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How Do I Choose the Best Pork Rib Marinade?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ribs done right can be the star of any barbeque, but choosing the right pork rib marinade can be a little tricky. The purpose of a good marinade is not only to add flavor but to tenderize. Consequently, choosing the right pork rib marinade is a matter of finding a marinade that has the salty, acidic qualities needed to tenderize the meat while giving the ribs the subtle, sweet and spicy taste that will enhance their flavor.

Whether you are making the marinade yourself or buying one that is prepackaged, it is important to have the right balance of ingredients. Any marinade used should be thin, not thick, because a thicker sauce will not penetrate the meat when used as a marinade. A good pork rib marinade will have an acidic base.

Look for marinades that are made with either a vinegar or citrus base. Keep in mind that, if vinegar is the primary ingredient, the marinade will have a more tart, less sweet flavor. Lemon or orange juices make for a wonderful citrus base because they will give the marinade enough acidity to tenderize the meat while retaining a hint of sweetness. Some marinades are made with alcohol, such as whiskey or tequila, which will also serve to tenderize the meat but can tend to give the ribs a bitter flavor.

If you are brining your ribs, that is, soaking them in salt water prior to grilling, and you still wish to marinate them, pay very close attention to the salt content of your marinade. Brining, by nature, gives your ribs a saltier taste. Consequently, if your marinade has a lot of salt, soy sauce, or even teriyaki sauce in it, you will throw your flavor over the salty edge, and your ribs may wind up tasting like ham. Most bottled marinades contain a hefty dose of sodium, so if you are using a prepared marinade, you should probably skip the brining process altogether.

Aside from a good vinegar or citrus base, the best pork rib marinade should contain a balance of sweetness and spiciness. Even if the marinade has a citrus base that has a naturally sweet undertone, it should also contain at least one or two other sweet ingredients, such as brown sugar or honey. The marinade should also have a balance of spices designed to enhance the sweetness without overpowering it. Look for spices such as dill, ginger, and thyme. If your preference is for spicy and sweet, consider adding a few drops of your favorite Tabasco-style sauce or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

If you are making your own pork rib marinade, you might consider using a sweetened, carbonated beverage as part of your base. The carbonation helps to tenderize the meat, and the sugar or corn syrup gives the ribs a mild, sweet flavor. Cola products work well, but lemon-lime sodas also instill a citrus flavor on top of the sweetness.

Depending upon your preference and tastes, the best marinade for you may be no marinade at all. Sometimes, liquid marinades can overpower the flavor of the ribs themselves, especially if you are using tender baby back ribs. In this instance, you may consider a spice rub to be your best choice. You can apply spice rubs, which you can either make yourself or buy premade, to the meat and allow it to sit overnight, refrigerated, so that the flavor ripens into the meat. The taste is more subtle than with a marinade, although you will not get the tenderizing effect.

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Discussion Comments
By Rundocuri — On Apr 02, 2014

@talentryto- If you like a little tartness mixed with zesty tomato flavor, here is a good tip for a simply pork rib marinade.

Take some ketchup and mix it with water to the desired thickness. Add a few teaspoons of sugar to fit your taste preference, depending on how sweet you like your ribs. Finally, squeeze the juice of a citrus fruit such as a naval orange into the mixture. This is all it takes to make a pork rib marinade with just the right about of spice, flavor, and sweetness.

By Talentryto — On Apr 01, 2014
I like to marinate pork ribs in a very basic liquid to keep them moist without covering up their basic flavor. Vinegar mixed with a little water, sugar, and my favorite spices makes the perfect marinade.

When marinading the ribs, I simply place them in the mixture in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking them. This recipe and process adds just the right amount of flavor and moisture to the pork ribs.

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