How to Cook Juicy, Flavorful Ribs in the Oven

Learn how to make fall-off-the-bone ribs in the oven. Follow this guide for all the "juicy" details!

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Before you cry blasphemy at thought of cooking ribs in an oven rather than on a grill as nature intended, hear us out. Your oven-cooked ribs can be tender, juicy and flavorful! Not to mention, if you live in a place where grilling simply isn’t an option in the middle of January, making ribs in the oven means rib dinners are possible any time of the year.

The Best Ribs for Baking

You’ll commonly see two main types of ribs. Both can successfully be made in the oven.

Spareribs

The first type is spareribs, which are also called St. Louis-style ribs (if the butcher has done a little extra trimming to the ribs). These ribs are larger and meatier than other varieties of ribs. They also tend to be fattier since they come from the ribs closer to the belly of the pig. Note that spareribs often require a longer cook time than baby back ribs.

Baby Back Ribs

The second type of ribs is baby back ribs, also called loin back ribs. These ribs are smaller and leaner than spareribs and come from the ribs closer to the loin of the pig. Because their meat comes from the loin region, baby back ribs tend to be more tender and expensive than spareribs. Learn more about the different types of pork you can find at your local butcher.

How to Choose the Best Ribs

The first step to perfectly cooked ribs in the oven is buying the best ribs possible. Not all ribs are created equal and knowing what to look for when you’re at the butcher is key. Here’s what to look for:

Meaty Ribs

When shopping for ribs, pay attention to their meat coverage. Avoid choosing ribs with thin patches of meat or completely exposed rib bones without any meat coverage. Ribs should be plump with an even thickness of meat from rib to rib. This ensures the ribs cook evenly in the oven.

Fat

Regardless of the type of ribs you buy, you want to see some fat. However, avoid ribs with large concentrations of fat in one area of the rack. Look for racks with fat that is evenly spaced and well-marbled throughout.

Color and Texture

Ribs that are fresh and not previously frozen are always the best route to go. If you’re unsure if the ribs you’re considering were frozen, check for any discoloration or rough, dry edges. This can indicate freezer burn from prolonged storage in the freezer.

Size

If you’re buying multiple racks to serve a family, look for racks that are similar in size. This ensures each slab will cook evenly and limit the chance for smaller racks of ribs to dry out before the larger racks come to temperature.

Shape

The shape of the ribs is also important. Spareribs are often trimmed into neat, rectangular blocks that are even from end to end. However, baby back ribs often taper at one end, making one end of the rack smaller than the other. Look for baby back ribs that are as uniform as possible from end to end with minimal curvature of the rib bones.

How to Make Ribs in the Oven

uncooked rack of baby back ribsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 2 racks pork baby back ribs (about 5 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cup dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 cups lemon-lime soda
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple or orange juice, optional

Barbecue Sauce

  • 1/2 cup sugar or packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce of choice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

Tools You’ll Need

  • You want to cook ribs low and slow in the oven until their temperature reads between 170–180°. At this temperature, the fat and collagen in the ribs begin to break down, making them ultra-tender. Using a meat thermometer like this Thermapen is a great way to check the internal temperature of your ribs so you can pull them from the oven at their optimal level of doneness.
  • Be sure to have plenty of aluminum foil on hand to cover the ribs as they bake in the oven. This is basic—but essential.
  • Use a large baking dish made of ceramic, cast iron or metal. The pan should be large enough to lay the racks of ribs flat and at least 2 inches deep to hold the cooking liquid also.

Directions

Step 1: Mix the dry rub

brushing soy sauce on a rack of raw baby back ribsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

In a small dish, combine the oregano, onion powder and garlic powder. Set aside. Next, remove the ribs from their packaging and pat dry with a paper towel. Brush the ribs with soy sauce.

Step 2: Apply the dry rub

applying a dry rub to baby back ribs before cooking in the ovenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Generously apply the dry rub to the meat by rubbing it on with your fingertips. Transfer the ribs to a large baking dish and cover with plastic. Refrigerate the ribs for eight hours or overnight.

Step 3: Add cooking liquid and bake the ribs in the oven

using a cooking liquid of orange juice and lemon-lime soda makes ribs in the oven juicyLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Preheat oven to 225°. Remove the ribs from the fridge and add the lemon-lime soda and orange juice to the roasting pan. For best results, pour the cooking liquid around the ribs and not over top. Do not fully submerge the ribs. Bake, covered tightly with foil until tender, about 3 hours.

Editor’s Note: A tightly sealed pan topped with aluminum foil will lock in the heat, steam and moisture around the ribs to keep them extra moist and juicy while they cook.

Step 4: Prepare barbecue sauce

mixing together barbecue sauce ingredients for oven ribsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

While the ribs bake, mix the barbecue sauce. In a medium bowl, dissolve the brown sugar into the hot water. Then whisk in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Editor’s tip: Go all out and learn how to make barbecue sauce from scratch.

Step 5: Baste

basting baby back ribs cooked in the oven with barbecue sauceLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

After 3 hours, remove the ribs from the oven and uncover. Turn on your oven’s broiler and reposition your oven rack towards the top of your oven. Transfer the ribs to a foil-lined broiler pan and brush both sides generously with barbecue sauce.

Step 5: Broil

a platter of juicy oven ribs with a side of baked beans and greens overheadLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Place the ribs into the oven and broil for 3 minutes. Remove and baste the top again with barbecue sauce. Return to the broiler for an additional 3-6 minutes basting every 3 minutes with additional sauce. Remove the ribs from the broiler, cut into individual slabs, as desired, and serve with reserved barbecue sauce.

close-up view of juicy baby back ribs baked in the ovenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Editor’s Note: If you really crave that grill flavor, you may alternatively transfer the ribs to a hot, preheated grill to finish cooking. Place the ribs over low, direct heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, basting with barbecue sauce every 3-4 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 170-180°.

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Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.