Lemon-fennel country ribs

When carefully cooked, these super-meaty, inexpensive cuts from the sirloin or rib end of the loin yield great flavor and satisfying richness. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

Every week this cook stands at the meat counter examining packages and pondering. What's affordable? What's easy to cook? What's versatile enough to be served regularly?

Time and again, pork country ribs prove the answer. When carefully cooked, these super-meaty, inexpensive cuts from the sirloin or rib end of the loin yield great flavor and satisfying richness. Unlike cuts from the more expensive, leaner loin, brining to add moisture is unnecessary.

Instead, employing moderate cooking temperatures and indirect heat helps render out excess fat while maintaining juiciness and flavor.

During winter months, we enjoy pork country ribs in the slow cooker with added flavor from broth, barbecue sauce or even salsas. However, during grilling season, our preference leans toward the dry heat of the grill coupled with a bright-tasting homemade dry rub.

Simply put, a dry rub consists of dry seasonings mixed with salt. A coating of the rub on meats and vegetables before cooking gives them flavor and a tasty crust. The best rubs have layers of flavor, such as aromatic dried fennel with fresh lemon rind or sweet paprika with spicy red chilies.

If you prefer, start with a store-bought rub and add a little freshness — in the form of chopped garlic, citrus rind, green chilies.

Apply the rub with your hands right before cooking or up to several hours in advance for more penetration. Store the rubbed meat in a covered container in the refrigerator.

For a refreshing slaw, shred a fresh fennel bulb on a four-sided grater to mix with the cabbage. A shredded apple adds a touch of sweetness.

Cost-cutting tips

1. Check sales and make lists — really. Impulse buying gets us all in trouble.

2. Bone-in meats and poultry generally cost less; be sure to check the price per pound.

3. Cook with plenty of flavor — even if it's just salt and fresh pepper. Properly seasoned food tends to be more satisfying, requiring smaller portions.

4. Share spices. Jumbo bottles at club stores may seem like a bargain but only if the spices get used up when still fresh.

5. Neighbors and friends will thank you if you split those pricey bottles with them.

6. Make side dishes ultra-appealing — meaning less dependence on expensive proteins to fill up the family.

Lemon-fennel country ribs

Prep: 15 minutes
Marinate: 30 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes