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Eat this! Fall-off-the-bone ribs, a polarizing Chicago dish

Trader Todd’s fruit-steamed, fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Trader Todd’s fruit-steamed, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs.

What it is: Fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs, pork ribs cooked with moist heat till the meat slides easily from the bone, tend to be a love-it-or-hate-it dish. Haters complain that the term “barbecue” is mistakenly applied to such ribs, which often don’t see smoke or fire; they deride the texture as “mushy” or “meat Jell-O.” Lovers adore the succulent, fork-tender texture and the rich blanketing of sauce and don’t get hung up on semantics.

Cliff Hagerman

Cliff Hagerman

“Baby back” ribs are cut from the top section of a hog’s rib cage , nearest the backbone. These curved sections have most of their meat on top of the bones, cut from the loin muscle. They’re shorter and leaner than the straighter spare ribs, which is why they’re called “baby” — not because of the age of the pigs.

These ribs tend to hold up better than spare ribs to the braising or steam-roasting process that results in the fall-off-the-bone style.

Where it comes from: Since at least 1932, when Twin Anchors opened in Lincoln Park, fall-off-the-bone, oven-baked baby backs have been an intrinsic part of Chicago’s tavern culture, particularly on the North Side. (A chewier, wood-cooked style of ribs prepared in aquarium smokers prevails in the largely take-out barbecue joints of the South and West sides.)

What to do with it: Fall-off-the-bone ribs are often finished with a quick grilling or broiling to brown the meat and caramelize the sauce. At Trader Todd’s, a Lakeview karaoke bar that bills itself as “an island oasis,” Chef Cliff Hagerman adds a unique touch to fall-off-the-bone ribs by cooking the slabs with oranges and pineapples to imbue them with fruit flavor before slathering in their signature sauce and completing on the grill.

Trader Todd’s fruit-steamed baby back ribs
Chef Cliff Hagerman

6 full slabs baby back ribs, membranes removed
Celery salt to taste
Granulated garlic to taste
Cajun seasoning to taste
1 bunch celery, coarsely chopped
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 oranges, sliced
2 pineapples, peeled, cored and sliced
Barbecue sauce

Rub the ribs with celery salt, granulated garlic and Cajun seasoning. Arrange the ribs in a row, tilted on their side lengthwise, in a deep roasting pan.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Top the ribs with the celery, onions and slices of oranges and pineapples. Fill the pan with 1 inch of water and cover entirely with foil. Place in the oven for 2 hours at 500 degrees.

Just before serving, slather with barbecue sauce and crisp on a grill or under the broiler for a few minutes. 6 to 12 servings.

 
Related: Smoke ’em if you got ’em

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