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Pickled Rib Tips: What They Are And How To Make Them

“Pickle meat,” or pickled pork, is a delicacy that’s not widely known outside of the American South. For Louisiana chefs, however, it’s more than just a kitchen staple—it’s a rite of passage. Here’s everything you need to know about pickled rib tips.

Pickled Rib Tips

Rib tips can be pickled in a solution of water, salt, and other spices. A hot sauce, such as Tabasco, is often used to provide a touch of heat as well as color. These are typically added to bean dishes, but you can enjoy them in a number of ways.

About Pickling

The term pickling refers to submerging food products in a brine solution or vinegar. While the results are often delicious, the practice was invented as a means of preservation, not flavor.

Before refrigerators were invented, pickling was the best way to keep food from spoiling. Foods with a high water content, such as beef and pork, could be preserved using salt alone, with no water added. Each culture adopted its own practices, but the basic principle remained the same.

Salt and vinegar aren’t the only ingredients used in pickling. Mustard seed, cloves, and garlic are all popular options. In addition to providing flavor, these can aid in the preservation process.

Pickled Rib Tips: A History

When French settlers were forced out of the area now known as Nova Scotia, they made their way south to Louisiana. There, they encountered plenty of wild boar, which allowed them to keep pork as a dietary staple.

However, the spices in the south were different from what the settlers were used to. This meant that they would need to create new recipes in order to make the most of the available flavor profiles.

In the interest of using as much of the pig as possible, these Acadians—who would reinvent themselves as Cajuns—preserved some of the meat by rubbing it with a mixture of salt and other seasonings. Cloves, allspice, onions, and bay leaves were standard.

What Is Pickled Pork Used For?

As we mentioned, pickled pork is still a staple in Louisiana kitchens. The brine solution tenderizes the meat and imbues it with a hearty dose of flavor, which makes it a welcome addition to other dishes.

Pickled pork works well when it lends its flavors to simmered beans, sauteed greens, or smothered vegetables. Because it already contains plenty of salt flavor from the brine, there’s often no need to add any more seasonings to these dishes.

You can purchase pre-made pickled pork from online retailers. Some of these purveyors will use pork butt instead of rib tips, but the flavor and texture should be about the same.

For those of you who can’t find pickled pork, or who just prefer to create their ingredients from scratch whenever possible, we’ve included a recipe below.

About Rib Tips

Rib tips are cut from the underside of the spare rib rack. As such, they contain a fair amount of cartilage. Because they’re boneless, they’re easy to deal with, making them an appealing option for amateurs who are daunted at the prospect of smoking a whole rack.

You’ll still need to cook rib tips for a long time in order to achieve the right texture. That’s why they’re such a great choice for the smoker.

When done correctly, rib tips make an ideal appetizer. Best of all, they’re usually set at an attractive price point, so you can experiment with them as often as you’d like.

Are Pork Riblets and Rib Tips The Same Thing?

Some people use these terms interchangeably, believing them to refer to the same type of “scrap” pork. In truth, they come from different parts of the rib rack.

As you may know, St. Louis-style ribs are simply spare ribs that have been trimmed to give them a more uniform shape. The meaty ends, or tips, are left behind in this process. Those are the rib tips that we know and love.

Riblets, by contrast, are produced when the butcher trims off the round ends of the rib bones. The distinction is a minor one, however. In most recipes, you can substitute riblets for rib tips, and vice versa.

Pickled Rib Tip Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds rib tips, cut into 2-inch cubes

For The Brine:

  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cloves raw garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 10 whole black peppercorns

Directions

1. Combine all the brine ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it continue to boil for 3 full minutes.

3. Allow the brine mixture to cool before adding it to a container made of glass, stainless steel, or plastic. If you use plastic, make sure the brine is cool enough not to damage the material.

4. Add the pork and stir several times, pushing the rib tips down so that they’re fully submerged in the liquid.

5. Cover the container. Refrigerate for at least 3 days.

6. Drain and rinse the rib tips, then drain again thoroughly to remove any trace of the brine mixture. Remember—at this point, the seasonings have had a chance to penetrate the meat, so rinsing won’t affect the flavor.

7. At this point, the rib tips are ready to be used in the recipe of your choosing. You can add them to a pot of beans and rice, put them on the smoker (see section below), or divide them into portions for freezing.

How Long Will Pickled Rib Tips Last In The Fridge?

The pork should keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Once the rib tips are cooked, you should consume them within 3 to 4 days.

If you think it will be a long time before you get a chance to cook the rib tips, consider freezing them instead. Like most meat products, they should keep in the freezer for 6 months to a year.

Smoked Rib Tips

To smoke the prepared rib tips, set the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a charcoal grill, set it up for two-zone cooking by keeping one side of the grate free of coals. You can achieve the same effect with a gas grill by lighting only one side.

When the unit has reached the optimum temperature, add the rib tips, setting them as far away from the heat source as you can. Close the lid and let the rib tips smoke for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is probe-tender.

Remove the rib tips from the heat. Smother with barbecue sauce, if desired, and serve hot.

Tip: To make the process go more quickly, wrap the rib tips in aluminum foil after they’ve been on the smoker for about 1 hour. They should only need to cook for about 45 minutes more. Remove the foil for the last 10-15 minutes to allow them to crisp up.

The Bottom Line

While you might be able to find pickled pork at the supermarket or through an online retailer, it’s instructive and entertaining to make them yourself. Once you have a supply on hand, you can use them to enhance a number of authentic Southern recipes.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!