While I like a good dry-rubbed rib with no sauce, every now and then it’s refreshing to eat some ribs adorned with a sticky glaze that leaves you licking your fingers. Usually, that means ribs with a sweet Kansas City barbecue sauce slathered all over that beautiful meat, but this time I am going for ribs that take you straight to Chinatown. Specifically, I’m talking about big meaty St. Louis style ribs, with a sweet and spicy Asian barbecue glaze that has umami written all over it.
St. Louis style ribs are one of my favorites to barbecue. They are meatier and more flavorful than baby backs and have less cartilage to eat around than a full spare rib. You should be selective when shopping for ribs of any type. Avoid racks that have the bones showing through the meat (aka “shiners”). You want racks with good fat marbling and a thick layer of meaty goodness riding on top of those bones. If you can swing the cost, a heritage breed hog will bring even more flavorful succulence to the table.
Assuming you’ve found a few good racks of ribs, you’ll want to trim them and remove the membrane from the back before throwing them on the smoker. For trimming, I like to square off the ribs a bit so that I get a nice shape and also get rid of any small or thin bits of meat hanging off the rack — these will just burn on the smoker anyway. Peeling the membrane off the back requires a little finesse but isn’t too hard once you’ve done it a few times. I find that wiggling a butter knife under the membrane between two bones works well to loosen it up.
Once trimmed, I rub these ribs down with a simple Asian inspired rub I adapted from Steven Raichlen’s 5-4-3-2-1 Asian bbq rub. The addition of the Chinese Five Spice to the mix offers some unique flavors that don’t normally show up on a rack of barbecued ribs, but the results are delicious. It is important not to overwhelm the ribs with rub at this point however. We still want the pork to shine through and the glaze will add even more flavor at the end.
The Asian BBQ sauce that I use for the glaze is really simple to make and tastes so good if I do say so myself. I think you’ll like the complex sweet and salty notes with a spicy kick from the gochujang and chili sauce. The next time you are thinking of cooking up some ribs, give this recipe a try. You’ll love the change of pace.
Pork pairs well with Asian flavors and these St. Louis style pork ribs are no exception. The sweet and sticky Asian glaze packs a spicy umami punch that will have you coming back for seconds.
- 3 racks St. Louis style pork ribs
- 1 cup Asian BBQ Sauce
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar (e.g., Sugar in the Raw)
- 2 tablespoons chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon granulated onion
- Set up your smoker for a 250°F cook and add a water pan nearest to your heat source. (see notes)
- Trim off any extraneous flaps of meat or bone on the ribs — sometimes small bone shards will still be attached from processing and the thin pieces of meat will burn on the smoker. If there is a thick layer of fat on top of the ribs near the thick end, trim it off. Remove the thin membrane from the back of the ribs. (see notes)
- Mix the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar. Using a shaker, or even your hands, apply the rub to both sides of the ribs; coating the thicker part of the ribs more heavily.
- Arrange the ribs bone-side down on your smoker, close the door/lid, and don’t peek for a couple hours.
- At about 2 hours in, check on the ribs. They should be starting to pick up some color and you may need to rotate/flip the ribs to ensure even cooking and avoid burning. Make sure to refill your water pan as necessary to avoid it going dry.
- At 3 hours in, start checking the ribs every 20-30 minutes for doneness. You’ll know they are done when they are tender and pliable. You should be able to stick a toothpick into the meat between the bones in the center of the rack without resistance. The ribs should also bend to the center easily, without breaking, when you pick up one side of the rack.
- Once the ribs are done, generously baste both sides with the Asian BBQ sauce and let them smoke for 15 more minutes to let the sauce set into a glaze. Remove the ribs from the smoker, tent with aluminum foil, and let them rest for 20 minutes before devouring.
- I like to add a water pan full of hot water to my smoker for these ribs. The increased humidity in the smoker encourages the smoke to adhere to the meat, giving the ribs more smoky flavor. This is particularly important on pellet smokers, which already have trouble imparting a strong smoke flavor.
- The thin papery membrane covering the bones on the underside of the ribs can be unappealing to eat for some. To remove it, I gently work a butter knife under the membrane in-between two bones on the thick end of the ribs, loosen it further with my fingers, and then, gripping tightly, peel the membrane off the ribs.
Keywords: Ribs, St. Louis style ribs, smoked ribs, Asian style ribs