Traditional recipes

Chinese-Style Ribs

Chinese-Style Ribs

Light a charcoal grill. When the coals are covered with a light gray ash, push them to opposite sides of the grill and set a disposable drip pan in the center. Alternatively, if you’re using a gas grill, turn off the center burners.

In a bowl, combine the sugar, salt, dry mustard, Chinese five-spice powder, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Sprinkle the mixture over the ribs. Pour the sherry into a spray bottle.

Place the ribs on the hot grate above the drip pan and away from the coals, bony side down. Cover and grill for 30 minutes. Spray the ribs with sherry. Cover and grill for another 30 minutes. Shift the ribs around (but keep them bony side down) and spray once more with sherry. Cover and grill for 30 minutes longer, until the meat is tender. Replenish the coals as necessary.

Take the ribs off the grill and spread the coals out evenly. Brush the barbecue sauce on both sides of the ribs and grill directly over the fire (high heat on a gas grill) for about 1 minute per side, until glazed. Transfer the ribs to a work surface and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut down between the bones and arrange the ribs on a platter. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.


Recipe Summary

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or other spicy chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons malt vinegar
  • 4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 rack pork spare ribs, cut into thirds lengthwise
  • Coarse salt
  • Napa Cabbage Slaw

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a food processor, pulse ketchup, hoisin, sambal oelek, vinegar, scallions, and ginger until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Season ribs with salt and coat both sides with sauce. Roast, bone side down, until ribs are tender but not falling off the bone, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Cut into single ribs and serve with slaw.


How to cook Chinese pork ribs- the step-by-step guide

Step 1- Marinate the pork ribs

Ask your butcher to cut the pork ribs crossways into long pieces. I suggest you ask your butcher to cut the ribs into single bones, square pieces. It is tough to do it at home as it requires a sturdy butcher cleaver.

You can use spareribs (meatier) or back ribs (smaller but more tender) for this recipe. Generally, I prefer spareribs as it is the more meaty one for this recipe.

Add a small amount of light soy sauce and salt to the pork ribs and marinate at least two hours. Marinate helps to enhance the flavor of the pork ribs. I also marinate the lean pork overnight with salt in another recipe- Cantonese Porridge with Lean Pork. Meat treating in this way can still retain the saltiness after prolonged simmering.

In general, the amount of salt required is one percent of the ribs by weight. In this case, I use 10g (2 teaspoons) for one kg of pork ribs.

There is an alternate way to do it. Some cooks prefer to place the ribs in boiling water and blanch them for a few minutes. Remove and drained. This step will help to remove the impurities and the porky smell of the ribs. You can do this after marination, as a few minutes of blanching will not remove the salt that penetrates deep into the ribs. You can skip this step by just rinsing the ribs under running water if it is fresh and no unacceptable smell.

Step 2- Get all the ingredients ready

Red yeast rice (optional)

Red yeast rice renders a beautiful red hue to the ribs. You can extract the color by soaking the rice in hot water for fifteen minutes. Discard the rice, and add only the colored water to the braising liquid.

Alternatively, tie the red yeast rice in a cheesecloth bag before adding to the braising water. Remove the bag when the ribs become tender.

Red yeast rice (红曲米, Monascus Purpureus) is traditionally used by the Chinese chef to improve the color of a variety of dishes. It is also used in our Chinese Roast Chicken recipe.

You can purchase red yeast rice in most of the Chinese medical halls and grocery shops in Asia. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get even in certain Asian countries outside China. Omit it if you cannot find it as it will not affect the taste. However, the color will not be as red as you expected.

The Aromatics

There are some specific aromatics and spices for Wuxi pork ribs. Let&rsquos take a look at each of them.

Ginger. Ginger can remove any off-putting &lsquopoky&rsquo smell. If you have a choice, use old ginger instead of the younger for better flavor. Some cooks prefer to slice the ginger, and others cut the ginger into small dices for sautéing.

