If you love pork chops and apple sauce (any Brady Bunch fans out there?) you're going to love these applesauce glazed baby back ribs.
I'm so excited to share this recipe. The ribs (of course) taste amazing, but what I truly love about making ribs in the oven is how hands-off the low-and-slow cooking process is. And I know you're going to love that about them too.
These applesauce glazed ribs aren't just fall-off-the-bone tender the way the best smoked or grilled ribs are, they also look just as good as if you cooked them over an open flame.
They've got a shiny red-brown applesauce glazed exterior with lots of blackened crispy edges that are one of the best parts of eating ribs, imo.
Serve them up with shaved Brussels sprout salad or a crusty loaf of cheddar-jalapeno no knead bread. If you're making them for an outdoor picnic, don't forget to bring a batch of chocolate m&m popcorn with you too.
Why I Like This Recipe
The idea for applesauce glazed oven ribs came from one of the first dishes Jimmy and I learned to cook together: pork chops with sauteed apples. When we found ourselves with an abundance of apples at the same time our grocery store was having a sale on ribs, we basically had no choice. We had to try making an apple-based glaze for the ribs.
We tried four different approaches to the apple glaze for the ribs. The winner, by a landslide, was inspired by the glaze on the Orange Chicken recipe from Jet Tila's 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Try Before You Die.
There's a distinctly sweet but slightly tart flavor from the apples, acidity from the apple cider vinegar, warmth from the paprika and ginger, and a mellow sharpness from the garlic, shallots, and mustard. The brown sugar helps the sauce caramelize beautifully under the broiler, and the corn starch gives it a thick consistency and lots of shine.
Are Oven Baked Ribs Easy to Make?
I will always associate ribs with trips to Florida to visit my grandparents. No trip was complete without a stop at Michelbob's for their award winning, sticky-finger, lip-smacking BBQ ribs. But for a long time I just assumed ribs were a restaurant-only sort of meal.
Oh how wrong I was!
It turns out ribs are exceptionally easy to make at home.
In Smitten Kitchen Every Day, Deb has a fantastic recipe for oven-baked miso maple oven ribs that showed me the error of my ways. The first time I made Deb's ribs my mind was blown.
You mean making fall-off-the-bone tender ribs doesn't require an outdoor smoker or hours or cooking time? CORRECT.
Now oven baked ribs are one of our favorite lazy weekend recipes. We've even made them on weekend trips with our families. Since you don't need much by way of equipment (a sheet pan, aluminum foil, a knife, a spatula, and a small pot) and they're so hands off, this is the perfect recipe to make when you're working in an unfamiliar kitchen and need to feed a crowd.
Here's everything you'll need to make these applesauce glazed oven ribs. The ingredients are all fairly easy to find, and I've included suggested substitutions where relevant. See recipe card (at the end) for quantities.
- Baby Back Ribs - Each rack should be about 2 pounds. I get the ones that are shrink wrapped in the meat and poultry cases, but you can certainly pick yours up from the butcher counter too.
- Apples - Two small or medium apples with a "crisp" mouthfeel. Think Pink Ladies, Fujis, Galas, Honeycrisp, Jazz, etc. Avoid apples with a softer, mealier texture like red delicious or McIntosh. You need ½ cup applesauce total. You can definitely use store bought applesauce instead of making it yourself. Just look for an unsweetened applesauce, since we're also adding sugar to the glaze.
- Dijon Mustard - Make sure you get one that does not advertise itself as having horseradish in it. The horseradish flavor really doesn't work well here. Yes, I learned this from experience. It was very sad.
- Apple Cider Vinegar - If you don't have ACV, distilled white vinegar or an unseasoned rice vinegar will work.
- Shallot - The definition of "a" shallot is murky at best, but aim for one that's not too small, not too big — the Goldilocks of shallots, if you will.
- Worcestershire Sauce -
- Brown Sugar - Light or dark brown sugar, either one is just fine.
- Paprika & Ground Ginger - For a more smoky flavor, use a smoked or hot paprika.
- Corn Starch - The corn starch helps thicken the glaze and add shine. If you don't have it and don't want to buy a box of it just for this recipe, that's okay, the glaze will still work without it.
- Honey - For sweetness and to help with caramelization under the broiler.
- Garlic - I recommend using a Microplane for the garlic, but a garlic press, or mincing it with a knife work just as well.
- Salt & Pepper - For seasoning the pork. I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands. You don't really need to measure the salt here, just sprinkle both sides of the ribs with a small amount and you'll be fine. Pepper can be pre-ground or freshly cracked, whatever you have available.
Why Make Applesauce From Scratch
Making homemade applesauce will give you a little more control over the specific apple flavor of your glaze. It also helps you control how sweet the glaze ends up being.
