Table for One

My Dad Can't Cook to Save His Life—but He Can Cook This

Ki's grilled ribs with salt and pepper are to die for.

by:
June 14, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


"We are HAPPY FAMILY." That's my dad's punchline on the rare occasion that all four of us—he, my mom, my brother, and I—are together in Atlanta. It's always in the car on our way to our favorite sushi restaurant, or to church for Christmas Eve mass. His voice, exaggerated and clown-like, booms from the driver's seat.

We laugh and tell him to cut it out: That voice is ridiculous!

Over the years it's been difficult to align our schedules to exist in the same city and time zone, even during the holidays. My brother lives in Los Angeles, I'm in New York, and my parents are in the South, where they've been since the 1980s.

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Top Comment:
“This was the way my mom always cooked ribs. Of course hers was in the oven, we lived in Idaho and didn’t even own a bbq grill. People always think I’m nuts for wanting “simple” seasoning on my ribs, but they are in my opinion, the best ribs ever! Thanks for adding a professional opinion that agrees with salt and pepper ribs! ”
— Vickie
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But when we're lucky and stars (and flights) do align, we celebrate being under the same roof together by having a big reunion dinner. Even better when the weather's warm and we can eat outside on the patio.

There, my family has a grill. I don't know what kind it is, but it's big and shiny and steel. Ki Kim is great at many things, but the man can't cook to save his life. For some reason, however, he does happen to be an expert griller in the summer. To this day I still think one of his greatest contributions to the world is his signature dish: grilled salt and pepper ribs.

I love a saucy, slow-cooked rack of baby back ribs as much as the next guy, but my dad's grilled ribs are on another level entirely. When they came out of our test kitchen a couple weeks ago, the entire office descended on them like vultures, muttering, mouths half-full, "What's on these?"

I eye-smiled and said, "Salt and pepper."

That's it.


How to Cook Ribs on the Grill

My dad's recipe is simple: Cut a rack into individual ribs, salt and pepper them, then grill on direct heat until just charred and cooked through. An internal temperature of 145°F is what the scientists would say, but Ki the Libra always goes by eye.

I love these grilled ribs because they taste so much more complex than they sound, and take hardly any time at all to cook. There's something about the simple preparation, too, that lets you appreciate the pork's aromatic, gamey flavor (which I'm a huge fan of).

It reminds me of the way Korean BBQ is all about quick, high heat, even with cuts like beef short ribs, which in Western recipes are generally braised low and slow until fall-apart tender. These ribs are almost like mini bone-in pork chops you get to eat with your hands—charred on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, and pleasurable to eat in their own way.

While they're great on their own, these ribs go with:

  1. Cold beer, of course.
  2. Maybe a small dish of sesame oil for dipping.
  3. White rice, the best accompaniment to grilled meat in my book.
  4. Pa muchim, or scallion salad (i.e., julienned green onions dressed with gochugaru, sesame oil, and a little vinegar) for freshness.

How do you cook your ribs on the grill? Tell us your method in the comments below.

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

34 Comments

Cary June 18, 2019
Absolutely delicious! We forgot all about the dipping sauces I had ready, the generous salt and pepper made them fantastic!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
Ha! I love that. Thanks, Cary.
 
Marsha S. June 19, 2019
Can anyone tell me what temp do cook these baby back ribs... in the oven, nobody mentioned the oven temp in all the comments I read. I'd appreciate it very much!
 
Jaye B. June 18, 2019
This reminded me of the *first* recipe I ever asked for. I grew up in a family where BBQ ribs were treated like a religious practice - secret sauces, cracking the code of other secret sauces, secret basting liquids, grilling them low & slow, etc., etc. When I was in 7th grade I was hanging out at a friend's house and was invited to stay for dinner. The Mom pulled a pan of ribs out of the oven (!), no sauce in sight!! They were crispy & slightly charred on the outside and chewy-tender underneath. All the Mom did was brush on some oil and sprinkle with S&P, into a very hot oven, then half-way through she would cut the ribs apart and cook a little longer, dashing them under the broiler if needed. This was when I discovered I did not need sauce (or even a grill) for the best ribs ever. I know your Dad's ribs would make me swoon!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
Jaye, I love that you grew up with something similar! I'd always wondered if others have had them like this.
 