Scallion. Scallions and ginger always used side by side in Chinese cooking. Use scallion generously. it does not only provide the flavor but also help to prevent the pork ribs from sticking to the wok/pan during prolonged simmering. Reserve some chopped scallions to sprinkle on top of the ribs for garnishing.

Vinegar, sugar, and wine

The signature flavor of Wuxi style Chinese pork ribs is from the triumvirate of vinegar, sugar, and wine. There are numerous variations of the amount used, even in Wuxi itself, not to mention other outrageous adaptations elsewhere. However, these three ingredients is a must to qualify as authentic Wuxi pork ribs.

Vinegar. Red vinegar from Zhejiang (浙江红醋) is the authentic one. Any other rice vinegar is the acceptable substitution if you are unable to get it.

Sugar. Rock sugar is preferred in this recipe. If you can&rsquot get it, use castor or granulated sugar. Chinese Rock Sugar is irregular lumps of crystallized, refined sugar. It forms a translucent and glossy appearance on the pork ribs. The surface will be less glossy if you use regular sugar. Rock sugar should add only after some time of simmering. Once it is caramelized, the gravy will stick on the surface of the pork ribs to form a glossy sheen,

Shaoxing wine. Use Shaoxing wine or any rice wine will do the job. Sherry is another acceptable alternative.

Star anise, cinnamon stick, and clove

Stir anise and cinnamon are the main spices for braised Chinese pork ribs, Wuxi style. Clove, however, is omitted in some versions.

The flavor of star anise and cinnamon are quite intense and a small amount goes a long way. I mention how many star-points to be used in the recipe as the size of star anise vary from one with another. The same problem applies to the cinnamon bark: the bigger bark of the same length can be double in weight. Therefore, I am using the weight as the unit of measurement for cinnamon bark in the recipe for accuracy. (You may consider using a kitchen scale for this purpose.)

LIght and dark soy sauce

Most of the recipes include a small amount of light soy sauce. Personally, I will not use dark soy sauce as the color of Wuxi pork ribs should be red, not black.

The signature flavor of Wuxi style Chinese pork ribs is from the triumvirate of vinegar, sugar, and wine. These three ingredients is a must to qualify as authentic Wuxi pork ribs.

Step 3- Brown the pork ribs

Deep-fried the pork ribs for two minutes until the surface starts to turn color is the general method used by the restaurants.

Deep frying adds more flavor to the ribs. This method is great, but if you want to save some oil, or if it is not convenient to deep-fry at home, you can pan-fry the pork ribs instead.

Pan-frying can be as good as deep-frying. What you need is to add about 1/8 inch depth of oil to a frying pan, or at least if is sufficient to cover the whole pan. Sear the ribs on both sides until the meat starts to shrink and the bone protrudes out. When this is achieved, the color will turn a little brown. It is time to remove it and set aside.

Step 4- Braise the pork ribs over low heat

  • Saute the ginger and scallion in the wok until aromatic.
  • Add the pork ribs that have been deep-fry into it.
  • Add the wine, vinegar, salt and soy sauce to the pan.
  • Add water until it is just enough to cover the ribs.
  • Bring the braising liquid to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a minimum, which is just hot enough to simmer it.
  • Cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • By now the liquid should have reduced significantly. Open the lid and turn the ribs over to ensure even cooking.
  • Add the rock sugar. Add some hot water if the amount is reduced too much. Otherwise, just cover it again and braise for another 30 minutes.
  • Remove the lid. Check the tenderness of the ribs. press the spatula or chopsticks against the meat to check whether the meat is about to detach from the bone. The time required to braise it until this tenderness depends on the heat, which is by large is based on visual observation. Cook for a longer time if it has not achieved the tenderness that you want. You should be able to poke through the meat with a chopstick without any resistance.
  • Once the pork ribs have achieved the desired tenderness, reduce the volume of the sauce until becoming a rich gravy.
  • The gravy will coat the ribs to form a shiny and glossy sheen.