We've done this recipe with several different apple varieties. I'm particularly fond of Fuji and Honeycrisp, but this recipe will also work with other "crisp" apple varieties like pink ladies or golden delicious.
If you have a mini food processor or even a smaller 5-cup food processor, making applesauce is very easy. Just peel the apples and plop them in. A few quick whirs of the blade later, your applesauce is ready to use.
You need about ½ cup of applesauce for this recipe, and depending on the size of your apples you may end up with a bit more or less than what you need. Don't sweat it.
If you've only got ⅓ cup applesauce, the recipe will still work. And if you end up with ⅔ of a cup applesauce, just measure out what you need.
That said, if you'd rather not make your own applesauce, just use unsweetened applesauce from the store.
Start by making the applesauce glaze. Combine everything except for the corn starch — the applesauce, minced shallot and garlic, paprika and ginger, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar — together in a small pot.
In a separate bowl, whisk the corn starch together with an equal amount of water (one tablespoon). This prevents the corn starch from forming lumps.
Mix the corn starch into the glaze and set it aside for now. Yes, you're mixing it in a pot, no it's not getting cooked just yet.
Remove the ribs from their packaging and pat them dry on both sides. Cut each rack in half so that you have four sections of ribs total.
Place the first section of ribs on a sheet of aluminum foil with the underside facing up. Use a sharp knife to cut two slashes down the back of the ribs, cutting perpendicular to the bones.
This prevents the membrane on the back from tightening up when the ribs cook.
Then, season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper and brush both sides with the uncooked glaze. You should have about half of the glaze left after doing all four sections of ribs.
Don't worry about double dipping the brush in the glaze, we'll cook it down later to make it safe to eat.
Bring the top and bottom edges of the aluminum foil together and fold them down, then roll the sides in to create a foil packet around the ribs.
Make sure the ribs don't poke through or tear the foil — these packets should be airtight. If you need to double wrap them, do so!
Arrange the four packets of ribs on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Okay, I know I said the packets should be sealed completely, but aluminum foil is a fickle tool and some leakage is often inevitable.
Lining the pan with more foil is a precaution so the glaze doesn't burn onto your sheet pans, but it's one I recommend taking.
Place the sheet pan in a 300F oven for 3 hours and leave it alone. Yes, that is a real recipe instruction. For the next three hours, leave it alone! Hands off! Go away! Do something else!
Okay, I lied, there is one thing you need to do while the ribs cook.
You need to cook down the glaze — with a clean spatula — to thicken it and make it safe to eat.
The glaze will get brushed on the ribs again when they're done cooking. Since you double dipped the brush, you need to bring the glaze up to a boil to kill off any harmful bacteria or pathogens from the raw pork. And you need to wash the brush you used on the raw meat.
Cook the glaze over a low-medium heat and stir well as it comes to a low boil. You don't want the sugars in the glaze to burn onto the bottom of the pan.
I recommend doing this when there are about 30 minutes left on the timer for the ribs, but you can do it as soon as the ribs go in the oven if that works better for your schedule.
Once it boils, reduce to a simmer and stir it occasionally until it has reduced by about one-third.
When the ribs are done, carefully remove them from their foil packets.
When you unwrap the foil packets there will be juices and steam inside that are extremely hot! Be very careful.
I usually unwrap one side first, then pick the packet up with oven mitts on and hold it over the sink to let the juices run out before unwrapping the other side.
The ribs will be very pale pink, kind of greyish or beige in color, and not very appetizing. Don't panic. That's normal! Place them back on the foil lined sheet pan.
Turn on your oven's broiler. Then, take the thickened, reduced applesauce glaze and brush it on both sides of the ribs. Place the ribs meat-side up under the broiler for 5-7 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
The high heat of the broiler will caramelize and char the sugars in the applesauce glaze giving you oven baked ribs that are crispy, gorgeous, and blackened like they just came off the grill.
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- Instead of pouring the juices from the foil packets down the drain, you can pour them directly into the glaze as it reduces to add some extra flavor.
- At full price, a rack of ribs can be as much as $20! When I go grocery shopping I always scope out the ribs in the meat section — my local store often offers 2 for 1 sales. When I see a good sale, I'll buy them to stash in the freezer until I'm ready to use them. They're already shrink wrapped so they stay good in the freezer for a while without risk of freezer burn.
- Use heavy-duty aluminum foil. You can make the thinner stuff work, but the heavy-duty foil is far less likely to rip or tear. You may want to even double wrap the rib packets to make sure nothing leaks in the oven.
- For food safety, it's crucial that you reduce the glaze after brushing it on the ribs before they go in the oven. When you brush the glaze onto the meat, you're contaminating the glaze with raw meat juices. Reducing the sauce cooks off the contamination and renders the sauce safe to eat again so that you can brush it on the ribs again once they're cooked. Make sure you wash your brush off too!
