Sticky Spicy Ribs are packed with flavor and fall-off-the-bone tender. Put down your shame and pick up your wet naps – this is gonna get delicious.With the arrival of Memorial Day, summer can officially begin. I don’t care what the actual start of summer is, I will always think of it as the time bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day. And since it’s summer, it can mean only one thing: grilled meat. Now some poor souls are under the impression that you need to have nice weather to grill. Poppycock. I grew up grilling year round. And we had to take our woolly mammoth through the snow to get a fresh tank of propane, uphill both ways, and we liked it! But since it’s summer, I can make peace with my fellow grill masters, and share this delicious sticky spicy rib recipe.
One thing I learned very quickly in Texas was the difference between grilling and barbecuing. I had used the terms interchangeable before, but when I spoke of this to my college friends, the Texas natives quickly cornered me into explaining that I was cooking for relatively short duration over relatively high heat, and thus was grilling. As a non-native, they excused my confusion. Once. I learned that BBQ was a combination of cooking over hours of low temperature smoke, secret family rubs and sauces, and probably a few demonic incantations to achieve the sublime majesty of great BBQ. Oh, and if ask me, brisket beats pulled pork. Sorry Carolinas. But if summoning demons bothers you, don’t sweat it – you’re grilling, not barbecuing, with these sticky spicy ribs. But they still cook long enough and slow enough to give you a super tender, fall-off-the-bone slab of crazy deliciousness. And the sauce? It has just enough kick and just enough sweetness that I could eat it by the bowlful.
I’ll be honest with you – sticky spicy ribs are not quick, but they are worth it.
And you can break it up into stages. There are three main parts: rub, sauce, and cooking. The rub can be assembled and stored well ahead of time, as can the sauce. With both, I can’t recommend wearing white clothing because you will be dealing with bright red paprika and ketchup. Or maybe it’s just me who makes a mess…
Once you have your rub put together, you, well, rub it all over the ribs. I know, it’s unexpected. Then return the ribs to the fridge for 2 1/2 hours. This is a good time to make the sauce if you haven’t already. And the ribs won’t suffer if you leave them in there longer. I like to stash the ribs on the sheet pan that I will use for the oven portion, because it saves me a dirty dish, but if your baking vessel doesn’t fit in your fridge, you are out of luck. I would definitely recommend covering your baking sheet with heavy duty foil (or a double layer of regular foil) before you start baking, because otherwise you are going to have a mess on your hands.
After the ribs are done soaking in that rub, pull them and let them warm up for about 30 minutes at room temperate. Note that it’s going to take approximately 2 1/2 hours from this point to have them ready for service (but a lot of that is inactive time). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After the 30 minute warm up, cover the ribs tightly with foil, and place in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Phew. That was tough. Go grab a beer, you’ve earned it! This baking period is also the last real chance you have to make the sauce if you’ve been putting it off. During this time, you’ll also need to pre-heat your grill.
Once the ribs are done in the oven, pour all of the drippings into a small bowl, along with 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce. The rest of the sauce will be for serving with the ribs.
Now comes the more active part of the recipe: grilling the ribs.
If you lack a grill, I am so, so sorry for your misfortune. Been there. Didn’t like it. But you can continue using the oven for an additional 40 minutes, basting with the juice/sauce mixture at the beginning and halfway through, and then finishing with 3-4 minutes under the broiler. But if you are lucky enough to have a grill, you will need to cut that heat back in a big way. Hot grill grates are great (hey-oh!), but the rub and sauce both contain a lot of sugar, so unless you want to serve up a large helping of carbonized pig bones, you’ll probably need to reduce the heat to low, if not entirely shut off one or more of the burners if you have a multi-burner set up. If in doubt, try to move the ribs to a side without heat on underneath them, and leave the other side on low to medium-low heat. Baste the meaty side of the ribs GENEROUSLY and place meaty side down on the grill for 10-15 minutes. Baste, flip, and baste again, and let cook for another 10-15 minutes. Repeat one last time. The ribs should have two iterations with the meaty side down, and the total time on the grill should be 30-45 minutes. Look out for burning, and if you see it, cut the heat back. A good sign of doneness is if you pick up the rips with the meaty side down, the whole rack should sag and the meat should pull away from the bone slightly.
Remove from the grill, slice, and serve with the sauce. And a whole lot of napkins. And better make those disposable ones, because as previously mentioned, this sauce and rub will stain. Now tear into those ribs and enjoy the surprising kick from the ginger and onion, while the savory and sweet notes seal the deal. Awesome. Time for another beer!
Adapted from Gourmet.
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons paprika (not hot)
- 1½ teaspoons chipotle chile powder
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 (2-lb) racks baby back ribs
- 1½ cups chopped onion (from 1 large)
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1½ tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1½ cups ketchup
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- Combine the sugar, salt, and spices in a small bowl, making sure to break up the sugar.
- Blot the ribs with paper towel, and apply a thorough layer of rub to both sides, but focusing more on the meaty side.
- Line a baking sheet with heavy duty foil (or a double layer of regular foil). Place the ribs on the sheet, and cover tightly with more foil. Place in the fridge for 2.5 hours. If you haven't done so already, make the sauce.
- After the 2.5 hours, remove from the fridge and let the ribs sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake the ribs for 1 hour 15 minutes. Towards the end of this period, pre-heat the grill.
- Remove from the oven, and pour off the juices, including scraping the pan for any additional drippings. Combine with ⅓ to ½ of the sauce.
- Drop the grill heat to low or medium-low. Baste the ribs with sauce/dripping mixture, and grill meaty side down for 10-15 minutes.
- Baste, flip, baste, and cook, meaty side up, for 10-15 minutes. If you see signs of burning, reduce the grill heat.
- Baste, flip, baste, and cook, meaty side down again, for a final 10-15 minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the grill, cut, and serve with the sauce.
- Chop all your vegetables. Honest, it will make assembly go easier.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a 2-3 quart sauce pan.
- Add the ginger, onion, and garlic, and cook 5-6 minutes until the onion is begging to soften.
- Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender (my preferred choice), blend the sauce (in batches if necessary) to your desired consistency. I like to leave it a little less fine, like chunky applesauce.
- Adjust salt and pepper to taste. If not using immediately, let cool to room temperature, and then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Fired up about using that grill? Why not give grilled pizza a shot? Quicker than ribs and just as tasty!