November 30, 2019

Chinese Five Spice Ribs 五香烤排骨

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By Published: 2019-11-30
It's getting chilly in Hong Kong (finally!) and the cool refreshing winds that were absent all summer (and most of the autumn...sigh) are now come back, nipping at my legs and arms, urging me to dig out those stored away down jackets.  I'm loving it, the coolness, the brilliant blue of the almost winter sky, the feeling of space opening up everywhere.  

I love the cooler seasons and all that it brings and especially love the food!  These are the warming foods, the foods that insist on warm huddles about the table, the cold kept out as we devour the foods that warm and sustain us with the extra energy we need.  

One constant at our autumn and winter table is this Chinese Five Spice Ribs 五香烤排骨, ribs marinated with a special dry rub spice mix then slow roasted at low heat until the flavor infused meat tenderly, deliciously falls off the bone and straight into your mouth.  YUMMM!  If you like eating spare ribs, you've gotta try this easy foolproof recipe.  You'll find yourself making ribs at home that are as good as or better than what you've ever had outside!

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We like to use baby back ribs as they're more tender.  Spare ribs are fine too, they are meatier and a bit more flavorful but take longer to cook.  

To prepare the ribs you have to remove the thin skin that lines the back of the rib so that the spices can penetrate from the back as well.  This is a bit tricky at first cuz you can't see this skin as it's invisible (just kidding, it's transparent is all).  The first time I prepared ribs I could not find it at all.  Nada, nothing, no where...  Eventually I figured it out.  So let me assure you there really is a skin and one day you'll find it...hee, hee!  

Newbie tip - just use your finger nail or a dull knife to pick at the edges of the rib bones until you can lift off a bit of the skin.  Then slowly peel off.  It's kinda of like the protection skins you put on phones and pads, same principle.  

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Stirred together to make spice rub

There are two super tips to this recipe that make it both really tasty and really easy not to mess up.  The first super tip to this recipe is the dry rub.  I first heard of the term 'dry rub' when watching a food show about barbecue masters.  I forget the show name but, man oh man, the barbecue they made!  (Drooling...I love barbecue so much!  Sometimes I get sad cuz barbecue opportunities so limited in HK.)  

These barbecue experts all used a dry spice mix to marinate the meat before barbecuing.  I was fascinated.  I had never heard of dry marination before only wet marination.  So of course I had to give it a try.  

We used five spice powder as our major flavor note for our dry rub.  Five spice powder has lots of asian flavors mixed in: star anise, cloves, szechuan pepper, fennel seeds and cinnamon.  We then complemented five spice by adding in sweet paprika for its mellow spiciness, cumin for its earthy nuttiness, garlic powder because garlic is awesome and lastly the unique peppery kick of freshly ground black pepper.  

Dry rub is definitely customizable just tweak the dry rub to your heart's content.  And you can always make more than you need cuz you can just store the spice mix in a bottle for use the next time you get an urge for ribs ( week, anyone?)

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The dry rub spice mix is rubbed directly onto your washed and paper towel dried meat.  Look at that rub and how it's just soaking into the meat!  You just know this is gonna be yummilicious!  And to increase to stage super yummilicious we let it marinate overnight in the fridge.

And the result?  Turns out, this dry rub method is AMAZING!!  I want to dry rub everything!  The thoroughly spice covered meat has soaked in all those flavors and aromas during the long overnight marination.  With no extra liquids to dilute the intensity of the spices, the result is a very out this world infusion of flavor!  

I was truly gobsmacked at how this seemly simple method produced such outsized taste results!  I'm totally going to try this dry rub marination with other meats.   Hmmm...I wonder if it will work with fish?

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Here are the ribs ready to go into the oven after an over night marination in the dry rub.  Aren't they looking just marvelous?  And look at that dry rub still clinging to the meat just waiting to further infuse into the meat as it slow roasts.

The other super tip to this recipe is the long low heat bake.  Easy and foolproof.  The ribs are sealed with foil and baked at a low heat for a long time.  Just stick ribs in the oven early in the day, set the alarm and let it do its thing.  I love this cuz there's no pressure and no possibility of burning and the results are tender, flavorful falling off the bones meat guaranteed everytime!

