How to cook great spare ribs

When I started work as a photographers assistant it was back in the days when the big lunch still existed. We would imbibe on a regular basis at The Taj – a then swanky eatery in the old public toilets in Cambridge Terrace.

Mike, who was the restaurateur, had on his menu what were undoubtedly the best Pork Spare Ribs known to mankind. I have never had ribs like them anywhere – until twenty years later I started cooking my own.

In recent times pigs have been getting a bad press. This is not warranted especially since they taste so damn good.

The recipe I am happy to share with you began with The Joy of Cooking – the ‘bible’ of the American culinary tradition if there is such a thing. This cook book was first published in 1931.

Here goes:


25-30 pork ribs

These are likely to come in a strip of ‘ribs’. Cut them up and put in a small roasting dish, cover with tinfoil and place in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius) to cook. It’s hard to know how long you need to cook them for (it’s always different for me) but you want to keep the heat on so that the ribs turn a disgusting grey colour. They’ll pong a bit too and appear quite unsavoury. Don’t panic – this is normal.


2 x big onions diced
1 cup of sweet chilli sauce
1 cup of water
2-3 heaped soup spoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of dry mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the onions in some olive oil. Put everything else in and simmer on the stove for 20-30 minutes. Pour over the grey-looking spare ribs. Leaving the dish covered with tinfoil cook the ribs for another 20 minutes. Remove the tinfoil, then continue cooking for upwards of 1-2 hours checking every 20 minutes or so. You need to continually pour the sauce over the ribs so that eventually the sauce turns into a sweet chilli onion jam.

The ribs will be so mouth-watering-ly tender the meat will fall off the bone. Honestly, my seven year old kids love this, and even though there is a cup of sweet chilli sauce it’s not too hot but still has a kick to make it worth your while.

Enjoy, and please give me your feedback.


  1. Jolene

    Made it yesterday evening, was delicious. Even tho I had to many ribs and didn’t cooked it as long lol. Me and my hubby ate it all :D. Couldn’t stop haha. And you are right about the smell! Man it stank lol. Was totally worth it, thank you so much for the recipe!!
    And it was the first time I made ribs in the oven. Not much of a cook yet, still a beginner. So that is again full points for your ‘easy for beginners’ recipe 😛 . Thanks again!!!!!!

        1. Hi Sharon,
          I make these all the time and because I do it by rote I’m having trouble remembering what I have the oven set to. Recently I have been boiling the ribs in water instead of doing the initial bake in the oven covered in tinfoil. It seems to wash out all the rubbish from the ribs which I spoon off and discard.

          Once I put them in the oven covered in the chili sauce and onion mixture I’d be tempted to cook slowly around 150 deg C for an hour or so. You might leave the ribs covered with tinfoil while you do this. In the last 30 mins or so wind the oven up to 200 deg C and cook the ribs uncovered. You want them to get all sticky. Honestly, the onion chilli jam that the ribs end up swimming in is so delicious and BAD for you!!

          Enjoy – it really is the best rib recipe around.

  2. Galley Idler

    Nice recipe – Julia’s are always so tried and true.

    Recently I cooked the following for a South African winemaking friend who was always going on about how good his recipe for ribs was. Evidently there is some sort of Sth African wunder-condiment called Mrs Cotters? spiced something or other (sorry, my eyes always glaze over when a recipe consists only of opening a jar, pouring it over a soft meat target and cooking the snout off of it). So here is my answer for the AB vs Boks rib fest:

    Sufficient ribs to feed the clan (get the butcher to bandsaw them in half again if you need dainty finger food sized morsels). Leave them joined together as a strip.

    2 Tablespoons Szchuan peppercorns
    3 to 4 cloves of Garlic – I normally use more but adjust the amounts accordingly to fit with your own target audience
    4 thin slices fresh ginger
    3 fresh chillies depending how hot you like it
    4 tablespoons hoisin sauce (available most specialty food stores)
    Splash of rice vinegar or other good quality white vinegar – cider vinegar would work well too
    Zest of 1/2 lemon
    Splash of sesame oil
    2 to 3 tablespoons of good quality cooking oil


    In a dry saucepan roast the szchuan peppercorns until fragrant. They will smoke a little which is good but if they burn they are stuffed

    Finely chop garlic, ginger and chillis (g,g,+c).

    Grind peppercorns with a mortar and pestle into a fine powder. Add g,g,+c and lemon zest and grind together. The pepper should act as grist for the grinding but feel to add a little sea salt to help things along as well. If you really have to, you could use a food processor but the m+p is a very cool accoutrement to any kitchen. I scored second hand one in Ranfurly (it is a place as well as a shield) last weekend for just $16.

    Add hoisin sauce and both oils to this mix – you may want to use a mixing bowl but if you’re careful it should all fit into the mortar (the pestle is the pounding piece) and mix to a smooth paste. Add vinegar to the paste and check for consistency – think of it as a piquant spread that you are going to love your ribs with. Add cooking oil or lemon juice if it’s too thick, more hoisin if it’s too thin.

    Here comes the loving part – massage this mixture onto the ribs until well coated. Not too thick and not too thin.Cover and let the meat marinate in the fridge for at least an hour – over night even better but really, who is that organised these days?

    Heat the oven to 175ish C, place ribs in a roasting dish and cover with tin foil. Bake ribs in the oven for 90 minutes or so. Add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan if things are looking too dry (we’re trying to steam these babies not bake them into bacon bones so long and slow is best). Turn occassionally – the ribs will have a natural high side and a low ‘cup’ side. Turning them will alternately keep things from sticking as well as basted.

    I figure on 2 to 2 1/2 hours cooking time so no rush – it’s a lot easier to speed these up than slow them down.

    Once the meat is almost cooked (easily pierced with a knife tip but not falling apart) you have a choice to finish them off on a barbecue or in the oven. If your barbecue skills are such that even a sausage gets murdered on the hot-plate then stick to the oven as I am in this recipe. A capable barbecue cook could fly solo from here if there is a hankering for charcoal time.

    Uncover the ribs and leave them to brown in the oven for about 1/2 an hour – increase the temperature to 200 C if necessary.

    The ribs are ready when the meat is nicely brown and will pull easily off the bone (and stick in your teeth).

    With a sharp knife, cut through the ribs and serve on a large platter. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions, coriander and roasted sesame seeds if you are still sober and motivated enough after being in the kitchen for the past 3 hours.

    Optional option
    To make the best of the meat juices left in the pan, add some sliced onion and brown over a moderate heat. Deglaze the pan with a good solid glug of ordinary kitchen red (save the good stuff for later if it’s not already too late), throw in any g,g ,+c and zest leftovers and reduce to a dipping sauce consistency. Strain and serve alongside the ribs. Red wine and ginger simmered together with a little soy sauce are a quick and easy Asian style sauce.

    My green and gold friend had to concede that these were the best ribs that he’d ever tasted. The szcheuan peppercorns add an aromatic quality that works well with the other flavours. The hoisin sauce is the base note that will pair well with a nice Central Otago pinot noir but an off-dry Gewrztraminer would also be spectacular with this dish. Toothpicks and finger bowls too if you’re really trying to impress.

    1. admin

      Thanks for the this! It sounds delicious and as a devout man of ribs (skinny, once) I’ll definitely be trying these out.

      I have relegated it to the status of a stand-alone recipe under Pork. Keep them coming.

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