an IP, try it. The ribs are tender in no time and when seasoned just right, they’re great. I actually threw baby potatoes in the IP along with my rack of ribs to use for my potato salad; I love love love what the IP can do! The timing doesn’t change.
With any ribs, time is your friend, when cooking and seasoning. If you can, rub them the night before and let them sit overnight. Some of those proteins are drawn out of the meat and mingle with that rub and are going to get you the marvelous taste you want. If you can’t hang with overnight, go as long as you can.
If you’re smoking, I’ve set up a PDF on how to Set up your Grill. Allow four to six hours of actual cooking at 225 degrees. If you’re wanting more info on smoking, check out Amazing Ribs. I love those guys! If you’re oven cooking ribs, you’ll go up to 300 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. In the Instant Pot, you’ll set for 25 minutes with a 20-minute natural release. When oven or IP cooking, the ribs need to go under the broiler for on the grill or about 10 minutes.
Ribs are done when they can be bent and are close to breaking, with a definite crack to the meat. They should be just holding together, and as I always say, not quite falling off the bone.
Instant Pot Cooking:
Of course, when you’re smoking or making these ribs in the oven, you can make as many racks as you’d like, provided you have room. In the Instant Pot, you’re a little more limited. You can fit two racks in most Instant Pots. They don’t take long to cook, about 7 or 8 minutes to come up to pressure, 25 minutes to cook, and 20 minutes natural release, so under an hour. You could certainly cook multiple batches if you need ribs for a crowd, then broil them at serving time. That’s best done, for the most tender ribs, without completely chilling the meat so it’s really not much of a “make ahead” option for very long.
If you’re doing like I did today and cooking baby potatoes in the center, in order to have the room you’ll want to cook one rack. If you happen to be cooking all the trimmings along with your ribs, you’ll only be able to cook one rack at a time, as well.
Whichever way you go, one rack, two racks, one rack and potatoes or one rack and the trimmings, the timing remains the same, 25 minutes at high pressure. The potatoes were used to make my Bacon Ranch Potato Salad but can be used for any potato salad that calls for red potatoes or the potatoes could be served on their own or used to make Steakhouse/Barbecue Style Mashed Potatoes.
Preparing the Rack for Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs:
Let’s talk about the rack of ribs you’ll get at the store. Unless you can buy a St. Louis Style rack of ribs, your rack is going to be embedded in a big, flat hunk of meat and needs to be trimmed. Turn the ribs so the curved side is up and it’s running horizontally the long way, horizontally. “Feel” with your knife, for the spot you can cut through, just above the top of the ribs and remove that big hunk of meat. Your knife should slice through between the end of the ribs and the beginning of the “rib tip” with no problem.
There’s a weird “overgrowth” of “flap meat” over part of the ribs, maybe a little, maybe a lot. Hack that off to reveal the ribs below it. Then remove the silvery membrane across the ribs. With your knife, loosen up a corner, enough to get a grip, and using a paper towel or cloth for traction, grab it and pull across the ribs, slowly and steadily. The membrane should come right up. Now and then you need to really work at it and take more than one try. Get it the best you can.
What to do with the trimmings from Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs:
Set your trimmings aside, discard the membrane. Now some people use those trimmings as kind of a chef’s snack. I’m a little more frugal, so I’ll turn those into a secondary meal. I use them in my Denver Green Chili, my New Mexican Pozole or in my newest option, Yucatan Pork Stew or sometimes in my Brunswick Stew, Georgia Style.
Depending on what I’m making, sometimes I like to cook those trimmings (although I don’t season or rub them, so they are more neutral in flavor) right along with my ribs. You can do the same or stash them in the freezer as is for later cooking. If I’m smoking on the grill, I put the trimmings in a foil packet and watch them. They’ll take a couple of hours but usually not as long as the ribs. Just turn them now and then and check after three hours or so.
If I’m cooking in the oven or the Instant Pot, I might cook the trimmings right along with the ribs or might stash them in the freezer for later. But with either oven or Instant Pot cooking, especially with the Instant Pot, there is a bonus. You’ll have wonderful, flavorful juices. Save any juices from the ribs along with the trimmings (you probably won’t have any juices if you’re smoking) and keep those for one of those secondary meals I listed above and show below if they strike your fancy or a recipe of your own. Never waste flavor, right?
