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Satisfy rib cravings on budget

Do you love ribs? Who doesn’t? (Sorry to all my vegetarians. Look away.) Although ribs are already quite inexpensive, did you know there are cuts of pork, similar to ribs, that are even cheaper? I’m talking about riblets and rib tips. Perhaps you’ve seen them in the meat department of your grocery store but weren’t sure what to do with them. If you like ribs, and being frugal and fabulous, these cuts of pork should be on your radar.

What are riblets and rib tips? This can be confusing because the terms are often used interchangeably. But technically, they’re both scraps left from trimming ribs.

St. Louis-style ribs are trimmed to be straight, flat and rectangular for even cooking and beautiful presentation. Rib tips (aka riblets) are the boneless strip of meaty rib ends or tips that are trimmed off the bottom of the ribs. They taste like pork belly but with cartilage. Sometimes the top of the rib bones (close to the spine) are curved and when those pieces are trimmed, they’re called riblets. Both cuts are delicious, easy to cook and much less expensive than ribs.

Not to be confused, there is another cut called “riblets” that’s made by cutting a rack of St. Louis-style ribs in half, running the length of the ribs to produce two thin slabs. These are often served as appetizers.

Back to the riblets I’m talking about.

You can find riblets precut in the supermarket but there’s an even more economical way to get them. You can purchase a full slab of ribs (less expensive than the St. Louis cut because the butcher didn’t have to trim them) and trim them yourself. You pay less per pound for your ribs and get the riblets as a bonus.

For this recipe I’m using the rib tips. Just like ribs, the best way to cook them is low and slow. It takes time but I find a two-step cooking process yields consistent, melt-in-your-mouth riblets. First, they braise in the oven. This step cooks off a lot of the fat that can easily be discarded. Second, they finish on the grill or under the broiler to caramelize the sauce and make them gloriously sticky.

What goes well with riblets? We like sweet potato fries and coleslaw. But all the usual barbecue accompaniments such as cornbread, baked beans, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, and Hawaiian rolls are wonderful.

When you serve these riblets, people will know they’re delicious, but never guess they’re so inexpensive. Just be sure to have lots of napkins and don’t wear white. Bon appétit.

GLAZED RIBLETS

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 4 hours

What you’ll need:

3½ to 4 pounds riblets

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup water

Dry rub and barbecue sauce (use your favorites or recipes below)

Preheat oven to 250 F. Season riblets with salt and pepper or dry rub of choice. Place in a shallow baking pan (one with sides because they get drippy). Add vinegar and Worcestershire to ¼ cup water and add to pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and braise in the oven for three hours.

After checking for falling-off-the-bone tenderness, remove the riblets to another pan and either broil or barbecue.

To broil, preheat your oven broiler with rack in the upper third of the oven. Baste riblets with barbecue sauce and brown, turning and basting until you’re drooling.

To barbecue, prepare your grill for indirect heat. Place the riblets over indirect heat and baste with sauce. Turn often and repeat until the riblets are sticky, glazed and irresistible.

Easy dry rub: Combine 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon paprika, ½ tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Customize this to your heart’s content.

Easy barbecue sauce: Combine 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard and ½ cup ketchup.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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