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 whole process is. And I know you're going to love that about it too.
I will always associate ribs with winter trips to Florida to visit my grandparents. No trip was complete without a stop at Michelbob's for sticky-finger, lip-smacking BBQ ribs. But, like many of the recipes I've since been inspired to make myself at home, 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 (skip the scallions that come with them, they're always kind of soggy imo) that showed me the error of my ways. She also has a few other recipes on her blog that use the same cooking method with different sauces or rubs.
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.
So when Jimmy and I found ourselves with an abundance of apples a couple weeks ago at the same time as our grocery store was having a sale on ribs, we started tinkering. (When we first started cooking a lot one of the earliest recipes we fell in love with was one for pork chops with sauteed apples and brussels sprouts). So trying applesauce glazed ribs just made sense.
We tried four different approaches to the applesauce glaze for the ribs — one was traditional BBQ inspired, another was as pared down as possible, a third took more of a South Carolina BBQ approach, and the final one was inspired by the glaze on the Orange Chicken recipe from Jet Tila's fantastic cookbook: 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Try Before You Die.
The cooking method was the same for all of the sauces we tried; low and slow in the oven for several hours before a quick trip under the broiler.
The Tila-inspired sauce won in a landslide. It's a slightly more complex sauce in terms of number of ingredients, but the simplicity of the hands-off cooking method makes it incredibly beginner-friendly.
In the other sauces, the apple flavor was often not noticeable or completely overwhelmed by the mustard or vinegar. Or worse, without the addition of honey or sugar, the sauces didn't caramelize under the broiler resulting in ribs that tasted good but looked unpleasant.
The applesauce glaze on the other hand, shows up with a distinct, sweet but slightly tart apple flavor and it caramelizes beautifully.
These applesauce glazed ribs aren't just fall-off-the-bone tender the way the best smoked ribs are, they also look just as good as if you cooked them on the grill or over an open flame. They've got a shiny red apple glazed exterior with lots of blackened crispy edges that are one of the best parts of eating ribs imo.
tips for the best applesauce glazed ribs
- Use heavy-duty aluminum foil here. You can make the thinner stuff work, but the heavy-duty foil is far less likely to rip or tear.
- 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!
- You can make your own applesauce using a food processor or blender — just peel and pulverize 1-2 medium apples. This will give you a little more control over the specific apple flavor of your glaze because you can pick your preferred apple variety. We used Fiji apples, but these would also be great with other varieties like pink ladies or golden delicious. But if you'd rather not make your own applesauce, just use unsweetened applesauce from the store.
- When you unwrap the foil packets there will be juices 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.
- Ribs are best eaten same-day. If you have leftovers, remove the meat from the bones and shred it to store in the fridge. You can use it in fried rice, stir fry, bao buns, tacos, or grilled cheese. You can even save the bones in the freezer for the next time you make stock or bone broth.
- 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 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.
applesauce glazed oven ribs
- 2 racks baby back ribs
- ⅓ cup dijon mustard
- ⅓ cup applesauce (1-2 small apples, peeled and pureed)
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
- 2 tablespoon honey
- 2 cloves garlic (finely minced or grated)
- 1 shallot (finely minced or grated)
- 2 tablespoon 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.
- In a small sauce pot, combine all of the ingredients for the sauce and whisk well. If making applesauce from scratch, peel and puree apples before adding to the pot.
- 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. Flip the racks over so the bone side is facing up. Use a sharp knife to make two slashes down 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 of the ribs. Then brush both sides of the ribs generously with the glaze.
- With the ribs horizontal to you on the counter (meaning, the long side of the ribs is facing you) fold the top and bottom edges of the foil up over the ribs so they overlap. Then roll or fold the left and right edges of the foil in to seal the packet tightly. Repeat with the rest of the ribs until you have four foil packets.
- Arrange the foil packets on the sheet pan and place in the oven for 3 hours.
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking, place the pot with the glaze on the stove over a low-medium heat and reduce it to thicken and to kill off any harmful bacteria from when you brushed the glaze onto the ribs. Make sure you wash the brush you used, too. Keep an eye on the glaze as it reduces, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed so that it doesn't burn.
- When the ribs are done, carefully remove them from their foil packets. There will be some accumulated 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, arrange the ribs back on the foil-lined sheet pan. Brush both sides of the ribs with the reduced glaze. Be generous here — use up all the remaining glaze.
- 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. You can leave them in for up to 8 or even 10 minutes to achieve your desired level of char.
- Remove the ribs from the oven, slice and serve!
- Reducing the glaze after you brush it on the ribs before they 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. Also important: make sure you wash your silicone brush after the ribs go into the oven so you don't contaminate the reduced glaze.