Harissa Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

Folks don’t seem to make a lot of ribs at home, maybe on the grill in the summer? Most common, I suspect, is BBQ style on the grill, and they are a great addition to a slow cooked Sunday gravy. These Harrisa Rubbed Baby Back Ribs are moist and flavorful and don’t need a grill — great for your next gathering this fall and on into winter.

Harissa Rubbed Ribs

At Cleonice, “Rub the Ribs, Rub the Ribs” was a frequent chant in the preproom. Always selling fast, the Tapas chef would be preparing the next batch as soon  as the first ribs were cut for service. Even though this could have been one of those repetitive tasks that haunt a cook’s dreams, each chef took pride in their ribs because they showed the love. Jeremy swore a deep massage of the rub into the ribs was critical. Others would allow time to help the pork soak up the spices. Harley created his own delicious rub blend with Italian Sweet Sausage flavors, but this will post will tell you about the original, the Harissa Rubbed Ribs.

Harissa Rubbed Rib Rub ingredients

Harissa is a North African pepper and spice blend. You can buy it as a paste, where the pepper blend is pounded with garlic and blended with lemon juice and oil. For our ribs at Cleonice, we used a dry spice blend from Oriental Pastry and Grocery, but recently we’ve found Gryffon Ridge spices in Maine who offer a lovely dry harissa blend as well as a number of other great blends and rare spices. A good dry harissa blend has a number of different peppers, from medium hot to hot, cumin, caraway, and coriander.

The rib rub is usually one-to-one-to-one, with equal parts harissa, brown sugar, and kosher salt. But Gryffon Ridge is already salted, so we’ve halved the salt in the rub.

Harissa Rub

Blend your three rib rub ingredients until thoroughly combined. Smashing the brown sugar to evenly distribute the ingredients.

Baby Back Ribs

We found some nice meaty ribs at Goose River Farm in Belfast. Bob at Sunset Acres provided us with ribs for Cleonice and distributes to John Edwards in Ellsworth as well as many other area markets. Both distribute for other local farmers making it more convenient to find the cut you need for a recipe, but if you know your local pig farmer…

Find a roasting pan that fits your rib rack. At the restaurant we used a hotel pan (this is a standard restaurant item, the one that fits in the chafing dish on the banquet line).


Here are two racks that we prepared for a party last spring in a hotel pan. Start on the rib side rubbing the spices into the ribs.

Harissa Rubbed Baby Back Ribs

Thoroughly cover the entire rack, rubbing the spices into the flesh. You don’t need to do a deep massage unless you are rushing the ribs. Given time, the salt and sugar will help the spices infuse the meat with flavor while tenderizing the pork.

Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate for as little as two hours and up to overnight.

Add water to the Harissa Rubbed Ribs

When you’re ready to roast your ribs, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Keeping the tinfoil intact, add enough water to your pan to come up to about a half-inch up the sides of the pan.

Recover the pan and slow roast for an hour and a half.

Harissa Rubbed Ribs after an hour and a half

At this point, the ribs are still a little tight when pressed with a finger. We’ll take the foil off now to give us a caramelized top. Return the ribs to the oven for a half hour.

Testing Harissa Rubbed Ribs for doneness

Ready to take out of the oven, we’re testing by piercing them with a fork and twisting. The meat easily yields to the fork.

Now’s the hard part. You’ve got to wait to eat your ribs. Resting meat is always critical, but even more so with ribs. You’ve got to give them a chance to come into their own before cutting and eating. At least 20 minutes.

Harissa Rubbed Ribs fresh from the oven

These are cut warm after a 20 minute rest, ready to go if you want to eat them now. But if you’re preparing for a party you can go ahead and let the ribs cool all the way and reheat for your party.

Harissa Rubbed Ribs When you cut them after fully cooling, you’ll get a nice clean cut like this.

Harissa Rubbed Ribs cut from bottom side

It’s easiest to cut the ribs from the underside, where you can see the bones clearly.

If you do cook the ribs earlier, planning to reheat for a party, warm them slowly in a 300 degree oven with a little water, wrapped in foil to keep them moist.


Thanks to you, blog readers, I am having my Harissa Rubbed Baby Back Ribs with Spiced Yogurt Dipping Sauce and an avocado cucumber salad for lunch today!

Harissa Rubbed Baby Back Ribs
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Serves: 4
  • 1 rack of Baby Back Ribs, about 2½ pounds
  • ¼ cup Harissa Spice Blend Dry
  • ¼ cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 TB salt
  • water
  1. Mix Harissa, Brown Sugar, and salt together thoroughly.
  2. Rub into the rack of ribs, starting on the rib side, covering the whole surface of the rack.
  3. Allow to rest for 20 min or up to overnight.
  4. After resting period, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Place ribs in a roasting pan and pour in water to come up to about a half inch on the sides of the pan. Do not pour the water over the ribs.
  6. Wrap the top of the pan with aluminum foil and roast for an hour and a half.
  7. Remove the foil and roast for another half hour.
  8. Test the ribs by putting a fork in the meat and twisting, if meat is tender enough to twist, the ribs are done.
  9. Allow the ribs to rest 20 minutes before cutting.
  10. Cooled ribs may be reheated later in a 300 degree oven, covered, with a little water in the bottom of the pan.
  11. Serve with Spiced Yogurt Dip: http://bdn.to/wco0


Cary Hanson

About Cary Hanson

My husband and I didn't have children, we had a restaurant. For twelve and a half years we poured body and soul into Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro. We worked closely with local farmers, fishermen, and food artisans, doing our best to support our local community. We made great friends, beautiful food, and had a lot of fun. As Rich and I rediscover ourselves as our own beings outside of the all-consuming restaurant we have time to share our recipes and reminisce about Cleonice.