Barbecue orthodoxy holds that a rib ain't a rib without eight hours of sweating in a wood-fired smoker. That's hard enough to do in midsummer. Come the cold season, forget it. And if you live in an apartment with no outdoor space, it's never a good time. Or is it? Turns out there's more than one way to render meat so tender it falls off the bone, and Thomas Keller has just the ribs for any season or indoor cookspace. At his latest project, Addendum – a shack behind his family-style Napa Valley restaurant, Ad Hoc – he cooks them sous vide, vacuum-sealed in a 72-hour hot-water bath. But the secret isn't in the machine, says Keller: It's all about the rub, the sauce, and slow cooking you can do in the oven. Like fried chicken, it's simple, and "it takes you right back to your childhood," he says.
For the Rib Rub:
• 2 cups dark brown sugar
• 5 tbsp salt2 tbsp + 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 tbsp cayenne
• 2 tbsp garlic powder
• 2 tbsp + 1 tsp ground allspice
• 2 tbsp chili flakes
• 3 tbsp dark chili powder
Mix ingredients thoroughly by hand.
For the Southern-Style Vinegar-Based Sauce:
• 1 quart cider vinegar
• 1 yellow onion, julienned
• 4 jalapeños, julienned
• 2 tbsp honey
• 1 tbsp brown sugar
• 1 tbsp tomato paste
• 4 tsp salt
• 4 tsp red chili flakes
• 1 tsp black pepper
For maximum flavor, make this sauce 1 to 2 days before use.
For the Ribs
• 6-8 lbs baby back ribs, 3 racks, about 2 lbs each
• Fleur de sel (optional)
• Rib rub
• Southern-Style Vinegar-Based Sauce
One day prior to cooking the ribs, rub them generously with rib rub, stack ribs in a sealed container, and store in the fridge overnight, letting the meat marinate as the rub liquefies.
At least 30 minutes before cooking, remove racks from the refrigerator, and allow them to come to room temperature. While you're waiting, ready the Southern-Style Vinegar-Based Sauce.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place ribs in a pan large enough to lay racks in one layer.
Using a brush, apply sauce generously to ribs. Cover the pan with foil or a lid, and cook for 1 hour.
Remove ribs from oven, uncover, and mop with more sauce. Re-cover, and cook for another hour. Remove foil from pan, apply more sauce, and cook for 30 minutes more, uncovered.
Cook, brushing on more sauce every 10 minutes, until meat pulls away from the bones at the ends.
When finished, remove ribs from oven, and season with fleur de sel. Serve hot.