Give Your Ribs a Boost With This High-Flavor Ingredient

The key to moist, flavorful ribs might be in your cup right now.

St. Louis Ribs With Coffee Rub
Photo: Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Every grill master worth his or her Himalayan salt has a fiercely guarded recipe for their ribs. If you are still perfecting your method, or perhaps you want to see if you can improve on your own signature ribs, we'd like to let you in on a little secret that will help you master the best ribs.

Are you reading this over breakfast? If so, the key to the most tender, best-tasting ribs might be right under your nose. Coffee.

Coffee and Ribs? Why This Works

Whether you are preparing baby back ribs, spare ribs, or country-style ribs, ribs have quite a bit of cartilage and connective tissue. These tougher cuts of meat require low-and-slow cooking methods like smoking, slow cooking, or grilling over low heat. Using an acidic marinade or rub can help breakdown that connective tissue, yielding juicy, tender meat.

While many marinade recipes use wine or vinegar as the acidic ingredient, coffee grounds, brewed coffee, or instant coffee in a rib recipe can also provide that much-needed acidity. Coffee has an acidity of around 5 pH, which is slightly more acidic than wine or vinegar, which have average pH levels of 2.5 to 4.5 for wine and 2 to 3 for vinegar depending on type.

How to Add Coffee to Rib Recipes

Grounds: Add a tablespoon or so of finely-ground coffee to your signature dry rubrecipe. Sprinkle the rub generously over the meat, rub it in, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Two hours is an optimal time to let the rub work its magic, and they can even rest overnight for maximum flavor and tenderizing action. Just be sure that you refrigerate the meat for periods longer than 30 minutes.

Want to give it a shot? Try adding a tablespoon of ground coffee to Memphis Dry Rubbed Baby Back Ribs.

Brewed Coffee: Save a cup of strong coffee from your morning pot, or pull a couple of extra espresso shots, and add it to your next ribs marinade. Be sure to refrigerate the coffee first so it won't warm your meat to an unsafe temperature that could promote bacteria growth.

Brewed coffee and espresso can also be used in barbecue sauce: The next time you're simmering a BBQ sauce, try adding a splash of coffee or espresso to taste; the idea is to get the acidity and richness but not an overly strong coffee flavor.

Coffee pairs especially well with molasses or bourbon in marinades and sauces and will add a rich, earthy note of flavor to your recipe. Try brewed coffee in this recipe for Baby Back Ribs With Coffee-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce.

Baby Back Ribs With Coffee-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Get the Recipe: Baby Back Ribs With Coffee-Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

Instant Coffee: High-quality instant coffee can be used in a dry rub instead of grounds, for a less bitter result. The coffee granules will dissolve into the meat, rather than leaving a gritty residue from coffee grounds.

Add one to two tablespoons to your favorite dry rib rub recipe, and let the coffee granules do their thing, yielding lusciously tender meat. Instant coffee is a particularly good choice for recipes with a sweet element, especially when the rub is combined with brown sugar. You can also stir instant coffee into sauces and marinades for a concentrated coffee richness without thinning out the consistency.

Like that idea? Try this recipe for St. Louis Ribs With Coffee Rub, which uses instant espresso granules.

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