Marinade Substitutions

You don't need much to marinate the ribs but I only had 2 1/2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce left in my jar. That was fine for the first batch, but on round 2, I finessed it. The recipe didn't require much. I used Chinese bean sauce, which is an intense, salty version of hoisin. Chinese bean sauce, especially the one produced by Koon Chun, is made with few ingredients. (I'd scraped everything out of the hoisin jar for batch number one.)

The main difference between the two sauces is this: hoisin has lots of sugar and a touch of garlic. The bean sauce is thicker. To create hoisin, I mixed 2 tablespoons of bean sauce with 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and1 teaspoon water, and added garlic to the marinade. In a pinch, use low-sodium white miso instead of the bean sauce. Add a little extra soy sauce, if needed for a bold flavor.

If you do not have Shaoxing rice wine, use the default -- pale dry sherry. If that's unavailable, try sake! If sake isn't around, use 1 1/2 teaspoons gin or vodka plus 1 1/2 teaspoons water.

Coconut sugar is something I'm into these days because its sweet flavor is rounder and more complex that regular brown sugar and white sugar. Because you need just a little here, regular cane sugar is fine.

So, go out and get yourself some baby back ribs and bake off something great. This is a fun, easy project that'll delight. Order Chinese takeout to go with it, if you like. Or, make Joyce Chen's Peking meat sauce (zha jiang mian) noodles to pair with the ribs. You'll have a nice feast.


Is There Another Option For Red Food Coloring?

I despise traditional food dyes. I think they&rsquore highly unnecessary and just a bunch of suspect chemicals that have no place in our bodies. Please don&rsquot get me started on my thoughts on red velvet anything&hellip

That said, if you want the traditional &ldquolook&rdquo to Chinese boneless spare ribs, you need to use some coloring agent for that red appearance.

Some options are natural red food coloring (there are a lot of options out there!) or beet root powder.

Of course, you can just omit this ingredient and the spare ribs will taste just as good, they just won&rsquot have that &ldquotraditional&rdquo color.

Want more recipes like these boneless spare ribs?

And if you&rsquore looking for a &ldquoreal&rdquo rib recipe, don&rsquot miss these sticky maple apple pork ribs &ndash they&rsquore fall off the bone tender and finger licking good!


How to make Chinese Spare Ribs Recipe in 4 simple steps

Let&rsquos take a look how to prepare this amazing dish in four simple steps.

Step 1- Blanch the pork ribs.

Prepare a pot of boiling water. Place the pork ribs in a saucepan or skillet, and make sure the amount of water is sufficient to submerge the entire rib. I use a wok since I do not have a skillet large enough for the ribs.

Bring the water to a boil. Wait for five minutes and then remove the ribs and drain.

OK. We are supposed to braise the pork ribs, not blanching it in water, right?

Blanching the pork rib is an essential pre-treatment before proceeding to braise. Some pork ribs may have a strong gamey taste, and blanching can effectively remove the unpleasant taste of the pork.

This process will not reduce the flavor since it takes only five minutes.

Step 2- Prepare the braising liquid.

The herbs, spices, and seasonings in the braising liquid define the complex and yet subtle flavor of the pork rib.

This step begins with adding two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the wok over medium heat.

Put your palm about two inches above the surface of the oil. If you can fill the heat from the oil, it is now hot enough to saute the herbs and spices.

Then add five slices of ginger, three cloves of garlic, two stalks of scallion, one star anise of about seven to ten star-points, and one stick of cinnamon, about 5 cm length. Saute the spices slowly over low heat until they turn aromatic.

Next, add 2 tablespoons of fermented soybean paste, 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 4 teaspoons of oyster sauce, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 4 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine, and lastly 1500 ml of water.

Stir and mix well the liquid and wait until it is boiling.

Do you realize that there is no salt in the recipe?

The soybean paste, light soy sauce, and oyster sauce all contain salt, which will provide sufficient saltiness to the recipe. Bear in mind that the amount of salt in different brands of soybean paste, light soy sauce, and oyster sauce are not the same. Therefore, I always like to adjust the saltiness of the sauce right before serving. If you follow this recipe, the saltiness is joust right in most cases. But you can add additional salt and light soy sauce during the final adjustment of the flavor.

