Vietnamese Marinated and Caramel Glazed Back Ribs Recipe

Skip the bottle of basic ready-made barbecue sauce and infuse Asian flair into popular ribs with this recipe by cookbook author and meat expert Bruce Aidells, which he created for Real Food. One of his favorite preparations for ribs is cooked with a sweet and salty caramel glaze, often called sticky ribs.Yes, they are messy, he says, so supply lots of napkins or moist towels. But they’re worth the mess.

This recipe uses a marinade that not only flavors the ribs but also serves as a base for the caramel glaze. Plan ahead as overnight prep/marinating is recommended—but then you are steps ahead when it comes time to cook! Depending on the size of your grill, use a vertical rib rack. 

Try serving these ribs with Japanese or Thai beer or a sweet Gewürztraminer wine. For a side dish, serve coleslaw (recipe below) and a noodle salad or steamed jasmine rice.

Vietnamese Marinated and Caramel Glazed Back Ribs 

Makes 4 servings 

2 slabs (3 to 4 pounds total) pork back ribs (also called baby back ribs) 

Vietnamese Marinade
1 cup chopped cilantro 
13 cup finely chopped green onion 
1 tablespoon minced ginger 
1 tablespoon minced garlic 
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Sriracha chili sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons fish sauce 
13 cup fresh lime juice 
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
2 tablespoons honey
112 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
12 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder 

Caramel glaze
2 tablespoons peanut oil 
112 cups finely chopped onion 

12 cup chopped cilantro 
14 cup chopped mint
14 cup chopped basil 

1. For the marinade: In a medium bowl, stir together ingredients until sugar is dissolved.

2. Cut each slab of ribs in half. Place in a large, heavy zipper-lock plastic bag. Pour over marinade. Seal bag, shake, and turn until ribs are well-coated. Place bag in a bowl in case it leaks and refrigerate overnight, up to 30 hours. Turn and shake bag occasionally. 

3. Remove ribs from marinade, shaking off any excess. Pour marinade into a small bowl or measuring cup and set aside.

4. Set up a grill for indirect cooking. For charcoal, place coals on half of a covered grill and heat until medium-high heat. For gas, preheat grill by turning all burners on high heat; when hot, turn off middle section. 

5. Place ribs over unlit part of grill. Cover and maintain a temperature of 300°F to 350°F. Grill 1 to 112 hours, until meat begins to pull away from bone.

6. For the glaze: In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 minutes, until soft. Pour in marinade. Bring to a boil and reduce until syrupy. Set aside. 

7. Brush glaze over ribs, place directly over a medium-hot fire, and grill 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbly and just beginning to brown. Brush other side with glaze, flip, and grill 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbly and beginning to color. Remove from grill, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 10 minutes. 

8. Slice in between ribs to separate. Place on a platter and brush generously with glaze. Garnish with cilantro, mint, and basil. 



Makes 4 to 6 servings 
This coleslaw is a nice accompaniment with the ribs. For best results, prepare several hours or a day ahead. 

4 cups shredded green cabbage 
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 thinly sliced green onions 
12 cup thinly sliced red onion 
1 cup shredded carrots 
freshly ground black pepper 

2 teaspoons minced garlic 
1 cup mayonnaise 
14 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt 
14 cup light or dark brown sugar 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
12 teaspoon Tabasco 

1. Place vegetables in a large bowl.

2. For the dressing: Whisk together ingredients in a bowl or blend in a food processor.

3. Toss vegetables with dressing and add salt and pepper to taste. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 


Nutrition info (per serving)
• Vietnamese ribs: Calories 732 (479 from fat); fat 53g (sat. 19g); Chol 198mg; Sodium 736mg; Carb 13g; Fiber 1g; Protein 49g 
• Coleslaw: Calories 408 (331 from fat); Fat 37g (sat. 7g); Chol 23mg; Sodium 310mg; Carb 19g; Fiber 3g; Protein 2g


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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.