Scaling The Recipe Up
If you use the 2X/3X buttons to scale this recipe up, please know that the only numbers that will change in the recipe are the ingredient quantities listed to the left of the ingredients.
Any numbers written in parentheses after the ingredient name will not change. And any ingredient quantities written in the recipe instructions will not be automatically adjusted. You will have to make those adjustments yourself!
Ribs are best eaten same-day. If you do have leftovers, I recommend removing the meat from the bones before refrigerating them. It's just easier when they're still in that "fall off the bone" stage. Once you refrigerate them, the fat in the meat firms up and it's much harder to cleanly remove the meat from the bones. Use the shredded meat in fried rice, stir fry, bao buns, BBQ pizza, or grilled cheese. You can even save the bones in the freezer for the next time you make stock or bone broth.
Yep! Look for unsweetened applesauce. There's additional sugar in the glaze and sweetened applesauce + sugar will make the glaze a lot sweeter than you want.
I recommend using a silicone brush for meat because they're easier to clean. This is important for food safety purposes. If you don't have a silicone brush, you can use your hands to rub the glaze on the ribs before cooking, and use a spoon or a spatula to spread it on the ribs after cooking but before broiling.
Applesauce Glazed Oven Ribs
- 2 racks baby back ribs
- ⅓ cup dijon mustard
- 2 small crisp apples (gala, fuji, or honeycrisp // or ½ cup applesauce)
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
- ⅛ cup honey
- 2 cloves garlic (finely minced or grated)
- 1 small-to-medium shallot (finely minced or grated)
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- salt & pepper
- Preheat your oven to 300°F with one rack in the middle setting and another on the topmost setting right under the broiler. If your broiler is under the oven, just use the middle oven rack.
- Peel the apples and cut them into large chunks. Puree the apples in a small food processor or blender until smooth to make applesauce.
- In a small sauce pot off heat, combine ½ cup applesauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, honey, minced garlic and shallot, worcestershire sauce, paprika, and ginger. Whisk well. In a small bowl whisk together corn starch and water, then whisk that into the pot as well. Don't worry about being super precise with the applesauce measurement if you have slightly more or less than ½ cup that's fine.
- Remove the ribs from their packaging and pat dry on both sides. Cut each rack in half so that you have four sections of ribs total. Flip the racks over so the bone side is facing up. Make two slashes down the backs of the ribs, cutting across the bones. Use just enough pressure to slice the thin membrane so it doesn't tighten up in the oven.
- Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil, wrapping the foil around the edges so that it's secure.
- Working with one section of ribs at a time, place the ribs on top of a fresh sheet of aluminum foil and generously salt and pepper each side. Then brush both sides of the ribs generously with the glaze. You should have about half of the glaze mixture left after doing all four rib sectons. Do not throw it out! You'll need it.
- Fold the top aluminum foil around the ribs to make a tightly sealed packet (see blog post for visuals!). Repeat with the rest of the ribs until you have four foil packets of ribs. You may want to double wrap each packet if you're worried about them leaking in the oven.
- Arrange the foil packets on the lined sheet pan and place in the 300°F oven for 3 hours.
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking, place the pot with the glaze back on the stove over a low-medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently as it reduces and thickens. Adjust the heat as needed so it doesn't burn. This step kills off any harmful bacteria from when you brushed the glaze onto the uncooked meat. Make sure you wash the brush before using it again. You can do this step right after the ribs go into the oven. Just set it aside once it reduces and thickens.
- When the ribs are done, carefully remove them from their foil packets. There will be steam and juices in the packets that are very hot so you may want to do this over the sink. The ribs will be fully cooked and very tender but also kind of grey and ugly looking. That's all about to change.
- Turn on your oven's broiler. While you wait for it to heat up, place the ribs back on the foil-lined sheet pan. Use a clean silicone basting brush to brush both sides of the ribs with the thickened applesauce glaze. Be generous here — use up all the remaining glaze. Arrange the ribs so the meaty top part is facing up.
- Once the broiler is hot, slide the sheet pan onto the top rack of the oven for about 5-6 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through. The ribs are already fully cooked, so this is just about getting them blackened and a little charred, caramelizing the sugars in the glaze. You can leave them in for up to 8 or even 10 minutes to achieve your desired level of char. Serve immediately.
- Mixing the applesauce glaze in the pot off heat is to save you from doing extra dishes. You'll need to reduce it anyway. Might as well mix it in the pot!
- Reducing the glaze after the ribs go in the oven doesn't just help thicken it — it also kills any harmful raw pork bacteria from when you first brushed the sauce onto the ribs and makes it safe to eat again.
- Make sure you wash your silicone brush after the ribs go into the oven so you don't contaminate the reduced glaze.