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As wonderful and useful as the dry rub is, it's not going to get you to the end goal of delicioso ribs coated all over with a sticky finger lickin coat of sauce.  Usually known as barbecue sauce.  At first I bought bottled barbecue sauce cuz I thought it would be easier.  But guess what?  It's super easy to make at home and it tastes way better than the bottled stuff!

When you make it at home it's sometimes called a mop sauce.  (No, I have no idea why it's called a mop sauce.  Is it because it's so yummy you have to 'mop' it up and eat it all?  Hmm...maybe...)  Make the 'mop sauce' while your ribs bake, it only takes maybe 5 mins.  

Then, toward the end of the bake remove the covering foil and smother the ribs from tip to toe with the mop sauce.  Then it's back in the oven to bake until the mop sauce clings thick and glossy to the ribs.  Oh yeah...YUM...

If you crave delicious spare ribs (and who the heck doesn't?!) give this foolproof method of dry rub marination and a low heat long bake a go.  I guarantee a perfectly easy and rib-licious result everytime!

baked, chinese, dry rub, Five Spice, recipe, Ribs, spare ribs, 五香, 排骨, 烤, pork
Chinese Five Spice Ribs Recipe  五香烤排骨
Prep time: Cook time:

    Dry Rub Spice Marinade

    Mop Sauce


Rinse rib racks and then dry with paper towels.  Remove the transparent skin from back of rack by lifting the skin in one corner and slowly peeling back until completely removed.

Mix the dry rub marinade spices together.  Rub the dry rub generously all over the ribs.  Cover the ribs and marinate 4-8 hours in the fridge or overnight.

When ready to bake let the ribs get to room temperature while preheating the oven to 225°F (107°C).  In a foiled lined baking tray lay the ribs meat side down.  Cover with another sheet of foil, folding the edges over and pinching shut.  Bake for 3 hours.

Meanwhile prepare mop sauce by combining all ingredients in a small pot and heating over medium heat, stirring until the sauce thickens and can cling the back of a spoon.  Set aside to cool.

At 3 hour mark remove the ribs and check to see if knife can pierce the meat.  If so remove the top foil, pour out any accumulated juices and use a brush to thickly coat the ribs all over with the mop sauce, leaving the ribs meat side up this time.  

Return to oven for another 15-20 mins or until the sauce is glossy, thickened and slightly carmelized.  Remove from oven and brush with any remaining sauce.  Let rest for 5 mins, slice between ribs with a sharp knife to separate and serve.  Enjoy!



  1. The reason it's called "mop sauce" is because the sauce is sort of "mopped" on to the meat while it's cooking. It's just like basting. There is actually a mop used. It's just like you use to mop your kitchen floor but it's miniature and just fits in your hand. The reason a tiny mop is used is so that you can dip it in the sauce and sort of dab it onto the meat. If the sauce is brushed on the meat it will wipe the dry rub off. Do a google search for "bbq mop" and you will see what I mean.


    1. Hi Carl-I just looked up mop brushes and you’re right, they look exactly like tiny cute! Thanks for the clarification ~ellen

  2. I bbq'd the ribs after 3ish hours in the oven. Beautiful! The bbq-glaze and the dry rub work beautifully together. I cooked my sauce with star anise and fresh ginger (had to omit ginger from the rub). Had with rice and the flavors took me right back to Chinese bbq-shops. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. You're very welcome and your ribs sure sound delish! I wish I could have a taste!😊~ellen

  3. I went in search of deliciousness and this delivered ++. I used it on pork chops instead of ribs and worked a treat. I'll be keeping this recipe for future meals. Thank you for sharing

  4. Hey Loving - thanks for the shout out, I'm glad your chops came out yummy! ~ellen

  5. Instead of wrapping and baking, can these ribs be done on a wood pellet smoker?

    1. Hey Ed R - first off I’m totally jealous of your wood smoker...I wish I had one of those babies! If I did this is I might try like this: dry marinade as per recipe, then smoke for 1 hour. Next wrap completely in foil and bake for 2 hours, pour off any juices, brush mop all over and bake uncovered another 20 mins. Smoky five spice ribs, sounds so good! ~ellen

  6. Really great recipe! Love it! Thank you

  7. Used this spice and sauce on spare ribs , smoked 3.5 hours best ribs ever!!!!!