A barely watched YouTube video uploaded by Tony Roma’s in 2013 revealed the secret to the cooking process for the “world famous” baby back ribs at the chain. In the video, Executive Chef Bob Gallagher demonstrates the secret steaming technique used by Tony Roma’s (and many other restaurants who don’t use a smoker) to give the ribs a smoky flavor and fall-off-the-bone tenderness. In the video, liquid smoke is added to a little water in a pan with the ribs, then the pan is covered and baked in the oven for a couple of hours. The steam from the water makes the ribs tender while the liquid smoke fills the ribs with hickory flavor. After the ribs cool, they are grilled and brushed with sauce several times. It’s a very easy process and a good way to make tender, smoky ribs if you don’t happen to have a smoker.

Chef Gallagher recommends cooking the ribs for 2 hours, but I found that the ribs need more like 3 hours to achieve perfect tenderness and great smoky flavor. While your ribs are baking, you have time to make your choice of the two most popular sauces from the chain in the following recipes (Original and Carolina Honeys), or just use a cup of your favorite bottled barbecue sauce. Try to find baby backs that are on the small side so they better fit into a 11 x 15-inch roasting pan.

2 full racks trimmed pork baby back ribs
4 cups water
1 tablespoon hickory liquid smoke
1 cup barbecue sauce

Cooking method

1-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2-Trim the ribs of any excess fat and meat. The rib meat should be a consistent thickness across the ribs. Also, remove the silver skin from the bone side of the ribs. This is the very thin white opaque connective tissue. Use a sharp knife to nick through the silver skin so that you can grab it. Use a paper towel to hold an edge of the sliver skin and pull it away from the ribs.

3-Add the water to an 11 x 15-inch bake and roast pan along with the liquid smoke. You may need to slice a bone off the end of the ribs so that your racks fit flat into the pan. You can slice the racks in half and overlap them to make them fit. If you are using a 9 x 13-inch pan, you will most definitely have to slice each of the racks in half so that they fit overlapped in the pan. Place the ribs in the pan with the bone sides down and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 3 hours or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Uncover the ribs and remove them from the pan and let them cool for an hour so that they do not fall apart when grilling.

4-Preheat your barbecue grill to medium heat while the ribs are cooling.

5-Place the ribs on the grill with the bone sides facing down. Brush the sauce over the top of the ribs as they cook, completely covering the surface of the ribs with sauce. Cook for about 4 minutes, then flip the ribs over and apply sauce to the bone side. Cook the ribs for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sauce begins to char on the other side. Flip the ribs over and apply sauce again. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, flip the ribs once more, apply sauce, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the ribs one last time and brush the top once again with sauce. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, then serve.

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