Pork Ribs 101: Why Moderation is Key!

By Anne Palumbo

During the grilling season and especially on the Fourth of July, my husband and I indulge in something we rarely eat all year long: pork ribs. 

It’s a summer tradition that allows us to enjoy this tasty meat with an understanding that it won’t last forever. 

We rarely eat ribs because, much like addictive chicken wings, we tend to devour them without really thinking about what or how much we’re eating. And while ribs certainly have some nutritional merit, they also have enough drawbacks for us — cholesterol-worriers that we are! — to put them in the “occasional” food category. 

What have ribs got going for them? You might be surprised. An average serving of ribs (3-4 oz) has around 20 grams of protein, which, for some, provides nearly 50% of the recommended amount. Protein is a powerhouse nutrient that we need throughout our lifetime, from growth and development when we’re young to maintaining muscle mass and strength when we’re old. 

More pork perks: Ribs teem with several B vitamins, including the coveted B12, a critical vitamin whose deficiency is marked by extreme fatigue and lethargy. All together, the mighty B-team plays a vital role in helping to maintain good health, provide energy, improve memory, and boost immunity. 

In addition to all those good B vitamins, pork ribs are an excellent source of selenium and zinc, two powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals — unstable molecules that can harm your cells and contribute to many age-related diseases.

So, what’s not to love about this lip-smackin’ cut of red meat?  Three biggies: fat, cholesterol, and calories. Although some cuts of pork fall into the lean category with 10 grams of fat or less, baby back ribs and spareribs do not, delivering 20 grams of fat (or more!) per average serving. What’s more, a notable portion of that fat is saturated fat, the unhealthy fat that can raise cholesterol levels and increase risk of heart disease or stroke. As for cholesterol, a 3-oz serving of ribs has 70 mg, a hearty chunk of the 300-mg recommended daily limit. 

Last but not least, calories. Ever see someone eat an entire rack of barbecued ribs in one sitting? You’ve just witnessed the inhalation of nearly 2000 calories, perhaps more if the ribs were slathered in rich barbecue sauce. At about 300 calories per 3-oz serving, pork ribs on their own won’t land you in eater’s jail, especially if you practice portion control and only eat them occasionally. What may land you in the culinary clink, however, is the finger-lickin’ sauce, which can add hundreds of calories, not to mention loads of sugar and salt. 

Baby Back Ribs

Adapted from foodnetwork.com

1 (3-lb) rack, bone-in baby back ribs

dry rub mix

½ cup 100% apple juice

½ cup barbecue sauce

Dry rub mix:

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for dry rub, using a fork to crush any clumps.

Place ribs on a double layer of aluminum foil (tear enough to encase ribs). Rub mix on both sides and then wrap foil around ribs, leaving a small section open at the top. Place wrapped rack of ribs on a large sheet pan and pour apple juice on the ribs through the opening in the foil. Cook for 2 hours. Remove ribs from foil and reserve ¼ cup of the juices.

Preheat outdoor grill to medium. Mix reserved juices with barbecue sauce and set aside. Grill over indirect heat for 10 to 15 minutes per side. For the last 10 minutes of cooking, baste with barbecue sauce. Remove from grill, allow to rest 15 minutes before cutting, enjoy!

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at avpalumbo@aol.com.