Is there any way to use up spare rib trimmings after you’ve prepared the rack for the grill? After all, you’ve worked hard to get the rack presentation-ready, and it looks like there’s some usable meat left. Let’s talk about how you might capitalize on that.
What To Do With Spare Rib Trimmings
You can use the skirt meat and rib tips from the spare rib rack to create a number of complementary dishes, from chili and stew to homemade sausage and meatballs. There should be a bit of fat left over as well, which you can either use to liven up the dishes you create or to season the pots and pans afterward.
About Trimmed Spare Ribs
Spare ribs are cut from the lower portion of the animal’s ribcage. Since the meat comes from the belly region, it’s fatty and rich, with a flavor that’s reminiscent of bacon.
When you trim the rib tips and cartilage off a rack of spare ribs, it transforms into a rack of St. Louis-style ribs. Pitmasters on the competition circuit will often take this step to ensure even browning and an impressive presentation.
It can be difficult to find trimmed St. Louis-style ribs at the local supermarket. While you can ask the butcher to trim them for you, trimming them yourself will allow you to make the most of that leftover meat.
How To Trim Spare Ribs
It’s not difficult to trim a rack of spare ribs into a pretty St. Louis-style rack, but it does require patience, as well as attention to detail.
To begin, you’ll need a long, sharp knife. It’s best to select a knife that you’ve already used for similar purposes. That way, you know it will be able to handle the sinew and cartilage. For good measure, sharpen it again before you start.
Place the rack of spare ribs on a large, clean cutting board with the bone side facing down. You’ll notice that one end of the rack is narrow and somewhat pointy. Your first step is to cut this away, giving the rack a roughly rectangular shape.
Turn the rack over so that the bone side faces up. There should be a flap of meat located around the middle of the rack. This is called the skirt. While your next step is to remove this piece, make sure to save it. Later on, we’ll let you know how to prepare it.
Trim away any large pieces of fat and gristle to give the rack an even rectangular appearance. If you want to save the fat for another use, keep it separate from the skirt meat.
Use your fingers or a dull knife to remove the membrane. When left in place during cooking, this layer of fat will toughen up, making the ribs hard to chew. Once you’ve removed the membrane, feel free to discard it.
Finally, locate the area where the sternum meets the ribs. You’ll want to cut along the divide between the main rack and the sternum, thereby removing the rib tips. As with the skirt meat, you can save this portion for another use.
What To Do With Spare Rib Trimmings
If you’ve followed our advice, the only scraps you threw away were the obvious bits of cartilage and the membrane. That should give you a bit of leftover pork fat, as well as the skirt and the rib tips.
All of these trimmings have qualities that make them worth saving. However, each will require a different sort of treatment if you want to make those qualities stand out. Here’s what to do with spare rib trimmings once you’ve separated them.
The skirt is also called the flap meat. Some chefs don’t believe that this portion is worth the bother, as the meat can be very tough when it’s overcooked. If you treat it properly, however, skirt meat is perfectly edible—delicious, in fact.
One option might be to slice the skirt into thin strips, then marinate it briefly in a mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Use the meat to make a stir-fry with mixed vegetables and water chestnuts, then serve over steamed rice.
If you have a meat grinder, you can also use this portion to make homemade sausage or pork meatballs. Cut the meat into small pieces, season if desired, and feed it through the grinder until it achieves the right consistency.
It’s also possible to simmer the skirt over low heat until the meat is tender. Take care not to overcook it. 145 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for this cut. Try adding some sauerkraut to the pot for the last 10 minutes or so.
First and foremost: Don’t make the mistake of using rib tips in a recipe that’s designed for pork skirt. They both might qualify as spare rib trimmings, but they can’t be used interchangeably.
That’s because the rib tips have a great deal of cartilage in them. While they’re equally tasty when they’re done right, they benefit from different cooking applications—such as the ones outlined below.
You can smoke the rib tips, giving them a similar treatment to the rib rack itself. It’s even possible to smoke them both at the same time, although the tips will cook through more quickly.
Rib tips should smoke for about 3 hours at 225 degrees. They should reach an internal temp of 175 to 180 before you take them off the smoker. At this point, the meat will be tender and juicy.
We like to toss the smoked rib tips in barbecue sauce, then let them sit for about 5 minutes before serving. This makes an excellent snack while you’re waiting for the rib rack to finish cooking.
As an alternative, you can shred the rib tip meat and use it as a topping for pizza or nachos. You might also tuck the shredded meat inside tacos or sandwiches, add chunks of it to a soup or stew, or use it as a base for chili.
Pork Fat Trimmings
What can you do with the pieces of fat you’ve trimmed from the rib rack? You might be surprised at how versatile these scraps can be, especially if you’ve never worked with pork fat trimmings before.
First of all, know that you might not end up with all that much usable fat. The options we’re discussing will be more successful if you’re using pure fat, with no cartilage or meat mixed in. Use your judgement regarding whether you have enough fat to work with.
One option would be to melt some of the pork fat in a pan before making a chili, casserole, or pot of beans. The fat contributes a rich, savory quality to slow-cooked dishes, making it an excellent substitute for butter or olive oil.
If you’ve opted to grind the skirt meat, try adding a few cubes of fat to the grinder as well. This is an especially good idea if you’re making sausage. The added fat will keep the ground pork from drying out as it cooks.
Pieces of pork fat can also be used to season cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens. It might sound strange, but the rendered fat will prolong the life of your cast iron, keeping it supple and ready for its next use.
How To Store Spare Rib Trimmings
If you don’t have any immediate plans for the trimmings, make sure to store them properly in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Depending on how long that will be, you might have to freeze the trimmings instead.
The skirt meat and rib tips should keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Keep them tightly wrapped, and store them toward the back of the fridge on the lower shelf. This will protect them from the warm air that can seep in every time the fridge is opened.
Speaking of warm air, 28 to 32 degrees is the ideal refrigerator temperature for meat storage. If it gets any warmer, it will stray too close to the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees.
For longer storage periods, you’ll need to freeze the meat. If you want to freeze both the rib tips and the skirt meat, be sure to put them in separate labeled containers to avoid confusion.
Our preferred method is to seal the meat tightly in zip-top bags, taking care to squeeze as much air out of the bags as possible. Label the packages with the date and the contents, then put them in a freezer that’s set to 0 degrees.
Kept in this manner, the skirt meat should retain its best qualities for up to 12 months. The tips, on the other hand, should be thawed and cooked off within 4 to 6 months.
If you’ve used the pork fat trimmings to make homemade lard, it should keep for up to a year in the fridge. Otherwise, try to use the fat within 3 to 4 days. Freezing the fat is another option, but you should thaw and use it within 6 months in this case.
The Bottom Line
When you opt to trim spare ribs yourself, you should wind up with a decent supply of rib tips and skirt meat, plus a bit of fat. Once you’ve learned how to prepare these trimmings, you may never ask a butcher to trim a rack of ribs again.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!