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Tuscan Grilled Pork Ribs

By Annie Petito Published

With no sauce and minimal seasoning, rosticciana forgoes the hallmarks of American barbecue in favor of one distinct feature: juicy, unadulterated pork.

You probably know ribs as a low‑and-slow affair featuring fall-off-the-bone meat that’s been steeped in smoke and coated with a flavorful rub or sauce. Tuscan grilled pork spareribs, known as rosticciana (“RO-stee-chee-AH-na”), are not those ribs.

Their preparation falls in line with the less-is-more ethos of Tuscan cuisine, where foods are seasoned sparingly to allow their natural flavors to shine. In this case, it’s all about the pork, so the seasonings are restricted to salt, pepper, and maybe a hint of garlic or rosemary. Then the ribs are grilled quickly—typically for only 15 to 30 minutes—over a hot fire until the meat is browned and crisp but still succulent and clinging to the bone with satisfying chew. Eating them with your hands is a truly primal experience.

That said, I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of ribs that weren’t barbecue until I tasted these. The smoky meat was juicy in a way I never knew ribs could be and purely porky without the distraction of smoke and spices. I was hooked.

Spare Me

Spareribs are cut close to the belly of the pig. A full rack contains the brisket bone and surrounding brisket meat and often weighs about 5 pounds. To produce smaller, more rectangular racks, butchers remove the brisket portion; this cut is called St. Louis–style spareribs. Meaty, flavorful, and easy to work with, it has become our go-to cut for most rib recipes.

Stretched across the rack’s underside is a tough, papery membrane that we sometimes leave intact when barbecuing since it softens during the long cooking time. But because these ribs would spend very little time over the fire, I stripped the membranes from two racks before brushing them with oil to jump‑start browning, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and laying them meat side down over a medium-hot fire. Once they started to color, I flipped them every few minutes for the better part of a half-hour until they were deeply browned. The ribs were relatively juicy because they retained much of their natural moisture during the brief cooking process. (Slow-cooked ribs, on the other hand, lose their natural moisture and taste moist only thanks to gelatin.) The surface browning was great, but could I have even more of it?

To prep the ribs for grilling, we remove their tough membranes, brush them with oil, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

I’d come across rosticciana recipes that called for cutting the racks into individual ribs before cooking, which seemed like a good way to expose more meat to the flavor of the grill. When I tried it, each rib became encased in a crisp crust; even better, the individual ribs cooked quickly, cutting the total time spent on the grill to about 20 minutes.

But managing 20-odd pieces over the hot fire was tricky. So instead of cutting the racks into individual ribs, I cut them into two-rib segments. This gave me pieces with plenty of surface area for browning but half as many pieces to shuffle and a thicker pocket of meat between each pair of bones that I hoped would stay juicy. That pocket also provided a place to check the meat’s temperature, which needed to hit 175 to 185 degrees to allow just a little collagen breakdown and leave the ribs with a desirably meaty chew.

To ensure that the ribs would be as juicy as possible, I salted them an hour before cooking. Though not typical for rosticciana, salting altered the meat’s protein structure so that it was better able to retain moisture during cooking—and helped season it, too.

Before grilling, we cut the racks into two-rib segments.
The segments provide plenty of surface area for browning and leave a juicy pocket of meat between the bones.

Ribs That Break the Rules

Rosticciana isn’t like American barbecue. The meat isn’t coated with sauce or rubbed with a heady spice mixture, and instead of being fall-apart tender, it boasts satisfying chew. But this minimalist, meat-centric profile is exactly what defines Tuscan cuisine and what allows the flavor of the juicy, well-browned pork to stand out.

A Light Touch

Well-browned, well-seasoned, pleasantly chewy, and juicy as can be, these ribs were entirely satisfying. They didn’t need any adornment, though I was intrigued by the light-handed finishes I saw in some rosticciana recipes: a sprinkling of chopped garlic and rosemary, a brush with an oil-dipped rosemary sprig, or a squeeze of lemon.

A lemon vinaigrette, seasoned with garlic and rosemary, cuts the richness of the pork.

My take—a vinaigrette that incorporated all three of those elements, which I drizzled over the meat at the table—started with minced garlic and rosemary, which I briefly microwaved in olive oil to temper their harsh raw flavors. Stirring fresh lemon juice into the warm infused oil created a vibrant, savory dressing that cut the pork’s richness.

Take it from me, a skeptic at first: These ribs will be unlike any other you’ve had. In fact, with no barbecue sauce or spice rub, it might be like tasting ribs for the first time.

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Recipe Rosticciana (Tuscan Grilled Pork Ribs)

With no sauce and minimal seasoning, rosticciana forgoes the hallmarks of American barbecue in favor of one distinct feature: juicy, unadulterated pork. 

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.