Country-style pork ribs can be tough and chewy if not cooked properly. The ribs contain a lot of connective tissue that needs to be broken down in order to make them tender. There are a few methods you can use to help tenderize country-style pork ribs before cooking.
Use a Marinade
Marinating the ribs will help to tenderize them and add flavor. Make a marinade with acidic ingredients like vinegar, wine, lemon juice or yogurt which will help break down the connective tissue. You’ll also want oil, herbs and spices. Some good options include:
- Apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper
- Wine or beer, soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, and herbs like rosemary, thyme or oregano
- Yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, coriander, and chili powder
Marinate the ribs in the fridge for at least 2-4 hours, but preferably overnight. Turn the ribs occasionally so the marinade penetrates evenly. The longer you marinate, the more tender the ribs will become.
Use a Dry Rub
A dry rub is another great option for tenderizing ribs before cooking. The salt and spices in the rub will help break down muscle fibers. Try making a rub with:
- Brown sugar
- Chili powder
- Smoked paprika
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
Coat the ribs generously with the dry rub, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-4 hours or up to overnight. The salt will draw moisture out of the meat, dissolving muscle fibers.
Use Meat Tenderizer
Meat tenderizer is a powder that contains enzymes from papaya or pineapples. These natural enzymes help break down the tough connective tissue in meat. To use it:
- Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of meat tenderizer powder onto both sides of the ribs.
- Gently rub the tenderizer into the meat until evenly coated.
- Wrap the ribs and refrigerate for 30 minutes up to a few hours until ready to cook.
This helps soften the muscle fibers for more tender ribs.
Pierce the Meat
Using a fork or knife, pierce each rib all over before marinating or seasoning. Poking holes will allow the marinade or rub to penetrate deeper into the meat. It also lets heat reach the interior of the ribs more quickly during cooking.
Use a Meat Mallet
For maximum tenderizing effect, use a meat mallet or tenderizing hammer. Simply pound the ribs with the mallet before marinating or seasoning. This will help break down the connective tissue. Be careful not to overdo it or you’ll end up with mushy ribs.
Brine the Ribs
A salt water brine is great for boosting flavor and making meat more tender. To brine country style ribs:
- Mix 1 cup salt with 4 cups water until dissolved. You can also add sugar, herbs and spices.
- Submerge ribs in brine and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
- Rinse well and pat dry before cooking.
The salt penetrates the meat, breaks down muscle fibers and improves juiciness.
Braise the Ribs
Braising is one of the best cooking methods for ultra tender ribs. Brown the seasoned ribs first in batches if needed. Then braise in a flavorful liquid like broth, beer, juice or barbecue sauce at 300-325°F for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until fall off the bone tender.
Use a Pressure Cooker
A pressure cooker makes ribs incredibly tender in a fraction of the normal time. Cook them for 20-30 minutes with some liquid such as broth, apple juice or beer. The intense heat melts collagen for fork-tender ribs.
Cook Low and Slow
For tender grilled or smoked ribs, cook them low and slow. Apply a spice rub and cook at 225-250°F for 4-6 hours. The prolonged cooking breaks down connective tissue without drying out the meat.
Steam the Ribs
Steaming is an easy and effective way to get tender results. Place seasoned ribs in a steamer basket in a pot with 1-2 inches of water at the bottom. Steam covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender.
Use a Slow Cooker
Let your slow cooker do the work for fall-off-the-bone ribs. Place seasoned ribs in a slow cooker and add 1 cup of water or broth. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. The extended cooking time results in super tender meat.
Country-style pork ribs can be tenderized using simple techniques like marinating, rubbing, poking, brining, braising and cooking low and slow. Allow plenty of time for the connective tissue to break down. Marinate for at least 2-4 hours, braise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or cook low for 4-6 hours. With the right prep and cooking methods, you’ll be rewarded with juicy, fork-tender ribs.