Step 3- braise the pork ribs

And now you have completed most of the work. Just place the spare rib in the skillet (or wok in my case) and start braising it over low heat with the lid on.

Now sit back and relax. Have your coffee break or pick up a storybook. All you need is to check the progress of the braise occasionally.

There are two common questions about braising. First, should I close the lid or leave it open? And the second question, how long should I braise the rib?

Here are a few tips to help you make sure that you get the flawless Chinese Spare Ribs.

  • You can either leave the lid on or otherwise. If you cook without the lid, please monitor the level of water in the skillet regularly, as it will dry out pretty fast. The advantage of putting the lid on is that you do not need to check the amount of liquid often.
  • Always use the lowest heat to cook. You can raise up the skillet a little by putting a steaming rack on top of the stove and place the skillet on it. Bear in mind that you are braising the rib for three hours. The meat will eventually be so soft that it just falls off from the bone.
  • Since the rib is only partially submerged in the liquid, it is best to turn the spare ribs over occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  • The actual duration of braising depends on the heat and whether it is covered. Generally, it takes about three hours, but you can stop short once the meat is tender and soft.

Step 4- Thicken the sauce

After three hours of braising, there is only one more step remain before serving &ndash to make the umami-rich sauce to coat the pork ribs.

Check the amount of the braising liquid.

If it is too dry, add a bit of water and bring it to a boil again. Then add some cornstarch slurry to thicken the liquid to form a thick sauce. Sometimes the liquid is already thick enough as the result of the gelatin from the bone. In this case, you can just omit the cornstarch slurry. The goal is to form a thick sauce that will cling to the rib, that for sure will tantalize your taste buds.

Remove the spare rib from the saucepan, place it on a large plate. Pour the thick sauce over the rib. Garnish with scallion. Serve.

Final note

This recipe is easy to prepare. You can adjust the amount of each ingredient according to your preference, and it will still turn out to be outstanding. You can follow this recipe for the first time and make changes during your next attempt. Chinese Spare Ribs are best to serve with steamed white rice along with some leafy vegetable. Guarantee to make your belly rumbles!

Now it is your turn to cook. Leave your comments and questions below, and I&rsquoll try to reply as soon as possible.


Serve these ribs with your choice of fried rice or even plain white rice and a green vegetable. Some good choices are Garlicky Broccoli, Broccoli with Garlic Sauce, or a Stir-Fried Bok Choy.

You can also cook up a batch of Beef and Broccoli, some Fried Chicken Wings, or General Tso’s Chicken, and really have an all-out home-cooked Chinese takeout night!

Whatever you decide, please enjoy this Chinese boneless sparerib recipe!


  • 3 ½ lbs. pork country-style ribs
  • 6 green onions
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 ½ cup water, hot or lukewarm only
  • 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 4 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. hot red pepper sauce
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground red pepper
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked rice, white only, for serving
  1. Place ribs in a pressure cooker and brown.
  2. Mix all remaining ingredients except rice in a small bowl and then pour over the ribs in the pressure cooker turning to coat.
  3. Cook on high pressure for 60 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooked ribs to a plate. Serve hot and plain with rice.

What makes Chinese spare ribs unique?

As I mentioned, it's the sauce that gives these ribs a ton of flavor and it's quite different from US barbecue flavors. Yes, it has that sweet savory combination, but here it's predominantly hoisin, soy and honey. They all get to work tenderizing the ribs as they cook, along with giving a great flavor.

I've largely based my version on this recipe but to me it had a fundamental flaw as it missed out Chinese five spice powder. In case you are not familiar, it's a blend that includes star anise, fennel and cinnamon. It's the flavor you might associate with a few Chinese dishes, especially Chinese barbecue like this. You can buy it ready-made but if you don't have it, you can easily make your own such as with this recipe that I used.

Often if you get these in a restaurant they will be a pinky-red color. These days, that's generally down to food coloring which I see no reason to add, but traditionally it's from a fermented bean curd (you can find more on this and other facts about Chinese char sui ribs in this article I found).


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