Saving Money on Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs:
First of all, buy your ribs on sale. That’s a no-brainer, right?! Watch the specials and you’ll find many of them throughout the summer and very possibly some of the best sales around the Summer Holidays. You’ll likely see some specials around the Superbowl, too, but do keep your eye out as sales can pop up sometimes with no seeming rhyme or reason. I usually (but I’m out a freezer now) have a rack or two in my freezer but they are awkwardly shaped and take a lot of room. Ribs generally come in a cryovac package, so I hate to cut into that package and trim the ribs. If space is a big issue and you want nice, uniform ribs to stack, that’s an option.
As far as the spices, I buy the larger containers at the big box store for my basics like paprika, garlic and onion powder (and I don’t buy garlic salt or onion salt, I just add my own salt to garlic powder or onion powder) and watch for sales for the others. Did you know that there’s a “set” time for spice sales? Watch holiday sales, but also stock up in the spring, watch your coupon matching site who should notify you, and watch particularly for Catalinas.
Catalinas are spit out at the grocery store. They’re the little annoying slips that come with your receipts. First, you’ll generally trigger them when you buy something – they’ll notify you of a current or upcoming sale. Then you have to buy the requisite amount of items to trigger the Catalina, which is a coupon that prints out that you can use (mostly) like cash at your next store visit (or until the Catalina expires.) These are coupons that say things like “Buy four McCormick spices, get $2.00 off on your next visit.” See my Spice, Herb & Flavor Packet Substitutions for more spice rubs and money-saving tips.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post but even more, I hope you’ll enjoy these ribs. Enjoy them with friends, with family, with loved ones when the time is right. We’ve found that even though I need to continue to be careful, we can make outside visits and cookouts work with a little planning and not too much awkwardness. We’re going to take full advantage of the summer weather to do so. Take care, all!
Sweet & Spicy Cajun Spare Ribs
- Total Time: varies by method
- Yield: 1 to 4 racks 1x
- Category: Pork Main Dish
- Cuisine: American
- 1 to 4 racks of ribs, trimmed, membrane removed. See note.
- about 2 tablespoons yellow ballpark mustard per rack
- 4 to 5 tablespoons per rack, divided, of Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Seasoning Spice
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- If you’re cooking in a 6 quart Instant Pot, only 1 rack of ribs plus the trimmings will fit at a time. If not cooking trimmings, 2 racks will fit. All other methods, use one to four racks.
- In the Instant Pot, if cooking one rack, the center can be filled with a pound or so of baby red potatoes to make potato salad or a steakhouse type of mashed potatoes.
Prepare as directed on the site by trimming if necessary and removing the membrane. Rub both sides with mustard. Sprinkle with two to three tablespoons of the Blackened Seasoning Spice if using the Instant Pot. Use 3 tablespoons if using oven or smoking. If time allows, it is highly recommended to tightly wrap and place in refrigerator overnight. Mix remaining seasoning with the sugar, cover and set aside.
To smoke: Set up grill for indirect heat (See PDF) with desired wood chips. Place ribs, bone side down over drip pan filled with two to three cups water. Cover and cook at 225 degrees F. for four to six hours, until done. Replace wood chips and water as needed.
To oven roast: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Remove ribs from the refrigerator, unwrap and sprinkle with the Spice Mix/sugar mixture. Place ribs on a rack over a large foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven and add a cup and a half of water to the pan. Roast until done, adding more water as needed. Cover the ribs with additional foil after one hour of cooking. Total time will be about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the pan with the ribs from the oven. Drain the liquid (save if making soup) and place ribs back on the pan. Turn on broiler and broil ribs, about six inches away from the element, until the rub becomes bubbly and caramelized.
To cook in instant pot:
Add one cup water to the bottom of the Instant Pot and rack if there is room. Curl ribs and place in Instant Pot vertically, trimmings in the center. Seal and cook on High Pressure for 25 minutes. Allow to go to the keep warm function and after 20 minutes, release the remaining pressure. Place ribs on a foil-lined pan. Sprinkle with the Spice Mix/sugar mixture. Turn on broiler and broil ribs, about six inches away from the element, until the rub becomes bubbly and caramelized.
Allow extra time to let the ribs sit in the rub, preferably 24 hours. See PDF on setting up grill if you’re planning to rig your grill for smoking.
Keywords: Barbecue, Cajun & Creole, Instant Pot, mustard, Paul Prudhomme, Pork, Pork Ribs, ribs