How to cook the best sticky spare ribs

Who can resist smoky, finger-licking sticky ribs? Follow our step-by-step guide on how to make perfect sticky spare ribs every time.

How to cook the best sticky spare ribs

Spare ribs were at one time culinary cast-offs but are now well on the road to posh. A good rack should have a reasonable amount of meat attached to the rib bones and, between the ribs, a promising blend of meat and fat. For tender, punchy ribs, we find simmering them slowly with highly flavoured ingredients, then marinating overnight, is the answer. A final chargrill on a barbecue will add a good flavour, too.

Master recipe

Serves 8-10

Hands-on time 45 min, oven-time 45 min, plus cooling and marinating

You will need:

  • 2kg rack spare ribs

For the poaching liquid:

  • 200ml soy sauce
  • 100g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 1½ tbsp Chinese five-spice
  • 6 whole star anise
  • 4 tsp chilli flakes
  • Thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
  • 5 shallots, peeled

For the marinade:

  • 135ml dark soy sauce
  • 75g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 90ml rice wine vinegar
  • 140g tomato ketchup
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 heaped tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • Juice of 1½ limes
  • 1 tbsp chilli flakes
  • Bunch of fresh coriander and bunch of spring onions to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Put the rack of ribs in a large, deep roasting tin. Mix all of the poaching liquid ingredients in a jug, pour over the ribs and top with enough cold water to cover the ribs completely.


  2. Put the tin on the hob over a medium heat (spanning two rings). Bring to the boil, then carefully transfer to the oven to simmer for 45 minutes or until the ribs are tender (top up with boiling water if needed). Remove from the oven, then leave the ribs to cool completely in the liquid. This will take about 4 hours. Once cooled, you can leave them overnight, covered, in the fridge.


  3. Remove the cooled rack of ribs from the poaching liquid to a chopping board, then pat dry with kitchen paper. With a large knife, cut between the ribs to separate. Put the ribs in a single layer in a large oven dish or lipped baking tray. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the ribs, mixing well to coat generously. Cover, then leave to marinate in the fridge for 3 hours, or overnight if you can, turning once or twice in the marinade.


  4. Remove the ribs from the fridge to bring up to room temperature. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Transfer the coated ribs to a grill rack (put a tray underneath to collect any juices). Pour any leftover marinade from the dish into a small saucepan, bring to the boil and bubble for 2 minutes to thicken slightly.


  5. Grill the ribs for 10-15 minutes until they are sticky and piping hot. (For a smoky flavour, cook on a barbecue. Lightly oil the rack beforehand.) Turn halfway through cooking and baste occasionally with the thickened marinade. Transfer to a platter, then scatter with the coriander and spring onion. Serve with any remaining marinade in a small bowl, alongside napkins and a finger bowl filled with warm water and lemon slices.

Nutritional information: Per serving (based on 10): 436kcals, 26.9g fat (10.4g saturated), 38.1g protein, 11.6g carbs (10.7g sugars), 2.3g salt, 0.3g fibre

Short of time?

A pressure cooker comes into its own with this recipe. It will reduce the cooking time significantly, keep the ribs moist and tender, and infuse the flavour of the spices into the meat. Cut the rack of ribs into sections and add the poaching flavourings (without any water). Cook on a high pressure for 15-20 minutes, then baste liberally in the marinade and grill as in the recipe.

A quick slaw to serve alongside…

Serves 8 as a side and takes 10 minutes to make


  • 1 large carrot (100g), peeled and cut into fine julienne strips
  • ½ small cucumber, halved, deseeded and sliced into fine julienne strips
  • ½ small red cabbage (about 300g), cored and thinly sliced
  • 100g beansprouts
  • 3 spring onions, finely shredded
  • 1 small red chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly into strips
  • Small handful of fresh coriander leaves or small fresh mint leaves

For the dressing:

  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp caster sugar


  1. Mix all the slaw ingredients together in a bowl. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the slaw, tossing well to coat. Serve alongside the ribs.

Nutritional information per serving: 39kcals, 1.6g fat (0.2g saturated), 1.3g protein, 5g carbs (4.3g sugars), 0.4g salt, 2.2g fibre

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