Diet-conscious Spare Ribs

Even when it’s not barbecue season, you might, like me, find yourself craving ribs now and again. On the face of it, this should be a complete no-no for those conscious of their diet. Pork meat may be relatively low in calories compared to other meats, but ribs have lots of fat (bad) and are usually marinaded, and then eaten, with barbecue sauce (sugar, so arguably worse).

So this is not a recipe that “helps weight loss” as such. Of course it doesn’t. But if, like me, you succumb to temptation, by following this recipe you are at least doing so in the most diet-conscious way possible.

My method eliminates most of the fat, uses no sugar in the marinade, and also ensures that the ribs are super-tender every time. Using a barbecue or grill to “finish” the ribs is optional – this recipe works just fine without, just cooked in the oven.

Whilst you don’t have to marinade the ribs in advance – with this method I actually think it achieves nothing – long slow cooking is essential. That can be done hours or even days in advance, and the cooked ribs chilled or even frozen. You can then finish them on the barbecue, grill or oven in just a few minutes when you’re ready to eat.


  • 1 rack of ribs

Ingredients for diet conscious ribs

For the marinade (quantity for one rack of ribs):

  • 1 dessert spoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 dessertspoon spicy seasoning mix (often sold as barbecue spices, I buy mine in the West Indian section)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika or cayenne pepper


  1. Make the marinade. Simply mix all the ingredients together.
  2. This is the tricky bit. Remove the inner “skin” membrane from the back side of the ribs. I did recently convince a butcher in Spain to do this for me, but if you’re buying from a supermarket you’ll have to do it yourself.

    Removing the membrane from the back side of the rack of ribs


    1. Dry the rack with a kitchen towel
    2. Insert a sharp knife carefully between a rib bone and the membrane at one end of the rack.
    3. Wiggle the knife to separate the membrane so that there’s enough space to get a finger in. Remove the knife (so you don’t cut yourself!).
    4. Grip the membrane (rubber glove might help) and pull down smartly to remove it from the entire rack in one piece.

The reason for doing this is to allow fat to escape – and also so the marinade can flavour the underside of the ribs.

Rack of ribs after removing membrane

Fallback position: If you fail to remove the membrane, or simply give up trying, the alternative is to score deeply through the membrane between each pair of ribs, end to end.

  1. Remove any other significant surface fat or skin that you can from the rack of ribs.
  2. Lay out a piece of aluminium foil on the worktop, about 20cm longer than the rack of ribs.
  3. Lay the rack of ribs on the foil and rub half the marinade into the side facing you, then turn the rack and rub the remainder of the marinade into the other side. Use your fingers!


    Marinaded ribs ready to enclose in foil wrap

  4. After washing your fingers (haha), fold the foil over the ribs and make into a parcel so that the ribs are entirely wrapped. Put the foil parcel into a roasting tin or dish (anything ovenproof that is big enough and that can catch the fat and marinade that will ooze out of the foil wrapping during cooking, as you won’t want to clean that off the oven floor. You can of course cook several racks at the same time, separately wrapped.
  5. Turn on the oven at a very low temperature – 100oC or gas mark ¼ – and cook the ribs for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. If you are in a hurry and going to barbecue them later, you might get away with 2 hours, but I recommend 3.
  6. Remove the ribs from the oven, unwrap the parcels and put the ribs on a rack to drain further. As you’ll see from the residue in the foil, an awful lot of fat (that you might otherwise have eaten) has drained out. If you are not going to eat them today, allow them to cool, then wrap again and refrigerate (up to 3 days) or freeze.
  7. If barbecuing, first grill covered for a short time to get the smoky flavour. Then, or if grilling in a conventional oven, simply grill the rack of ribs for a few minutes to achieve a suitably crusty surface. Alternatively you can achieve almost the same result in the oven, by raising the heat to 220oC/Gas 7 for 10-15 minutes.


  • If you can’t eat them dry, avoid barbecue sauce! Most sauces have sugar and lots of calories. Some vinegar-based spicy sauces such as Nando’s are relatively low in calories.
  • Accompany with a coleslaw of shredded cabbage, carrot, onion and/or any other suitable ingredients you like, mixed with one of my diet-conscious salad dressings.