It’s happened. I saw my first back-to-school ad this week and it immediately inspired dread. While I haven’t attended school in, erm, quite some time, I still feel joy at the end of June and sadness when September hits. That’s some solid childhood programming right there. And every year I feel indignant when people lament the end of summer when the season is barely over a month old. We wait for summer all year here in Canada, let’s not hasten it out the door, shall we? So in an effort to keep the good times rolling, I give you the most summer-friendly food I can think of – pork back ribs, Char Sui Back Ribs to be exact.
Now, these Char Sui Back Ribs are not technically Char Sui because char sui translates to “fork roasted”. Originally, char sui was prepared by stringing long strips of marinated boneless pork onto long forks before placing them in an oven or over hot coals. Char sui is typically made using pork shoulder or collar. Essentially any cut of pork that is well-marbled is best for char sui. The pork is lacquered in a tell-tale red, sweet, and salty glaze that makes char sui instantly recognizable.
In traditional preparations, the red hue comes from red yeast rice, a reddish, purple fermented rice. It’s difficult to find in my neck of the woods, so I added a few drops of red food coloring to my glaze. You can skip this step if you aren’t one for artificial colors. But I feel like char sui just isn’t char sui unless it’s glossy and red. There is no scientific reasoning behind this; yes, it is most likely a psychological thing, but I swear it’s true.
Transferring the flavors of char sui to a rib recipe was remarkably simple. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. Char sui is Cantonese BBQ pork after all. And baby back ribs are a North American BBQ classic. It really isn’t a stretch to combine the two. But of course, there are a few differences between the dishes.
There are many ways to prepare baby back ribs. And there are just as many people who are passionate about their favorite method. So I will tread lightly here and just say, this is the way I typically prepare ribs. Beef, pork, or lamb – this is the method I use. You can agree with me or we can agree to disagree. It’s totally fine. I like to dry rub my ribs a full 24 hours before smoking them on my charcoal BBQ. I generally cook my ribs over indirect heat for a good 2-4 hours depending on the size of the ribs and how many I am cooking. And once they are tender, then I apply my sauce.
Most char sui recipes call for marinating the pork in what will be its eventual glaze. I have made char sui like this many times and it is painfully good. Honestly, there is no reason for these char sui back ribs when real deal char sui exists. But I can justify these ribs because they get you outside and grill side for longer. And when you’re trying to soak up as much summer as possible, that is a very good thing. So here’s how I married the two bbq pork methods.
Chinese five spice is almost always included in the char sui marinade, so I added it to my usual dry brine mixture of salt and sugar. For 1-2 racks of ribs you need a tablespoon of brown or white sugar, a tablespoon of kosher salt, and a tablespoon of five spice powder. Don’t worry, I promise your ribs won’t be overly sweet or salty. Leave your ribs uncovered in the refrigerator overnight or for a minimum of 3 hours. I really would urge you to leave them overnight, it does results in better ribs. Don’t forget to take your ribs out an hour prior to throwing them on the grill. This will allow the meat to come up to room temperature, so you won’t shock it when you add it to the grill.
Now, here’s the part when you get to slow down. Organize your coals on one side of the bbq and place the ribs on the other. Try to keep your grill under 300°F. 275°F is optimal. If you don’t have a charcoal grill, you can use a gas grill or a low oven. The temperature stays the same. Just be aware that the ribs will not have a smoky quality to them. Once the ribs are on the grill, you can chill, drink a beer, or do some half-hearted weeding for the first hour or so. When the ribs reach an hour, mist them with a little Shaoxing wine and black vinegar. And then get back to sunbathing, you earned it.
When the ribs are in the home stretch and you have about 15 minutes of cook time left, that’s when you deploy the glaze. The glaze is a mixture of soy sauce, honey, hoisin, and red food coloring if you’re feeling sassy. Brush the glaze all over the ribs and let them cross the finish line. From here, you let the ribs rest for anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Tent the ribs in foil carefully, so you don’t muck up that lovely glossy finish. Now, I topped my ribs with crushed peanuts, cucumber, shallots, and fresh cilantro. Any and all of these toppings are optional. But I will say, the peanuts are quite fabulous and it’s nice to have hits of freshness from the cucumber and cilantro when you’re eating something so meaty and sweet.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Char Sui Back Ribs with Crushed Peanuts. We’re in prime grilling season, make the most of it by smoking something low and slow. It’s the laziest, most summer-friendly way to cook and the perfect way to banish all thoughts of back-to-school and fall weather.
Char Sui Back Ribs with Crushed Peanuts
- 1 charcoal grill optional **
- 1 spray bottle
- 1 rack baby back pork ribs silver skin removed
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp Shoaxing wine
- 2 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar
- 1 tbsp five spice powder
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3-4 drop red food coloring optional
- ¼ cup peanuts roasted and salted
- 1 mini cucumber thinly sliced
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro tightly packed
- Place a cooling rack inside a small baking sheet. Position the ribs on top of the cooling rack and set them aside.1 rack baby back pork ribs
- In a small bowl whisk to combine the salt, sugar, and five spice powder. Rub the mixture all over the ribs and transfer them to the fridge. Let rest uncovered for a minimum of 3 hours or overnight. *** Take the ribs out of the fridge 1 hour prior to cooking.1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp five spice powder
- Once you take the ribs out of the fridge, either preheat your oven to 275°F or heat your charcoal grill to around the same temperature. Organize your coals in a basket on one side of the grill.
- Once your oven is up, place the ribs in the oven on the cooling rack/baking sheet rig you used to dry brine the ribs. If you're using a charcoal grill place the ribs directly on the grill on the opposite side of the coals. Cook the ribs for 1 hour.
- Pour the vinegar and wine into a spray bottle and shake. Mist the ribs every 15 minutes over the next hour.2 tbsp Shoaxing wine, 2 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar
- When the ribs have about 15 minutes left in their 2-hour and 30-minute cook time, place the hoisin, honey, soy sauce, and red food coloring in a bowl. Whisk to combine and brush it on both sides of the ribs. Cook for the remaining 15 minutes.¼ cup hoisin sauce, ¼ cup honey, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 3-4 drop red food coloring
- Take the ribs off of the heat and tent them in foil. Let rest for 15-30 minutes prior to serving.
- While the ribs are resting place the peanuts in a food processor and blitz until they are pulverized. ****¼ cup peanuts
- Slice the ribs into four pieces and garnish with the peanuts, cucumber, shallot, and fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.¼ cup peanuts, 1 mini cucumber, 1 shallot, ¼ cup fresh cilantro