There’s something about the flavor of charred meat that makes our primal instincts kick in. Fire and meat equals wonderful flavors. With summer cooking and grilling ahead, certain dishes capture the essence and enjoyment of summer. Baby back ribs, coated with a caramelized Chinese-inspired barbecue sauce, is one of them. Best served with plenty of napkins.
Adapting Mom’s Recipe
With smoky flavor and a finger-licking barbecue sauce, pork ribs are irresistible. By adapting my mom’s recipe, starting ribs in the oven and finishing them on the grill, you can have delicious, easy to prepare baby back ribs in under an hour and a half.
For folks in some parts of the country barbecue is practically a religion. Doing ribs anyway but “low and slow” on a smoker would be unthinkable. I don’t have a smoker (yet) in my backyard to do the traditional slow-cooked style and not often the hours it may take, but my adapted recipe tastes terrific in a relatively short timeframe. No matter if you have a big oven and grill or a small oven and grill on an apartment balcony, you can make tasty ribs.
Citrus, Lemon, Onion and Spices
My mom started her pork spareribs in an electric skillet. She covered them with thinly sliced onion and lemon and finished them on the grill. For my version, I prefer leaner, baby back ribs and season them with kosher salt, smoked black pepper and granulated garlic. I top the ribs with orange, lemon and onion slices and squeeze on some extra orange juice.
Wrap and Bake
Wrapped in a heavy foil packet and placed on a sheet tray, the ribs bake for about an hour. They come out tender and juicy, ready to be finished on the grill, slathered in barbecue sauce.
As a note, when you unwrap the ribs from the foil there will be delicious juices accumulated. Pour them into a cup and save them in case you need to thin the barbecue sauce.
Chinese-Style Barbecue Sauce
My sauce recipe for ribs is based on Chinese Hoisin sauce. I add orange juice, garlic, ginger, smoked spices, espresso powder and spirits – either dark rum, Bourbon or whiskey. This is a good time to order the smoked spices I’ve mentioned in previous posts, as they add to the smoky flavor. If you don’t have the smoked spices, make the ribs anyway with the regular version of the spices. You can order smoked spices from the Chefs Warehouse and from Savory Spice Shop.
After baking in the oven, finish your ribs on a hot grill over low heat for about 20-25 minutes. Turn your rib racks about every 5-7 minutes, brushing with barbecue sauce. You want a good coating of sauce to caramelize on the ribs. Remove from the grill, slice and enjoy.
How Much to Buy
On quantity, I buy ¾ to 1 pound per person of baby back ribs. It will depend on the size of the appetite and what you are serving along side. Anyway, just enjoy. And be sure to offer plenty of napkins. These really are finger-licking good.
Oven Baby Back Ribs with Hoisin-Bourbon Sauce
- 4 pounds of baby back ribs about 2 kilos, tendon on the rib underside, trimmed of any silverskin
- Granulated garlic as needed
- Smoked black pepper or regular black pepper, as needed
- Sea salt as needed
- 2 small onions sliced thin
- 1-2 large oranges sliced thin
- 1-2 lemons sliced thin
- For the Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
- 1 cup prepared Hoisin sauce 240ml, preferably organic like Whole Foods 365
- 3/4 cup orange juice 180ml, fresh squeezed
- 2 large garlic cloves finely minced or pressed
- 2 generous teaspoons ginger puree or finely zested fresh ginger root 18 grams, the organic jar stuff
- 1 generous teaspoon espresso powder 2 grams, or use 1 tablespoon reduced, really strong coffee
- 1/2 cup spirits – bourbon 120ml, whiskey, dark rum, or cognac
- 1/3 cup ketchup 80ml, organic
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika 8 grams, or regular paprika
- ½ teaspoon smoked black pepper 4 grams, or regular black pepper
- Remove baby back ribs from the refrigerator about 45 minute ahead of baking time come to room temperature (really just getting the chill off). If not already done, remove the silverskin (tendon) from the underside of the rib rack tearing it off with a table knife. Pre–heat oven to 350 degrees (177C).
- Make the barbecue sauce. Combine Hoisin, orange juice, garlic, ginger, espresso, spirits, ketchup and spices in a small saucepan. Simmer on low heat until combined and a bit reduced, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- On a half-sheet (13” x 18”) size rimmed baking sheet, place a large piece of heavy duty foil. Place rib racks in a single layer. Two racks will fit on one half sheet baking pan. Sprinkle ribs liberally with salt, pepper and garlic. Then top ribs with the onion, lemon and orange slices. Squeeze any extra orange pieces over the ribs. With more heavy-duty foil, enclose the ribs in a foil packet.
- Place the ribs in a 350 degree (177C) oven for about 50-60 minutes. When ribs are done, open the foil packet carefully, releasing the steam away from you. Drain the juices into a container and reserve if needed to thin sauce.
- Brush ribs with sauce on the top side (rounded side). Place ribs on a hot grill turned down to low and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes. Turn the racks and brush again with sauce. Continue at 5-7 minute interval until the ribs are thickly coated with caramelized sauce, about 20-25 minutes in total.
- Remove ribs from the grill, slice between the bones, serve with extra sauce on the side.
- Note on Hoisin Sauce – it’s worth seeking out an organic brand of Hoisin Sauce, like from Whole Foods and their 365 brand. The standard stuff in the Asian aisle has carmel coloring as well as food dye red 40, along with other ingredients which are best avoided.