Jaye B. June 18, 2019
Except when I told my mom and other extended family members about this method, they were mortified. Coming from a kid, I wasn't considered a reliable source. Thereafter, the best I could do was have my portion of the ribs remain untouched by any sauce or rub. :D :D
 
Maryanne June 16, 2019
Oh my gosh! I read the recipe yesterday, made it today for lunch and we all loved it!!! I served Carolina BBQ sauce on the side as well sweet hot chili sauce on the side too. Cilantro lime rice and an oil and vinegar slaw completed this great Fathers day lunch!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
Maryanne, that makes me so happy. Thanks for sharing.
 
Vickie June 16, 2019
This was the way my mom always cooked ribs. Of course hers was in the oven, we lived in Idaho and didn’t even own a bbq grill. People always think I’m nuts for wanting “simple” seasoning on my ribs, but they are in my opinion, the best ribs ever! Thanks for adding a professional opinion that agrees with salt and pepper ribs!
 
Jaye B. June 18, 2019
I agree!!! Would love to know how you make "oven" ribs!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
I bet these would taste fab in the oven. Glad I'm not alone in the salt and pepper rib club. :)
 
Diane June 16, 2019
I always do mine low and slow (no sauce, just some soy and ginger marinade). But this sounds amazing -- not to mention faster. I'm going to make some this week for certain. Thanks for sharing.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
Soy and ginger sounds great, too!
 
Martha D. June 15, 2019
Too late today, Monday I will head to my wonderful butcher shop for ribs. I grew up in the south, Arkansas/Louisiana/Texas. Always sauce, maybe dry rub. S&P only!?! This is a new concept. I have followed Eric long enough to trust him.😉
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
Aw, thank you so much Martha. Hope you like them!
 
Devin P. June 14, 2019
Sorry but no. 145F is too low, you won't render the fat. Your better bet if you can't smoke them is to setup indirect heat of 225, full rack not cut and when the meat pulls back about half an inch off the bone they are done. Spritz with apple cider vinegar every so often. You can wrap them in foil with some acv after 4 hours if you want to make sure they don't dry out and cook for 2 more hours.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
Nope, these aren’t “those” kinds of ribs. Just try it, friend. They’re not fall-off-the-bone; they’re more Korean-style, high heat, like a well cooked bone-in pork chop.
 
Maryanne June 16, 2019
I think you misunderstood. The internal temp should be 145. The fat was rendered and made beautifully charred ribs still tender and relish. 2 racks took less than 30 minutes.
 
Devin P. June 17, 2019
Pork fat doesn't render until an internal temp of over 180 and the collagen doesn't render until around 200.
 
Cary June 18, 2019
Mine must have come from a magic pig then, cause at 150 they were perfect!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
So glad you enjoyed them, Maryanne and Cary! Thanks for reporting back.
 
Shane L. June 14, 2019
P.S. I’ll be wearing my new Food52 apron while cooking up these ribs :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 18, 2019
:)
 
Shane L. June 14, 2019
OMG Eric!
This is perfect. I lost my dad almost three years ago, and this recipe will be my jam, come Sunday. I’m going to fire up the grill, and pay homage to my lost, but not forgotten pops. Sipping a cold one (or four), while cooking up this feast, will please me immensely!

Thank you :)
-Shane
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
I’ve always felt that one of the best ways to honor a loved one is to feed yourself, your stomach and your soul, as a sign of respect to the gift of living. I’m sorry for your loss, Shane, but I’m glad that you’ll be taking care of yourself on Sunday. Yours, E
 
Shadi H. June 14, 2019
Love this Eric, how beautiful! My dad can't cook to save his life, but the man makes killer French fries! Oh how magic dads are...
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
How does he make them??
 
boulangere June 14, 2019
So it sounds like can cook to save his life, and to make his family very happy.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
Very.
 
Gardener June 14, 2019
You sure do know how to sell a recipe!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
Try it and let me know what you think!
 
Gardener July 7, 2019
Made them tonight: The praise is well-deserved. This is a wonderful technique for grilling ribs to tasty, crispy, satisfying perfection. The whole family loved them, even my husband who was skeptical (he of the low-and-slow for hours bent). Thank you Eric and even bigger thanks to your dad.
 
Hannah C. June 14, 2019
my husband is gonna love this.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 14, 2019
Enjoy!