Eat & Drink

Watch: Cocoa-Brown Sugar Lamb Ribs

A grill master's recipe for the ultimate rack of ribs

There’s a reason we associate delicious ribs with warm afternoons and sunny skies: The blanket of snow covering your grill can kill any hankering you had for barbecued bones in the winter.

Leave it to a master griller to find a way to shake up the summer specialty. In his new cookbook Man Made Meals, due for release in May, Steve Raichlen gives us a recipe for not just an oven-roasted rack, but also one that trades the traditional pork ribs for a rack of lamb.

Lamb ribs are more tender than beef, and more flavorful than pork, so with the right seasoning this meat offers a mean alternative to your conventional rack. And even if you’re not a fan of lamb, you’ll like these ribs because it’s not the choice of meat that matters—Raichlen’s cocoa-brown sugar rub is so delicious, you’ll never want to eat any kind of meat without it again.

The cocoa and brown sugar surprisingly don’t overpower the ribs with sweetness, but instead give the rack a deep, rich flavor that melts in your mouth. With a touch of piment d’Espelette—a Basque chile powder—the rub has just the right amount of spice, and the salt brings out the flavors of the lamb. And while you could certainly cook them on the grill, the oven allows the rub to sizzle and seep into the meat over two hours without requiring any extra work from you.

The recipe actually comes from Raichlen’s stepson, Jake Klein, chef-owner of Der Kommisar in Brooklyn. Some of the ingredients may be a little hard to find—you’ll probably have to preorder lamb ribs from your grocery store, or find a rack at Greek, Middle Eastern, or halal meat market—and Raichlen gives instructions on how to skin the ribs yourself. But if you stick with it, your hard work will be generously rewarded on the first bite.

Ingredients

  • 4 racks of “Denver cut” lamb ribs, each about 1 pound
  • 2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 tbsp piment d’Espelette  or hot paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F
  2. Place a rack of ribs meat side down on a baking sheet. Remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of the rack by inserting a slender implement, such as the tip of an instant-read meat thermometer, under it; the best place to start is on one of the middle bones.
  3. Using a dishcloth, paper towel, or pliers to gain a secure grip, peel off the membrane.
  4. Turn the ribs over and, using a knife, score a crosshatch pattern on the meat side, making cuts about ½ inch apart and ¼ inch deep.  Scoring helps render the fat and crisp the meat.
  5. Repeat with second rack of ribs.
  6. Place the brown sugar, salt, cocoa powder, piment d’Espelette, and black pepper in a small bowl. Stir to mix, breaking up any lumps in the sugar with your fingers.
  7. Sprinke the rub on the ribs on both sides, rubbing it onto the meat.
  8. Line a baking sheet with alumimum foil to facilitate cleanup. Place a wire rack on top of the foil and arrange the ribs, meat side up,  on top.
  9. Bake the ribs until sizzling, browned, and very tender (about 1.5-2 hours).
  10. Transfer the rack of ribs to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
  11. Cut into individual ribs and serve with favorite barbecue sauce.

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