Pork spareribs are baked with a simple spice rub, then quickly grilled, basted with a mix of hoisin sauce, sherry, soy sauce, chili paste, vinegar and peach preserves. Recipe below.
For carnivores, barbecued ribs are about as good as it gets. Meaty, fatty, smoky, chewy, salty and slathered in sauce that’s a mix of tangy, sweet and spicy cooked to a sticky, finger-coating lacquer. Unfortunately—for me, at least—they’re also a challenge to cook.
Classic barbecue (as opposed to grilling) calls for low, slow cooking over indirect heat—preferably in a wood-fired converted 55-gallon drum. I don’t have the equipment or the skills for this, nor the desire, patience or yard space to acquire them.
So when I saw the cover story of Bon Appétit’s July issue, promising amazing ribs “SIMPLER AND FASTER THAN YOU’VE EVER MADE,” I was equal parts skeptical and curious. When I read the recipe, I knew I had to try the technique.
The basic method—baking the ribs to tender doneness in the oven, then finishing them on the grill for smokiness—is not a new one. But as with so many lessons in life, you have to be ready to hear it. I was ready.
In the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen version, the ribs are seasoned with salt, pepper, dry mustard, paprika and cayenne pepper, then baked, wrapped tightly in foil. They’re then quickly grilled, using “store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce.” You can find the complete original recipe here.
For my take on the technique, I decided to try Asian flavors. I seasoned the ribs with a mix of salt, pepper, Chinese five-spice powder and a little cayenne pepper for some heat. Then I grilled them, basting with a mix that included hoisin sauce, sherry, chili paste, rice vinegar and peach preserves.
If you search Chinese barbecued pork or other such terms, you’ll come up with countless iterations of the Chinatown classic, char siu—a disturbing number of them including red food coloring. This is not that dish. This is me looking at many recipes, discussing some of the most promising with Marion and mashing together my own take.
In devising this recipe, I was mindful of the Corn-free Challenge piece Marion was working on for this week. I specifically chose ingredients that did not contain corn. No ketchup, for instance (not that ketchup is an especially authentic Chinese ingredient, but it was in many recipes I saw). No iodized salt. Yes, the pig probably ate corn, and there was probably ethanol in some of the fuel that transported everything. But I’m invoking a six degrees of separation rule here; the ingredient itself cannot contain corn products. Hey. I just worked a Kevin Bacon reference into a post about a pork recipe. Unintentional, but amusing.
And how were the ribs? They were indeed amazing, if I say so myself.
Baked and Grilled Chinese Spareribs
Serves 2 to 3
For the ribs:
2-1/2 pounds pork spare ribs (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the sauce:
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (see Kitchen Notes)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry wine
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 generous tablespoon peach preserves (or other preserves—see Kitchen Notes)
Special equipment: Extra wide aluminum foil
Bake the ribs. Preheat the oven to 325ºF with rack in middle position. If the ribs are in a single slab, cut into two pieces. This will make them easier to fit in the oven and handle on the grill. Arrange each piece on a double thickness of aluminum foil, meaty side up. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, Chinese five-spice powder and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle over the ribs slabs and rub into the meat. Wrap each slab tightly in foil and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.
Transfer to oven and bake ribs until tender, but not falling apart, about 2 hours. Remove from oven and carefully open foil. Drain liquid, if any, into a measuring cup and reserve (see Kitchen Notes). Gently rewrap in foil and refrigerate at least a couple of hours and up to 3 days; according to Bon Appétit, the flavors will develop more, and the cold ribs will hold together better on the grill.
Make the barbecue sauce. Combine all ingredients except the preserves in a medium bowl and stir to combine. If the preserves are chunky, mash them with a fork in a small bowl before adding to the sauce mixture. You should have almost a cup of sauce. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, but make sure it continues to bubble. Cook sauce down slightly so that it thickens a bit, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Grill the ribs. Prepare your grill with hot and cool zones. For my charcoal grill, when the coals were hot, I concentrated them mainly in the middle of the grill; for a gas grill, you could light one side. You’re not really going for direct and indirect grilling here, but kind of cooking on the edges of the heat.
Oil the grill rack. Slather the meaty sides of the ribs with barbecue sauce and grill face down for about 3 minutes, covering the grill. Brush sauce on the bony sides of the ribs and flip. Cover grill and cook for about 2 minutes. Uncover grill and continue cooking, turning ribs frequently and basting with sauce, keeping them at the edges of the heat. Cook until ribs are heated through and sauce is lacquered and charred in spots. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let ribs rest for 5 minutes before slicing between bones. Transfer to a platter and serve.
Ribs. Spareribs, St. Louis-style spareribs and baby back ribs all work. Look for thick, meaty ribs with a reasonable amount of fat. I mentioned in the recipe that you should reserve liquids, if any, from the baked ribs. It can be added to the barbecue sauce. My ribs produced none; I was worried that they would be too dry when grilled. Mostly, they were nice and juicy, but the thinner end of the rack was indeed dried and even crispy in spots. That was okay too—Marion said it was like candy. But the meatier (and fattier) your ribs are, the juicier they’ll be when cooked.
Hoisin sauce (and other Chinese ingredients). Hoisin sauce is a glaze and sauce used widely in Chinese cooking. The soy-based sauce can be found in Asian markets as well as many supermarkets. Chili paste is another condiment used in many Asian cuisines. You can find it with and without garlic in the name; either is fine. Besides delivering a lively pepper flavor, it can pack substantial heat. Mix this into your barbecue sauce as one of the last ingredients, a teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go. If 2 teaspoons isn’t hot enough for you, add more. For these ribs, I only wanted a subtle kick, not big heat, so 2 teaspoons was perfect. Chili paste can also be found in Asian markets and many supermarkets.
Peach preserves? Really? Yes. Or apricot. Most barbecue sauces, Chinese or otherwise, call for sweetness. Some use honey, some sugar or brown sugar. I went with the peach preserves because we had them on hand and I like them. You won’t taste any peach in the ribs; they just add to the sweetness—and the stickiness. The rice vinegar helps balance the sweetness; sampling the sauce as I mixed it in, I could taste it come alive when everything was in balance.